Afghan Withdrawal Risks U.S. Intelligence Collection

The departure of most U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 is likely to limit the ability of intelligence agencies to collect information on emerging threats in the region, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress.

“Obviously it’s not going to be as robust as it is today simply because we won’t have the presence in as many locales” able to gather intelligence, Clapper told the House intelligence committee yesterday.

The U.S. has 66,000 troops in the country now. The Obama administration plans to withdraw 34,000 by February and bring home most of the rest by the end of 2014, leaving a small force to train and advise Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism efforts. The U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating a bilateral treaty that would allow a U.S. military presence beyond 2014.

“As the other components of our presence there, the military and the diplomatic,” are reduced, “that in turn affects the footprint that we will have residual in Afghanistan,” Clapper said.

Clapper said the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan will depend on negotiations between the two countries.

“It’s our intent, though, to maintain -- sustain -- sufficient intelligence presence there so we can certainly monitor any terrorist activity that would potentially pose a nascent threat to the homeland,” Clapper said in response to a question by Representative Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican.

Pompeo said in a phone interview he was concerned that the U.S. will continue to be able to “fight the bad guys and provide security to keep America safe.”

NATO Troops

U.S. intelligence collection efforts also may be affected during the next two years as a bulk of the U.S. troops pack up and leave, Pompeo said.

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that he backed the Obama administration’s proposal to leave behind about 8,000 to 12,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

In February, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in Brussels the possibility of keeping a combined allied presence at that level.

Some U.S. military officials and members of Congress have publicly said that 13,600 American troops and 7,000 from other countries will be necessary.

Among those who have pressed for that big a force are Marine General James Mattis, who retired last month as head of the U.S. Central Command, and Marine General Joseph Dunford, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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