WASHINGTON — Elite special operations troops could be put under CIA control in Afghanistan after 2014, just as they were during last year's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
The plan is one of several possible scenarios being debated by top Pentagon officials but has not yet been presented to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the White House or Congress, AP said it was told by its sources.
If the plan were adopted, the United States and Afghanistan could say there are no more U.S. troops on the ground in the war-torn country because once the SEALs, Rangers and other elite units are assigned to CIA control, even temporarily, they become spies.
No matter who's in charge, the special operations units still would target militants on joint raids with Afghans and keep training Afghan forces to do the job on their own.
AP said the idea floated by a senior defense intelligence official comes as U.S. defense chiefs try to figure out how to draw down troops fast enough to meet the White House's 2014 deadline. Pentagon staffers already have put forward a plan to hand over much of the war-fighting to special operations troops. This idea would take that plan one step further, shrinking the U.S. presence to less than 20,000 troops after 2014, AP said it was told by four current and two former U.S. officials it did not identify.
Pentagon spokesman George Little denied the idea is being discussed. "Any suggestion that such a plan exists is simply wrong," Little said Saturday.
A CIA-run war would mean that the U.S. public would not be informed about funding or operations, as they are in a traditional war. Oversight would fall to the White House, top intelligence officials, and a few congressional committees. Embedding journalists would be out of the question.
Neither the CIA nor Special Operations Command has put this plan forward officially to Panetta, AP said it was told by two senior defense officials. Other officials who said they have been part of discussions about the plan say it would require the assent of the White House and congressional oversight committees, and would be contingent upon the approval of the Afghan government, AP reported.