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Wolf Blitzer: The CIA in Afghanistan

By Wolf Blitzer

(CNN) -- Anchor Wolf Blitzer recently visited London where he spoke with people about their views and concerns over the war on terror in Afghanistan and role of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in it. The CIA confirmed Wednesday that one its officers was the first American to die in combat in the war.

While in London I read the British newspapers and watched their news programs on television. I also spoke with many locals. In my totally unscientific survey of public attitudes, I can report that the British are a lot less enthusiastic about the war against terrorism than Americans. They certainly support the U.S. effort but they also seem to have many more questions.

By the way, my British friends tell me they are absolutely gung ho compared with many of their fellow Europeans. I guess the closer you live to Ground Zero in New York City or the Pentagon in Washington, the more outraged you're likely to be.

Profile: CIA agent Mike Spann 

One question that seemed to come up on several occasions during my stay in London involved the role of the CIA in Afghanistan. It seems the British -- like so many others around the world -- are fascinated by U.S. spies.

As most of you know, CIA operatives have been working on the ground for weeks -- probably months -- in Afghanistan. They have special roles to play beyond the U.S. special operations forces who also have been on the ground there. In recent days, they have been joined by U.S. Marines who landed in southern Afghanistan near Kandahar.

On Sunday, I asked a former U.S. special operations officer, Kelly McCann, whether there was a rivalry between the CIA and the military forces operating in Afghanistan.

"At the operator level," he said, "there's ... usually not any kind of rivalry at all. But at the organizational level, there starts to be some head-banging. We always want to protect sources and methods. And so information is carefully guarded because you'll lose information if you give up a way that you got it."

As many of you probably remember, there was often tension between CIA officials and military forces in Vietnam during the war. Retired U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, who served in Vietnam, remembers that tension well.

"I think it's much better today than it's ever been in the past," Clark said about the CIA relationship with the military.

"We've done a lot of practice over the last decade and we've worked together in the Balkans on a steady basis with the agency. And by and large, there have been very few problems there. And I think it's better now than it's ever been."

To whom do the CIA officers in Afghanistan report? Their bosses at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or the U.S. Central Command, headed by General Tommy Franks?

According to retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, a CNN military analyst, they answer to their bosses in Langley. The CIA has liaison officers with the military in the field and at the headquarters level.

By the way, many of the CIA officers are recruited from the military so their relationship with the troops often comes naturally. They tend to understand the military mission.


• U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

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