The US Department of Defense is planning to withdraw most support for CIA counter-terror missions by the beginning of next year, in a move expected to have a broad effect on the scope of the intelligence agency’s paramilitary operations, a senior defense official and former senior administration official with direct knowledge of the move told CNN.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller informed CIA Director Gina Haspel of the decision in a letter this week.
The US military provides a wide range of support to CIA paramilitary operations, including air transportation, logistics and medical evacuation. The changes, which will take place by January 5, involve returning DOD personnel detailed to the CIA and some military equipment, including Predator drones.
The move was first reported by Defense One, citing multiple sources.
The move would be the latest major policy change since President Donald Trump initiated a major personnel shakeup at the Pentagon following his election loss to Joe Biden.
The Trump administration has announced troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia and has jettisoned much of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership in recent weeks, replacing officials with a slew of political loyalists in a wave of disruption as his administration winds to a close. Since firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet November 9, the President has ousted at least three other top officials and replaced them with perceived loyalists and targeted two advisory boards.
A former senior administration official told CNN the Biden administration plans to reverse the move.
“The Department of Defense routinely provides logistical and other support to U.S. Government departments and agencies around the world. This support is provided in accordance with the Economy Act, and other applicable law. As a responsible actor, the Department has taken a look to better align its allocation of resources with the 2018 National Defense Strategy’s shift to great power competition,” Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland said in a statement later Thursday.
“Much has changed in the first two decades of this century, and DoD simply is working with CIA to ensure that both DoD and CIA are able to jointly confront the national security challenges facing the United States” consistent with the National Defense Strategy, he added.
CIA spokesperson Nicole de Haay also told CNN that “there is no stronger relationship nor better partnership than that between CIA and DoD.”
“That partnership has led to accomplishments that significantly advanced US national security, and we are confident that DoD and CIA will continue this close collaboration for years to come,” she said.
A US official told CNN that the letter sent by Miller to the CIA said the Department of Defense is looking into how to update department memorandum of understanding with the CIA for the first time since 2005.
The letter asks the CIA to respond with its input by January 5, the official said, adding that it is tied to the Pentagon’s focus on the National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes a focus on Russia and China – something Esper advocated for.
Esper had been already in the middle of major reviews of all Pentagon components when he left to ensure they were aligned with the National Defense Strategy, the official added.
News of the plan comes after CNN reported that a CIA operator was killed last month in an operation in Somalia, according to a senior administration official familiar with the matter. The officer was wounded in an operation in the country and later died, the official said.
The identity of the officer has not been made public but the source said the officer was a former Navy SEAL.
Last week the administration confirmed plans to withdraw almost all the troops from the country by early 2021.
US Special Operations forces have been embedded with the Somali National Army, assisting in the fight against the militant group Al-Shabaab. As well as advising on airstrikes and ground assaults, the Navy SEAL-led team’s primary task is to train and build Somalia its own elite light infantry force.
While US military advisers in Somalia typically seek to let Somali forces take the lead during operations, there have been incidents where US forces have found themselves in combat situations.
In September, a US service member was injured in the country when Al-Shabaab attacked US and Somali forces. And in August, the US military carried out an airstrike targeting Al-Shabaab fighters in the vicinity of Dar as Salam, after local US-backed forces came under fire from a building.
A Pentagon Inspector General report released this year described the conflict in Somalia as being at a “stalemate,” with US-backed Somali government forces continuing to battle Al-Shabaab, with the insurgent group continuing to target Somali and international forces in the country’s southern provinces.
Al-Shabaab is estimated to command between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters, according to estimates from Africa Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Though US military advisers have been in Somalia since at least 2013, the effort got a major boost under the Trump administration, which volunteered to undertake the Danab advisory mission in 2017 in addition to expanding drone strikes.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report.