Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Ex-CIA agent: Iraq war harmed al Qaeda hunt

Relatives carry the body of an Afghan man killed during a suicide attack near the U.S. base at Bagram, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

In the wake of today's suicide attack at a U.S. base outside Kabul that killed more than 20 people and apparently was aimed at disrupting Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to Afghanistan, we are going to examine the dramatic rise in suicide attacks in Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

To help us sort through these developments, we will be joined by former CIA officer Art Keller, who hunted members of al Qaeda in Pakistan in 2006. His job was to gather intelligence about the terrorists from his post on a Pakistani army base. With blonde hair and blue eyes, Keller had no chance of going undercover; he was a spy-master, not a spy.

Speaking out for the first time, Keller explains how the Taliban and al Qaeda are merging and how they learned successful techniques from the war in Iraq.

"Iraq is really a training ground. Tactics from Iraq have migrated, especially the employment of IEDs and suicide bombers again," Keller says. "They see what's effective."

Keller says the war in Iraq has shortchanged the U.S. effort to go after al Qaeda in Pakistan.

"I think a great deal of the resources have gone to Iraq," Keller says. "I don't think it's appreciated that the CIA is not really a very large organization in terms of field personnel. So we do not have infinite amounts. And if you do a couple larger deployments, that uses up a lot of people, because we also have the rest of the world that we have to keep an eye on."

Keller will also help us analyze a wave of new videotapes obtained by CNN from al Qaeda and the Taliban. Those tapes chart the mounting mayhem that the militants are causing both in Afghanistan and in the wild tribal regions of western Pakistan.

"They didn't believe in suicide. They believed that was a sin against Islam," Keller says. "And now, there are waves and waves of suicide bombers being dispatched. So a very strong cultural prohibition has been eroded."
Posted By Peter Bergen, CNN Terrorism Analyst: 5:03 PM ET
  29 Comments
Good call, Peter. It seems when we really need astute reporting from the ME, the MSM is avoiding the reality and real issues. Thanks
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 5:53 PM ET
The current Bush administration has done more to inflame terrorism throughout the world than all other causes combined.

After 9/11, we had most of the world on our side, united in opposition to terrorism. We should have finished the war, stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan before even thinking of entering Iraq.

Today, after over 6 years of leadership with G.W. Bush, the United States has alienated almost the entire world, including our allies. We have become mired in perpetual war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And we have created a debt our grandchildren will be dealing paying.

G.W. Bush is among the worst Presidents in U.S. history, but he is surely the most dangerous President in U.S. history.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 5:56 PM ET
I think there is too much emphasis in the media on the Iraqi war alone. We have forgotten about Afghanistan and Pakistan where many of our soldiers are still fighting, still trying to make the sacrifice for us all.
Posted By Anonymous Lisa B., NYC : 6:04 PM ET
Hello Peter,

This appears to be a most fascinating story.Thank you for bringing it to us. I wonder why our government has all of these amazing agencies and experts at their disposal, yet they seldom listen to them, or follow their advice? That frustrates me to no end.

This is incredibly vital information, but yet more troops are being deployed where? To Iraq? I simply do not understand.

Seems to me that the people in charge of these things need to pay more attention to the issues at hand and not so much damage control, or trying to save their own necks/images. It is disgusting and costs the lives of our troops, and civilians as well.

Our government needs to focus their attention on where al Qaeda trains and how they brainwash these people to carry out the horrors and atrocities that they continually commit on innocent people. They need to go to the source, which, as you have pointed out so well, is NOT in Iraq. I pray that they listen. With issues such as the Taliban and al Qaeda merging, and IED's and other tactics being perfected, we need to redirect and fast. More effort is needed in Afghanistan!

Fascinating reporting as always.
Posted By Anonymous Pati McMillan, Camp Hill, PA : 6:07 PM ET
Not only did the Iraq war harmed the hunt for Al Qaeda but it will also hamstrung our efforts to deal with Iran. The Iraq war has emboldened all our adversaries for now they know that the whole world looks upon all future U.S. military options will now be watered down at best. And this will be the worst news for us all.
Posted By Anonymous Walter B. Lindenhurst, IL : 6:11 PM ET
Peter,
The rise in violence and suicide bombings by the Taliban and al Qaeda along the Afgan-Pakistan border is alarming. So Peter, basically your blog is saying that this war that the Bush regime has created is no more than a training ground for the terrorist? Wow, that's not good news. Scary and sad that today's suicide attack which was aimed at Vice President Cheney killed 20 innocent people. You don't suppose it was a case of mistaken identy do you? Maybe Dick Cheney was mistaken for a quail. . .in the bush???? Sorry, I just couldn't resist.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 6:16 PM ET
Peter,

I am so glad that eyes are turning back towards Afganistan. Thank you 360 for your contribution to this effort. We should never have taken our eye off the ball there and invaded Iraq like we did and diverted important resources from this fight. Gore would never have made the mistakes that Bush did. Oh well, coulda woulda shoulda never does you any good. And I must say that Gore sure looked like he was having more fun at the Oscars than Bush does when he faces the press or Congress now.

I look forward to the coverage tonight as always.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 6:46 PM ET
This is exactly why the most recent BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) list was a mistake. Closing military bases in the United States reduced the effectiveness of our military to respond to threats in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; if the most recent BRAC list could be repealed I believe that that part of the problem would be fixed. Only problem is that it might be too late to do so.

The other way to adjust this unfortunate turn of events is if all NATO countries that are involved in Afghanistan increase their troop levels by a minimum of double their current level--triple if it becomes necessary. I just don't see how 50,000 NATO forces can defeat al Qaeda, especially if Pakistan doesn't step up to the plate and allow cross-border raids by the NATO forces. If Pakistan does change their mind on this, then things would be a lot easier than they are now--we probably would have captured Osama Bin Laden by this point in time, and he would have stood trial for all the terrible things that he is responsible for.
Posted By Anonymous Jared, North Conway, NH : 7:06 PM ET
Great article on an oft overlooked side of this conflict. The western world would've been hard pressed not to support the United States and the ousting of the taliban and the hunt for Al Qaeda. It would have been in the can by now and the world a bit safer. The world has owed the United States a large debt of gratitude for its help over the years. Now it seems they have all forgotten that debt and have seized on the Iraqi conflict to further their selfish goals. Rookie mistake by the Bush administration...and your troops have paid dearly. God bless them for their sacrifice.
Posted By Anonymous Cameron Field, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 7:23 PM ET
If it were not for CNN (and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada) where would one be able to recive hard facts concerning the most ill-conceived and executed foreign endeavour in U.S. history?

Whether one believes that Bush deliberatelory mislead the American public and the world community in his rationale for invading Iraq or not the hard fact is that he took his eye off of the ball when he should have concentrated all of America's military might into pursuing the Taliban and Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

Instead, Bush squandered the goodwill and support of most of the entire world immediatley after 9/11 by his obession with installing western-style democracy in the Middle East.

Where no terrorists existed prior to the invasion Iraq it is now a hotbed of Al Quaeda insurgency in the entire Middle East. Where calm existed in Iraq prior to the invasion it is now a swirling pool of insecurity,terror and bloodshed. Where relative harmony existed in Iraq prior to his invasion Iraq is now a seething cauldron of hatred permeating every sector of its society.

Why doesn't anyone in the U.S. media ask Bush if he truly believes that the tens upon tens of thousands of Iraqis and 3,160 plus Americans are better off dead than alive solely because of him? Or their widows,widowers or orphaned children?

This war is a tragedy of monumental proportions and history will never forgive George Bush.

CNN is to be congratulated for its extensive, hard-hitting, gloves off coverage of this immoral war and for presenting all of its horrors before the American people because they are certainly have not received it from the Bush administration.

Thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Richard N., Toronto : 8:07 PM ET
Hi Peter,
Thanks for all the information. Here are my concerns:Firstly, we can't just keep sending more troops over, that just seems to be giving the bad guys more targets. Almost like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.
Secondly, The US seems to be losing its inflence over there. Look how Pakistan signed that treaty along the border, now the violence has escalated 10 fold.
So the question is...what can be done at this point to change the situation long and short term?? Hopefully you can provide some insight into these dilemmas tonight. I'm looking forward to the segment.
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl, Johnston RI : 8:37 PM ET
Peter: I was captured by the point Keller made about the CIA field personnel not being large enough. We can have heated debates about sending more troops to Iraq and yet no one really talks about the amount of resources we have available within the CIA to cover the field and gather more intelligence or the fact that we might be limited in resources due to both wars going on at the same time. Perhaps this is something we don't want our enemies to know. However, it would be very interesting to know if, in fact, we truly are experiencing a shortage of intelligence personnel and if so, what are we doing about it.
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 8:38 PM ET
Amen. Of course, anyone who can think past a day and a half could have seen how this would evolve.
Posted By Anonymous jon wolf, Moberly, MO : 8:39 PM ET
Are you people serious? Why all this left wing wacko rant? Just to attempt to embarass a Pres.? We fight terrorists where we have to!! We aren't fighting them here!!! We rescued a Nation under a murdering dictator and gave it a chance to be free, does that count for anything to you or does it only count if it's a left wing wacko President. Get off the rant we saved thousands of INNOCENT Iraqi lives by killing that DICTATOR.
Posted By Anonymous Craig Belmont N.C. : 8:40 PM ET
Peter,
Finally,more coverage on Afghanistan. The big mistake was to not secure the area after entering in 2001. They did their thing than Bush pulled them out. What did he expect??? That they would go back to their holes with their tales between their legs saying: "Woo, we've learned our lesson,we better behave ourselves!"?
They are dealing with terrorists,fanatics!Iraq was such a big mistake. The real threat was in Afghanistan,all that's been created by Bush and his arrogance in Iraq,is only icing on the cake for the terrorists.
To Jared,who said that NATO needed to double their troops level. I don't know the numbers for the other countries,but I know Canada has increased the numbers,will again this summer. We are up to more than 1 billion in aid(reconstruction,military,education,paying the salaries of policemen,microcredit,etc...)but it's looks like throwing sand against the wind,it comes back in your face and you have to start again. Pakistan is doing nothing "really" helpful.I'm a positive person by nature,but I look at the situation and it gives me the jeeters! Bush has not taken into account the history of those countries,all the experts opinions,he has opened the door to hell and played right into the hands of the terrorists.And I get the creeps seeing how he's going after Iran.
What's the saying? Be nice to the ones you encounter on your way up, they are the same you'll see on your way down????

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 9:06 PM ET
I personally am grateful that the Vice President was not injured. No matter what we all believe about this war on terror, the use of suicide bombers is shameful. Shameful and disgusting. When will the people of that area come to realize that and say enough is enough. Enough bloodshed, enough death. Perhaps to get an answer to those questions, they should look in the mirror.
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 9:16 PM ET
Our current administration works on their own agenda, while the rest of America sits back and suffers. Why are we not out in the streets chanting down US policy in the middle east? This whole things reminds me of being a kid and hearing the body counts from Viet Nam, what's next? High school age men and women should be worried because it will be those people who are drafted.
Posted By Anonymous Richard Golodner, Washington D.C. : 9:40 PM ET
Peter:

An extremely important point in your astute commentary has been missed. Art Keller is no doubt a patriot and his service is indispensable to our great country. But his �blond hair and blue eyes� got in the way of achieving even more of his noble goal. It is astounding how our intelligence agencies are caught up in bureaucratic webs and are not doing their utmost to recruit those of us who are from that part of the world � have grown up here � are staunchly patriotic � and will do our level best � to combat the terrorists and the associated Islamists, the world over.

It is high time that our intelligence community realizes this major shortcoming and acts to rectify it before we fall perilously behind in this global war � the root of which is being fought in the shadows.
Posted By Anonymous Asad, Scottsdale, AZ. : 10:08 PM ET
Could it realy be that there are people out there, who believe, that Mr. Keller's report, mentions something new?
This is not to sound like a wise guy, but it was clear, That Iraq had nothing to do with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. It was obvious that you would not win the war in Afghanistan with weeks of bombardments and some 40000 troops. The USA goverment did not need the CIA to understand the situation in Afghanistan before and after 9/11. Everyone knows about the ties the Afghan tribes have towards the countries which have borders with Afghanistan. The current President of Pakistan has never had any power over the tribes which live at the border to Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan should have been fought by the US with the same amount of resources, energy and will which they used in Iraq.

A proper executed invasion into Afghanistan and Afghanistan alone whould have been much more successful.

It is a fact that such an invasion would have not caused an increase in terrorist attacks through out the world, quite the opposite. Mullah Omar and Bin Laden would have probably been captured. The Taliban/Al Qaeda network would have been destroyed for decades to come.

Today Iraq has turned Arabs against the West an especially the US. The Taliban/AL Qaeda connection had only a few Arabs in their ranks in comparison. Meaning now the US has a real problem at hand which will take at least a decade and many more terrorist attckas in the West and many victims before we will over come this chapter in human history.

Afghanistan with a few hundred key people in the Taliban/Al Qaeda organisation where a threat 5 years ago. Today a few thousand key people of Arab origin are a threat to the world.

I wonder how the current US administration would measure its performance in this whole issue. The sad thing is that Chenny and his team are not even capable of seeing that the current strategy is going down the drain. They truely belive they did the right thing for the "good of the people of the United States of America". 5 Years from now they will be, I am sure proven wrong. By that time it might be to late.
Posted By Anonymous Ramsi Hashash, Willmar MN : 11:18 PM ET
Thank you first of all!!! Yes there is a huge cultural erosion occuring across the board in the world today. The administration currently in power in the U.S. does NOT represent the values I was brought up with as an american, nor do the Islamist extremesists represent Muslim values. Mohammed and Jesus would be aphalled at the goings on in the world today. Though I left Christianity as a religion long ago I still believe in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. and I think that my Muslim brothers and sisters believe that as well. Unfortunately our political representatives have not taken that to heart. I would say GOD save their souls but I fear it it is too late. Let the rest of us with rational minds and love in our hearts rise up against the tyranny on all sides!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous glen hockemeier kansas city, missouri and Lichtaart Belgium : 11:21 PM ET
There is one of many questions which one should ask themselves. The US can not secure its own border with Mexico, so how are 40000 soldiers supposed to secure any of the Afghan borders?

The answer is clear impossible. At this current rate, the US and Western Forces will end up like the Russian Force some 20 years ago, they will leave with having probably achieved only little.
Posted By Anonymous Ramsi Hashash, Willmar MN : 11:34 PM ET
The Afghanistan and Iraq wars began under false pretenses and continue under false pretenses. The world knows this to be a fact and thus has lost all credability in Bush as a World Leader. Does Bush care. Obviously not.

He is not interested in the opinions of Nato Allies, World Leaders, Democrats or even Republicans. He is going to do what he wants to do and has made that fact blatantly clear. Yet, those whose opinions are not valued are expected to give him their unwavering support via house votes and military troops. A display of Arrogance at it's worst and most frivolous? You Betcha!

Nations around the world have been put in jeopardy due to that same arrogance. And Nations will continue to be put in jeopardy by a President who seems to believe that the cowboy shoot em up and ride into the sunset as a hero is a real time war strategy.
"We will hunt them down. And bring them to justice." We are still hunting.

The war we are fighting is the Bush War and it is and will continue to fail at a great cost economically and humanely. Millions of innocent people have and will continue to die. Will Bush admit to his grievous failure? Not a chance. His pride is at stake now. And who wants to be written into the History Books of the future as a Presidential failure.

The mind blower for me in all this is that countries, citizens, can be ripped apart, blown away, invaded, indefinitely for no legitimate reason and seemingly no one has the power to pull the plug on one man's ill conceived dream gone tragically wrong?

Yes, I am truly grateful I live in a Democratic Nation. "By the people, for the people," what a great concept. Just ask Iraq.
Posted By Anonymous Pat M. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada : 12:10 AM ET
Yes, I agree with you totally!!
Posted By Anonymous Ezra, HK : 5:39 AM ET
If CIA agents can say like this then the US Govt had misplaced its priority. Its time the US Govt checked what it is holding in its hands else another Viatenan defeat is about to happen in Iraq and Afghanstan.
Posted By Anonymous Simon Chinyama, Lusaka, Zambia. : 6:46 AM ET
Its the western world you should all take a good look at? al America and the superior war lords that drive your nation into these hostile wars. I think the attacks on America was a false perception which caused confusion to begin with. It made its way into mainstream America to pave the way for Martial law.
Posted By Anonymous Eli, Halifax Nova Scotia : 7:34 AM ET
The methods of war would be spread without Iraq as base. The terrorists in 9/11 were multinational and shared. They will not return to being "simple farmers" or whatever you want to dream about. Bush at least confronted the issue, unlike his predecessor. We must allocate our forces and resources in the best possible method, which can seem to make us reactive rather than proactive, but can you imagine asking congress for money to investigate a "possible" threat? Isn't the reduction we experienced in our "spy" agencies in the near past. Focus, try to remember, try to see through the media smoke screen and slanted opinions they produce.
Surely it's dark and smelly where your head resides.
Posted By Anonymous Tim, Boca Raton, Fl : 8:13 AM ET
Hi Art, Thanks for making yourself available in this forum.

I can see from your brief bio here and from infrequent mentions of "... 2 secret U.S. based in Pakistan." that we have operational capabilities within Pakistan. Do you feel that the stated position of both the U.S. and Pakistani governments (that U.S. forces are not allowed to conduct operations in Pakistan) versus reality affects the funding, staffing and/or recognition merited?

Stay safe.

Cheers,

Greg
Posted By Anonymous Greg Tutunjian, Newton, Massachusetts : 8:19 AM ET
Come on, people. Wake up and smell the gunpowder. This has ALWAYS been about Iraq, not Al Qaeda. Indeed, a strong case can be made that Al Qaeda on 9-11 was merely doing the biddings of others who needed an excuse to war on oil-rich, strategically-located Iraq. It is well known that, prior to 2001, Cheney and other neocons fretted over lacking a new Pearl Harbor to provide this convenient cover story. Only when we get a truly independent investigation into 9-11 will Bush's connections to bin Laden be revealed. This also explains Bush's disinterest in pursuing the alleged 9-11 mastermind; bin Laden did his contract job and now he simply fades away.
Posted By Anonymous Hardy Campbell, Houston, TX : 8:52 AM ET
This is a great story that should be used for follow-up stories. The issues of suicide bombings in Islam is complex religiously and philosophically. Religiously speaking, the issues of suicide; the taking of ones own life out of despair, and the western labeled "suicide bombing"; blowing yourself up as a weapon against your enemies are two very different acts in the minds of radical Muslims and many of their sympathizers. Philosophically speaking, in the west one does not have to look very far to find examples where westerners make deep distinctions between an act of despair and suicidal acts that further patriotic causes. Where the west differs drastically from Islamist radicals is not in the act, but using the act as a strategy/tactic of warfare. The differences in warfare tactics better contrasts the modernity of the two worlds than it does its religious or philosophical differences.
Posted By Anonymous Steve, Epping NH : 8:56 AM ET
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