KABUL, Afghanistan — Western spy companies are evaluating and courting regional leaders exterior the Afghan authorities who would possibly be capable to present intelligence about terrorist threats lengthy after U.S. forces withdraw, based on present and former American, European and Afghan officers.
The effort represents a turning level within the struggle. In place of one of many largest multinational navy coaching missions ever is now a hunt for informants and intelligence property. Despite the diplomats who say the Afghan authorities and its safety forces might be in a position stand on their very own, the transfer indicators that Western intelligence companies are getting ready for the doable — or evenly probably — collapse of the central authorities and an inevitable return to civil struggle.
Courting proxies in Afghanistan calls again to the Eighties and ’90s, when the nation was managed by the Soviets after which devolved right into a factional battle between regional leaders. The West often trusted opposing warlords for intelligence — and at occasions supported them financially via relationships at odds with the Afghan inhabitants. Such insurance policies usually left the United States, particularly, beholden to energy brokers who overtly dedicated human rights abuses.
Among the candidates being thought-about at the moment for intelligence gathering is the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the famed Afghan fighter who led fighters towards the Soviets within the Eighties after which towards the Taliban as head of the Northern Alliance the next decade. The son — Ahmad Massoud, 32 — has spent the previous few years attempting to revive the work of his father by assembling a coalition of militias to defend Afghanistan’s north.
Afghans, American and European officers say there isn’t any formal cooperation between Mr. Massoud and Western intelligence companies, although some have held preliminary conferences. While there may be broad settlement throughout the C.I.A. and France’s D.G.S.E. that he may present intelligence, opinions diverge on whether or not Mr. Massoud, who’s untested as a frontrunner, would be capable to command an efficient resistance.
The enchantment of constructing ties with Mr. Massoud and different regional energy brokers is apparent: Western governments mistrust the Taliban’s lukewarm commitments to maintain terrorist teams in another country within the years forward and worry that the Afghan authorities would possibly fracture if no peace settlement is reached. The Second Resistance, as Mr. Massoud now calls his armed rebellion drive, is a community that’s against the Taliban, Al Qaeda or any extremist group that rises of their shadow.
Top C.I.A. officers, together with William J. Burns, the company’s director, have acknowledged that they’re in search of new methods to gather info in Afghanistan as soon as American forces are withdrawn, and their capability to collect info on terrorist exercise is diminished.
But Mr. Massoud’s group is in its infancy, determined for help, and legitimacy. It is backed by a dozen or so militia commanders who fought the Taliban and the Soviets previously, and some thousand fighters situated within the north. Mr. Massoud says his ranks are stuffed by these slighted by the federal government and, very like the Taliban, he thinks that Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has overstayed his welcome.
“We are ready, even if it requires my own life,” Mr. Massoud mentioned in an interview.
Even the symbols at Mr. Massoud’s occasions harken again to the civil struggle period: outdated Northern Alliance flags and the outdated nationwide anthem.
But for all of Mr. Massoud’s bluster at current rallies and ceremonies, the concept that the Northern Alliance could possibly be rebranded and that its former leaders — a few of whom have since change into ambassadors, vice presidents and high navy commanders within the Afghan authorities — would comply with somebody half their age and with little battlefield expertise to struggle appears unrealistic at this level, safety analysts have mentioned.
Today, supporting any form of insurgency or constructing a resistance motion poses actual challenges, mentioned Lisa Maddox, a former C.I.A. analyst who has completed in depth work on Afghanistan.
“The concern is, what would the second resistance involve and what would our goals be?” she mentioned. “I fear folks are suggesting a new proxy war in Afghanistan. I think that we’ve learned that we can’t win.”
Even contemplating an unproven militia chief for doable counterterrorism assurances as worldwide forces depart undermines the final twenty years of state-building, safety analysts say, and virtually turns the concept of an impending civil struggle into an anticipated actuality by empowering anti-government forces much more. Such divisions are rife for exploitation by the Taliban.
The United States had a fraught relationship with the Northern Alliance, making it troublesome to gather intelligence within the nation. The French and British each backed the senior Massoud within the Eighties, whereas the Americans as an alternative centered totally on teams aligned with Pakistan’s intelligence providers. The C.I.A. connections with Mr. Massoud and his group have been restricted till 1996, when the company started offering logistical assist in change for intelligence on Al Qaeda.
One of the explanations the C.I.A. stored Massoud at arm’s size was his observe report of unreliability, drug trafficking and wartime atrocities through the early Nineteen Nineties, when Mr. Massoud’s forces shelled Kabul and massacred civilians, as different warlords did.
Now, numerous allied governments and officers have totally different views of Mr. Massoud and the viability of his motion. The French, who have been devoted supporters of his father, see his efforts as stuffed with promise to mount an actual resistance to Taliban management.
David Martinon, the French ambassador to Kabul, mentioned he has watched Mr. Massoud intently during the last three years, and nominated him for a for a visit to Paris to fulfill with French leaders, together with the president. “He is smart, passionate and a man of integrity who has committed himself to his country,” Mr. Martinon mentioned.
Washington is extra divided, and a few authorities analysts don’t assume Mr. Massoud would be capable to construct an efficient coalition.
Eighteen months in the past, Lisa Curtis, then a National Security Council official, met with Mr. Massoud together with Zalmay Khalilzad, the highest U.S. diplomat main peace efforts with the Taliban. She described him as charismatic, and mentioned he spoke convincingly concerning the significance of democratic values. “He is very clearheaded and talks about how important it is to preserve the progress of the last 20 years,” she mentioned.
In Afghanistan, some are extra skeptical of Mr. Massoud’s energy to affect a resistance.
“Practical experience has shown that no one could be like his father,” mentioned Lt. Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy minister within the Interior Ministry. “His son lives in a different time and does not have the experience that matured his father.”
Others within the Afghan authorities see Mr. Massoud as a nuisance, somebody who has the potential to create issues sooner or later for his personal self-interests.
Even if there are various opinions of his organizational prowess, there may be broad settlement that Mr. Massoud might help perform as the eyes and ears for the West — as his father did 20 years in the past.
Mr. Massoud, who was educated on the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in Britain, returned to Afghanistan in 2016. He spent the subsequent three years quietly increase help earlier than he emerged extra publicly in 2019 by holding rallies and mounting recruiting drives within the nation’s north.
In current months, Mr. Massoud’s rhetoric has grown more durable, lashing out at Mr. Ghani throughout a current ceremony in Kabul, and his efforts to safe worldwide help extra aggressive. In addition to reaching out to the United States, Britain and France, Mr. Massoud has courted India, Iran and Russia, based on folks accustomed to his pursuits. Afghan intelligence paperwork recommend that Mr. Massoud is buying weapons — via an middleman — from Russia.
But Europe and the United States see him much less as a bulwark towards an ascendant Taliban than as a probably essential monitor of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. A era in the past, Mr. Massoud’s father was outspoken on the burgeoning terrorist threats within the nation. And even when the son can’t command the identical forces as his father, maybe he’ll be capable to supply related warnings.
As a younger diplomat, Mr. Martinon remembers listening to concerning the late Massoud warning to the world throughout his April 2001 go to to France.
“What he said was beware, beware,” Mr. Martinon recalled. “The Taliban are hosting Al Qaeda and they are preparing something.”
Julian E. Barnes reported from Washington. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting from Kabul.