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Russia considers returning to Afghanistan

The Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan cost the country more than 15,000 lives, and an additional 50,000 were wounded. Before the USSR withdrew its forces in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev described the Soviet efforts to fight the insurgency there as "a bleeding wound." And yet -- just over two decades after leaving what came to be considered the Soviet version of the Vietnam War -- Russia is now eager to return to Afghanistan.

Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.

Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.

An article in the government-sponsored paper Pravda last November touted Russia's cultural projects in Afghanistan as a prelude to new projects like those being discussed now. "It's obvious that Moscow's interest after the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan ...will increase dramatically," Lyuba Lulko wrote then. "The country has always been in the zone of Soviet and Russian interests." The article went on to recast the Soviet occupation: "After what the Americans leave in Afghanistan, the Soviet presence seems to be a blessing. Soviet soldiers are remembered with respect," Lulko added. An Afghan student studying Russian was quoted saying, "Russia is our neighbor, we love its culture. All was well, when the Russians were here."

Nonetheless, as RT's report stressed, "Russian officials have repeatedly denied that Moscow is considering resuming its military presence in Afghanistan."

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Former CIA officer speaks out against new clandestine service chief

This week we learned that an undercover CIA officer who signed off on a controversial decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners being tortured in 2005 has ascended to the top job within the agency's clandestine service. Now, a former senior CIA officer is speaking out against the newly promoted director for the first time.

"Appointing someone who directly supported the enhanced interrogation program -- as opposed to having been part of the system that engaged in it -- would be a mistake," Glenn Carle, the agency's former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational  threats, told Foreign Policy. "We should repudiate these sorts of practices, whatever the pressures and judgments of the moment were."

The name of the newly promoted director remains a secret, but the contours of her career were made public by the Washington Post's Greg Miller and Julie Tate in Wednesday's paper. The report explained that in 2005 the new director signed off on the destruction of dozens of interrogation tapes of al Qaeda members including Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- an incident that is still seen by some today as a concerted cover-up. In Thursday's New York Times, the paper reported that the new director and her boss, former clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez, "were the two main drivers for years for getting the tapes destroyed." The new director also helped run the CIA's interrogation and detention program, and oversaw one of the agency's secret prisons. In justifying her ascent to the top of the clandestine service, a former CIA official told the Post that having a female lead the male-dominated department "would be a home run from a diversity standpoint."

Carle rejected that rationale. "Being a 'home run from a diversity standpoint' is not a qualification for the job," he told FP.

Carle, who served 23 years in the clandestine service, dealt firsthand with the enhanced interrogation program in the aftermath of 9/11 and discussed it at length in his 2011 book The Interrogator. He is the first former CIA officer to speak out publicly about the promotion. "My understanding is that the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers after World War II for having waterboarded Allied soldiers," he said. "Perhaps we should avoid raising to the highest position in the Clandestine Services someone so directly implicated in the same practice ... this time engaged in by Americans."

Since the director in question remains undercover and cannot defend herself, we reached out to the CIA to speak on her behalf. Spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood told FP that the acting director "is one of the most senior and respected officers in the Agency and is, of course, a strong candidate for the job."

Currently, the woman in question is under consideration to retain the position of acting director permanently. The clandestine service is the most glamorized and, arguably, important part of the CIA. The acting director is in charge of deploying spies abroad and executing covert operations, which include the CIA's drone program.

The decision to promote her is politically contentious for the CIA's new director John Brennan, who faced uncomfortable questions about his own role in the enhanced interrogation program during his Senate confirmation. At the February hearing, Brennan denied playing a central role in the program. "I did not take steps to stop the CIA's use of those techniques. I was not in the chain of command of that program," he said. Preempting a potential controversy, Brennan appointed a group of three former CIA officials (John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes, and Mary Margaret Graham) to evaluate the list of top candidates to permanently lead the clandestine service.

When the Post noted that appointing a committee to vet potential candidates to lead the clandestine service was unorthodox and suggested that Brennan was seeking political cover, CIA officials rejected that characterization. "Given the importance of the position of the director of the National Clandestine Service, Director Brennan has asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he's considering for the job," said CIA spokesman Preston Golson. "Asking former senior agency officers to review the candidates will undoubtedly aid the selection process by making sure the director has the benefit of the additional perspectives from these highly experienced and respected intelligence officers."