By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 7, 2010 - In the wake of a Dec. 31 suicide bombing attack that killed seven CIA operatives in eastern Afghanistan, the military's highest-ranking officer yesterday underscored the close ties between American armed forces and the U.S. intelligence community. "We've worked with the CIA and other agencies extensively since these wars started," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a televised interview of "The Daily Show" yesterday. "Basically, it's very much one team."
Military officials acknowledge the CIA's role in aiding the Northern Alliance, an Afghan separatist movement, in its fight against the Taliban as the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan began in late 2001, and the agency's subsequent support of the northern Iraqi Peshmerga fighters opposed to Saddam Hussein's forces.
While some intelligence contractors do not fall under U.S. military command and control, Mullen said, the working relationship between the intelligence and military communities on the whole has improved since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.
"We work with them. We do it a lot better than we did when these wars started," he said. "And that's really important."
The attack last week on a CIA outpost in Afghanistan's Khost Province near the Afghan-Pakistan border called attention to the ultimate sacrifice sometimes paid by nonmilitary personnel engaged in U.S. war efforts. The seven American intelligence operatives -- five CIA members and two contractors -- were killed after a Jordanian double agent posing as an informant gained access to the compound and detonated an explosive device, according to reports.
"My condolences and sympathies go out to the families of these courageous, patriotic, dedicated professionals that we lost recently, and we are blessed to have them as we are those who serve in the military," Mullen said.
President Barack Obama cited contributions the agency has made in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a letter to CIA employees a day after the bombing.
"Since our country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, you have served on the front lines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century," Obama wrote. "Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our allies and partners have been more secure.
"Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated," he said. "Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work, because I rely on it every day."
But the intelligence community in Afghanistan gained other attention this week when a top U.S. military intelligence official had published a report critical of intelligence practices in Afghanistan and proposed sweeping reform. The analysis by Army Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, called for overhauling the methods for gathering, integrating and distributing intelligence.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday that the analysis typifies the kind of "candid, critical self-assessment" that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates believes is a sign of a strong and healthy organization.
"Intelligence is critical to our success there, and intelligence over the years has clearly been a challenge that we've had to deal with," Morrell told reporters. "And I think we are all open to suggestions about how we can be doing this better."
Highlighting the U.S. armed forces' contribution to the team effort, Mullen called the current military the best he's ever been associated with in his 40 years of service.
The chairman emphasized the sacrifice military personnel and their families have made since the start of current U.S. conflicts nine years ago.
"They have truly been brilliant and resilient, and they've been supported by fabulous families who've been through a lot as well. And at the same time are also resilient," he said. "So I'm actually encouraged, although we're stretched and stressed, and it's a real balancing act. There's no question about that."