Afghanistan could become haven for ISIS, says former CIA officer

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Afghanistan is in danger of turning into a sanctuary once again for Islamist extremists, as the West withdraws troops and shifts its attention elsewhere, a former senior Cemtral Intelligence Agency official warned on Tuesday.

The country could even become a refuge for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants now waging war in Syria and Iraq, said Mr Robert Grenier, the former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Islamabad and author of a new book.

His memoir, 88 Days to Kandahar, recounts his harrowing experience helping to topple the Taleban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept 11 attacks. "I would say if anything the future threat of an Afghan safe haven is maybe even greater than it was back before 9/11," Mr Grenier said at an event organized by the New America think-tank.

The Afghan Taleban would not be ready to rebuff its allies in the Pakistani Taleban or other extremists - such as ISIS - if they asked for sanctuary, he said. "There are groups within Pakistan that are dedicated to attacking the regime in Islamabad. They're not going to go away," he said.

According to Mr Grenier, the Taleban tend to see things in black-and-white terms, looking at decisions through the question: "Is it dictated by Islam or is it not?"

"And they won't turn their back on people who are ideologically allied with them across the border.

"Nor do I believe will they turn their backs on international terrorists, if once again they come back to the region in any significant numbers, as I fear they will if their fortunes take a bad turn," he said.

Mr Grenier's book describes how US aircraft missed taking out Taleban leader Mullah Omar by "30 minutes" in 2001 and how former Afghan president Hamid Karzai was nearly killed inadvertently in American bombing raids.

He also described a last-ditch bid to negotiate a deal with the Taleban's No. 2 leader in the days after 9/11, in which Mr Grenier tried to persuade his counterpart in a hotel in Pakistan to break with Omar and stage a coup. The attempt failed.

The former CIA officer said he was skeptical that attempts to broker peace talks with the Taleban would succeed, as the insurgents still believe they can topple the government and take back power in Kabul. He also said the group was not suited to political rule or taking part in parliamentary politics.

Mr Grenier, who rose to other senior posts in the CIA before leaving in 2006, said his book tells the story of how America quickly won what he calls "the first American-Afghan war" in 2001, and "how we lost, or at least certainly didn't win, the second American-Afghan war".

And the book ends with a warning about "how the errors of the past may yet be revisited when once again we may be called upon to fight a third American-Afghan war".

With a small US-led force due to withdraw in two years, Grenier said he fears that the United States and other Western governments will fail to funnel financial aid to Kabul after their soldiers leave and abandon the Afghan government.

His book offers a very grim view of the legacy of more than a decade of war against the Taleban insurgents.

"For all the billions spent and lives lost, there is little to show, and most of that will not long survive our departure," he writes.