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Pentagon withdrawing support from CIA counter-terrorism efforts: report

Pentagon withdrawing support from CIA counter-terrorism efforts: report
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President TrumpDonald TrumpFranklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Man suspected in wife's disappearance accused of casting her ballot for Trump Stefanik: Cheney is 'looking backwards' MORE's political appointees at the Pentagon are reviewing the Defense Department's (DOD) aid to the CIA and could withdraw support from counterterrorism efforts in place of missions related to Russia and China, according to a report.

The Pentagon ordered the review to determine whether DOD personnel should be repurposed for more calculated missions aimed at "near-peer competitors" versus maintaining counterterrorism operations in hot spots throughout the world, Defense One reported Wednesday.

The report said the review is the pet project of acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is one of Trump's political appointees following the president's Election Day loss.

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A DOD spokesperson responded to questions from The Hill said the Pentagon wanted to ensure the nation is confronting its security challenges.

"Much has changed in the first two decades of this century, and DOD simply is working with CIA to ensure that both DOD and CIA are able to jointly confront the national security challenges facing the United States consistent with the [2018 National Defense Strategy] NDS," the spokesperson said. 

In 2018, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis rolled out the NDS, which announced the U.S. would prioritize operations based around near-peer competitors over counterterrorism operations. 

However, the role of special operators has remained a point of contention since the announcement.

Some critics say it is dangerous to cease the Defense Department's support of the CIA's counterterrorism efforts.

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Details regarding the scope and scale of the review process were not immediately available, though two sources familiar with the matter told Defense One that acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller sent a letter to CIA Director Gina HaspelGina Cheri HaspelCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Biden announces veteran diplomat William Burns as nominee for CIA director Meet Biden's pick to lead the US intelligence community MORE, noting a longstanding arrangement offering DOD support to the agency is in jeopardy.

One former administration official said they see the move as an effort to curtail the DOD's counterterrorism support to the CIA.

"I think it's fair for the DOD to say, 'I'd like some of our detailees to be involved in these higher-level missions' — and they are — but it's going to be very few, because there's very few involved in those missions anyway," said the former official. "If they go, 'We don't want to help you with the CT missions' — well, somebody has to do it."

The DOD spokesperson said the department believes "discussions with our partners should proceed quickly," noting that if given the opportunity before the initial report was published, DOD "would have made this clear."

Another former official expressed concerns if the DOD cuts counterterrorism detailees to the Special Activities Center (SAC) — which is used in clandestine or covert operations the U.S. does not want to publicly claim — it could endanger CIA officers still active in combat zones.

"It's basically going to ask the CIA to carry the burden for two-and-a-half months and pull the rug out from under them at the same time," said the former official. "If they start dying in Afghanistan, this is going to be a big deal."

The potential changes could have lasting effects on the DOD's involvement in CIA covert operations. However, a former senior administration official told CNN the Biden administration plans to reverse the move as one of the president-elect's first acts in office.