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CIA ratchets covert operations in Iraq to fight al Qaeda

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Central Intelligence Agency officials have ramped up covert missions in Iraq to root out al Qaeda operatives who are providing assistance to militant fighters in Syria.

An unnamed U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the increased CIA role is aimed at supporting Iraq's own Counter-terrorism Service, CTS. The CTS targets the group, al Qaeda in Iraq — also called al Qaeda in Mesopotamia — which is a Salafi jihadi militant movement, United Press International reports.

U.S. intelligence indicates that this al Qaeda affiliate is giving assistance to the Syrian-based rebel group, the al-Nusra Front, that currently controls parts in northern Syria, UPI says. The U.S. State Department lists al Nusra as a foreign terror group, saying it is little more than a front for al Qaeda in Iraq.

White House officials have previously ordered the CIA to help CTS. Now, CIA agents will be upping its role and taking over missions previously run by the U.S. military, UPI reports.

A couple weeks ago, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the U.S. would provide nonlethal assistance to rebel fighters in Syria, including $60 million to help with security.

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