First, some thoughts from Ishamel Jones, a former CIA case officer:
CIA employees in Afghanistan are a special breed. With more than 90% of CIA employees living and working entirely within the United States , the burden of wartime service falls heavily upon a patriotic few. Newly trained CIA officers who volunteer for service in Afghanistan or Iraq do so by joining either the CIA division responsible for the Middle East or the CIA division for counterterrorism. Once assigned to these divisions, choices for subsequent duty stations tend to be limited to hardship locations. It's common for a CIA officer finishing a tour in Afghanistan to be assigned to a tour in Iraq . By contrast, it's common for an officer in the European division to finish a tour in Brussels and then be assigned to Paris .
The CIA officers I met who had served in Afghanistan were brave and talented, every single one of them. They are driven to serve in Afghanistan because they are patriotic Americans who want to gather the intelligence we need to protect our country and our allies. CIA employees in Afghanistan are not there for bureaucratic advancement. Few of the CIA's top managers have ever done a tour in a war zone, and these top managers tend to promote people who have followed career tracks similar to their own.
The importance of the mission in Afghanistan intensifies the CIA officers' focus. The intelligence they produce is excellent, especially the tactical intelligence. The physical danger and the distance from CIA Headquarters, both in miles and in mentality, seems to reduce risk aversion. Aggressive, productive operations that would never be considered in other regions of the world are routine in Afghanistan . Our finest people are exposed to the most danger.
CIA officers in Afghanistan and Iraq tend to be very young. One of them once told me, "One of these days, all of us junior case officers who have served in a war zone will revolt against the old guys."
Now, a letter from President Obama to the men and women of the CIA: