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Sources: Pentagon staff eyes CIA-led force

WASHINGTON -- Top Pentagon officials are considering putting elite special operations troops under CIA control in Afghanistan after 2014, just as they were during last year's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, sources told The Associated Press.

The plan is one of several possible scenarios being debated by Pentagon staffers. It has not yet been presented to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the White House or Congress, the sources said.

If the plan were adopted, the United States and Afghanistan could say there are no more U.S. troops on the ground because once the elite units are assigned to CIA control, even temporarily, they become spies.

No matter who's in charge, the special operations units still would target militants on joint raids with Afghans and keep training Afghan forces.

The idea floated by a senior defense intelligence official comes as U.S. defense chiefs try to figure out how to draw down troops fast enough to meet the 2014 deadline. Pentagon staffers already have put forward a plan to hand over much of the fighting to special operations troops. This idea would shrink the U.S. presence to less than 20,000 troops after 2014, said four current and two former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pentagon spokesman George Little denied the idea was being discussed. "Any suggestion that such a plan exists is simply wrong," he said Saturday.

Reducing the U.S. presence faster would be a political boon for the White House and the Afghan government, with Afghan sentiment raw over incidents such as the burning of Qurans. But a CIA-run war would mean that the U.S. public would not be informed about funding or operations, as it is in a traditional war.

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