Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the CIA's most sensitive operations, including raids on suspected militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Blackwater's role in Afghanistan began in early 2002 when the CIA hired the private company to guard the perimeter around its station in Kabul's Ariana Hotel, the newspaper reported on its website www.nytimes.com.
Now known as Xe Services, Blackwater was also hired as security for the CIA station in Baghdad after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq a year later.
But TheTimes said Blackwater's role in both wars changed sharply when its guards began providing security for CIA operatives in the field, sometimes during offensive missions in conjunction with Delta Force or Navy Seals teams.
Raids on suspected insurgents in Iraq, known as "snatch and grab" operations, began happening almost nightly during the worst years of the war between 2004 and 2006.
The newspaper quoted several former Blackwater guards as saying operations to capture and kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan became so routine that Blackwater personnel sometimes became partners in the missions rather than simply providing the security for the CIA officers.
The Blackwater name burst into the headlines of the Iraq war after a September 2007 shooting in which its guards allegedly killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians while escorting a convoy of U.S. diplomats through Baghdad.
One guard pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with the shooting, which also wounded 20 people. Five others were charged.
The Times reported in August, the CIA also hired Blackwater contractors for a secret program to track and assassinate senior al Qaeda figures. The program cost millions of dollars but never captured or killed any militants, the paper said.