Today’s New York Times article on General McChrystal’s spadework for the next escalation in Afghanistan illustrates the hole we’re in:
An expanded American footprint would also increase Mr. Obama’s entanglement with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate.
The U.S. chose counterinsurgency (COIN) as our strategy for Afghanistan. COIN requires U.S. policymakers to pick a faction in a civil conflict and work to convince the population to accept as legitimate a government comprised of that faction. Specific to Afghanistan, one can state our objectives thus:
- Al Qaeda must be denied safe haven in Afghanistan.
- The Taliban gave them safe haven and (according to COIN-pushers) would likely do so again if they regained control of the country.
- Therefore, we must support the Kabul government, comprised largely of enemies of the Taliban, and work to convince the population that they are a legitimate government. For the moment, we will do that by providing them security in the name of that government while assisting in the construction of an Afghan security apparatus.
The catch is, though, that following this strategy means that we too often lie down with dogs.
Meet Muhammed Karim Khalili
According to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Muhammed Karim Khalili was sworn in as Second Vice President of Afghanistan on December 7, 2004. The embassy biography for Vice President Khalili is humble and quaint. You’d never know he was a war criminal and a warlord.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan, the country descended into civil war. One of the prime factions at the time was an ethnic Shi’a Hazara militia called Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-yiAfghanistan, or Wahdat for short. Formed by Abdul Ali Mazari, Wahdat was a principle participant in the vicious battles for Kabul. Mazari’s lieutenant was a man named Karim Khalili.
Human Rights Watch reports that, under Mazari and Khalili, Wahdat was among several factions that “regularly and intentionally targeted civilians and civilian areas for attack, and recklesslessly and indiscriminately fired weapons into civilian areas.” Journalists reported seeing Wahdat forces intentionally firing rockets into occupied civilian homes. Wahdat was also among the factions cited for the use of imprecise weapons systems that killed civilians:
including Sakr rockets and UB-16 and UB-32 S-5 airborne rocket launchers clumsily refitted onto tank turrets.The aiming of these rocket systems are considered “dumb” or non-precision. Sakr rockets are “like bottle rockets,” according to one military analyst, and rocket systems generally as not designed for accuracy in close combat: they cannot be adequately aimed within urban settings or made to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects.The use of the makeshift S-5 system in particular, within Kabul city, demonstrated an utter disregard of the duty to use methods and means of attack that distinguish between civilian objects and military targets.
When fighting broke out in Kabul between Wahdat and Ittihad forces (which started, stupidly, over arguments about each faction tearing down each others’ posters), Wahdat forces began kidnapping and disappearing Pashtuns, Tajiks, and other non-Hazaras. Here’s one man’s account from the Human Rights Watch report:
“It was morning, I was going by Chelsatoon garden.I was with my 10-year-old son.We were stopped by Hezb-e Wahdat troops.Two men.They took us to Habibi high school.They didn’t give me any problems at first, they were just questioning me. . . .But I saw this containernearby, with prisoners.The two men were arguing.One was saying, ‘Leave him, he’s innocent.’ The other was saying, ‘No, we should arrest them because they’re Pashtuns.’ They had arrested some other Pashtuns, and I saw them putting them into a container there.
“…Their argument lasted a few minutes. Finally, they let me go and I was set free.”
The man said the troops sometime soon after apparently fired a missile or rocket-propelled grenade into the container:
“I was walking away with my son. We heard the explosion. The container had been closed after they put the prisoners in it. I heard the explosion and I looked, and then I took my son and started to move away, because we were in danger. . . .When I looked I saw that all these people were running away from where the container was. . . .I heard screams from the container and there was smoke coming out of the hole.The rocket had penetrated and exploded. . . .”
The report goes on and on like this, describing a Wahdat prison where prisoners were tortured and killed and their bodies incinerated in the compound’s brick-making furnaces. Later in the conflict, forces of other factions uncovered Wahdat prisoners tortured into insanity. Thousands of those arrested by Wahdat and other factions were never seen again. Widespread rape of women, girls and boys were also documented.
Wahdat was also guilty of more run-of-the-mill crimes, including murder, pillage and looting.
Khalili was not only granted amnesty for his past crimes and the crimes of men under his command by the warlord-ridden government in Kabul; as stated above, he’s now the second vice president. In exchange for his support in the 2009 election, Karzai promised to carve out new provinces for him and another warlord, Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq.
But hey–listen. Very Serious People say we have to work with Khalili and Co. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? But here’s the thing: when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Counterinsurgency on behalf of a government filled with thugs like Khalili protects their power and protects them from accountability for their war crimes and will provide them with a professionally trained and U.S.-financed apparatus of repression. (If you want to see the counterinsurgency crowd’s vision for the next few years in Afghanistan, look no further than El Salvador, cited by the COIN manual as a success story.) In other words, COIN on behalf of Karzai and Khalili means that our troops fight and die to protect the power of warlords and war criminals.
Khalili is just one more reason why American policymakers should stop sending our troops to prop up a warlord-ridden narco-state government in Afghanistan. Get our troops out of there, now.
(Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. You can learn more about the dangers of continued U.S. military action in Afghanistan at RethinkAfghanistan.com.)