Posts Tagged ‘Hamid Karzai’

As President Obama’s strategy review for Afghanistan commences, let’s hope he’s balancing the information coming to him from his happy-talking generals with some independent news reading of his own.

  • While General David Petraeus serenades the major news media in the United States with the siren song of “progress,” security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and efforts in the south to win legitimacy for the Kabul government are failing.
  • Hamid Karzai seems dead set on proving just how corrupt he and his business connections are.
  • Efforts to transform the Afghan National Army from a carpetbagger army to a legitimate, representative force capable of keeping peace in the south are a flop.

All of these reports are clear indications that the massive influx of troops into Afghanistan under Obama failed to improve the situation in that country and very likely made it worse. The president should seize on any of the numerous signs of policy failure–from the massively corrupt Kabulbank fiasco to the collapse of security across the country–and use this strategy review to create a plan that begins immediate U.S. troop withdrawals.

Security Crumbles

Aid groups warn that security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and they strongly dispute military assurances that things are “getting worse before they get better.” According to The New York Times:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

…Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” …a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.

With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

While Petraeus has been on a media blitz claiming that the rise in violence can be attributed to the Taliban fighting back as NATO forces “take away areas that are important to the enemy,” the Times’ story makes clear that his explanation fails to address rapidly deteriorating security in parts of the country where the NATO presence is light. In fact, compared to August 2009, insurgent attacks more than doubled last month.

Kabulbank Corruption

General Petraeus’ manual on how to conduct counterinsurgency refers to a legitimate host nation government as “a north star.” But over the past week, we’ve been treated to a sickening spectacle showing just how corrupt Hamid Karzai and his cronies really are. A real estate market collapse in Dubai rocked the privately owned Kabulbank, exposing the “investment” of hundreds of millions of depositor assets in palatial homes on Palm Jumeirah off Dubai’s cost, handed out to friends and family of the government. As media attention zeroed in on the bank, we learned that presidential campaign contributions were given to Karzai by Kabulbank in exchange for naming a major shareholder’s brother (a notorious war criminal) as his vice presidential running mate; that Karzai’s brother, Mahmoud Karzai, sat at the center of the scandal; and that key campaign advisers had become major shareholders in the bank. Now government forces and security guards are beating people away (literally) as outraged depositors seek to get their money out. Karzai’s inner circle was implicated so thoroughly that now the U.S. is backing off its repeated pronouncements of the importance of rooting out corruption.

In short, we lack one of the prerequisites asserted by Petraeus’ own doctrine for success under the current strategy in Afghanistan, and we’ve stopped even really trying to construct one.

Southern Pashtuns Stay Away from ANA

Another of the key components of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to create an army with a sizable enough southern Pashtun contingent to allow the security forces to operate in the Taliban’s traditional strongholds without being seen as an occupying force from the north. According to The Wall Street Journal, that effort is failing:

Recent initiatives to recruit more southern Pashtuns into the Afghan security forces…appear to have backfired.

In January, southern Pashtuns accounted for 3.4% of recruits that month, falling to 1.1% in July and 1.8% in August.

Last month, just 66 of the 3,708 Afghan recruits were Pashtuns, U.S. officials said.

Overall, Pashtuns account for 43% of the Afghan army, but very few of them are from the south.

Afghanistan’s recent history is fraught with internal strife between factions and ethnic groups, including a nasty conflict between those forces comprising the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Pashtuns in the south likely aren’t going to take kindly to the presence of a U.S.-backed force made up of northerners. The fact that the security forces can’t recruit southern Pashtuns speaks volumes about the failure of efforts to persuade populations in the heart of Taliban territory to support the Kabul regime.

There’s No Time Like the Present

Giles Dorronsoro, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, just returned from Afghanistan with a stark warning:

“Washington wants to weaken the Taliban by beefing up the counterinsurgency campaign to the point where the Taliban will be forced to ask for amnesty and join the government. But the Taliban are growing stronger and there are no indications that U.S. efforts can defeat the insurgents…

“Since last year there has not been one serious element of progress and the situation will not improve without a strategic recalculation. …In a year, the Taliban will not disappear as a political force or even be weakened militarily—the longer it takes for negotiations to begin, the harder it will be for the coalition to carry out the best possible exit strategy.  …In the coming months, the American-led coalition needs to declare a ceasefire and begin talking to the Taliban. While negotiations could be an extremely long and fraught process, the sooner they begin the more likely they are to achieve results.”

Every individual factor listed above would be a body blow to the premises of a counterinsurgency strategy according to General Petraeus’ own handbook. Taken together, they’ve exposed the Afghanistan War as a brutal fiasco that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.

The American people, recognizing the futility of spending more U.S. lives and dollars on this failing war, have turned solidly against it, with nearly six-in-10 saying they oppose the war in CNN’s most recent poll. The president should keep that in mind as we approach our own midterm elections here in the U.S.

We can’t wait until July 2011. Those troops need to start coming home, now.

If you’re tired of this costly, brutal war that’s not making us safer, join us at Rethink Afghanistan:


Posted: November 12, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

Two very hopeful stories (well, actually one story in two different forms) broke this evening that show that the non-escalation factions in the Obama Administration can play the leaking game, too.

First, we have this Washington Post piece that describes Ambassador Eikenberry’s strong warnings to the president about adding more troops in Afghanistan before Karzai cleans up his act (ha ha ha ho ho hee hee hee hum):

The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai’s government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban’s rise, senior U.S. officials said.

…Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai’s erratic behavior and corruption within his government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared reelected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems they have raised repeatedly with him.

U.S. officials were particularly irritated by a interview this week in which a defiant Karzai said that the West has little interest in Afghanistan and that its troops are there only for self-serving reasons.

…Eikenberry also has expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for spending on development and reconstruction this year in Afghanistan, a country wrecked by three decades of war. …The ambassador also has worried that sending tens of thousands of additional American troops would increase the Afghan government’s dependence on U.S. support at a time when its own security forces should be taking on more responsibility for fighting.

BBC’s reports that Eikenberry said more troops was “not a good idea.”

Eikenberry’s no peacenik. He was a lieutenant-general in charge of training the Afghan army before Obama tapped him to be the U.S. ambassador. Technically a U.S. ambassador is the head honcho for the United States in a given country. If the ex-military ambassador says we should think twice about sending more troops into his country of responsibility, you better take it seriously.

Next, we have this hopeful AP article that asserts that the president is choosing, “none of the above,” as his option in the multiple choices presented to him by the Pentagon:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

I wonder if this strange feeling in my gut is this “hope” thing I keep hearing so much about.

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New FoundationThe Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit

My previous post intentionally left out mentions of Senator John Kerry’s defense of Ahmed Wali Karzai–the drug-dealing, election stealing, possibly Taliban-connected brother of the Afghan president–in an attempt to keep the piece to a manageable length. Boy, am I sorry I did that…today’s New York Times contains an article by Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti, James Risen and Helene Cooper that shows AWK is a CIA asset.

According to Andrew Exum (a.k.a., Abu Muqwama, h/t Steve Hynd), AWK is no run-of-the-mill petty criminal:

[N]umerous military officials in southern Afghanistan with whom I have spoken identify AWK and his activities as the biggest problem they face — bigger than the lack of government services or even the Taliban. …[Y]ou can be darn sure that if we think that AWK is the CIA’s guy, the Afghans most certainly believe that to be the case.

CIA’s certainly not earning any new friends in the intel sandbox. Military intelligence officials, for example, seem blindsided (or are feigning shock in the passive-aggressive manner typical of rival government agencies). From the NYT piece:

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

…“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

Tut, tut, general. You might want to check with your superiors before you run with that line of argument. Your “population-centric counterinsurgency” is propping up a whole government full of thugs like Mohaqiq, Fahim and Khalili (the latter two being Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential nominees in the ongoing election!), not to mention General Abdul Rashid Dostum, all of whom got amnesty for their war crimes thanks to a measure Mohaqiq rammed through the Afghan parliament in the early days of the government. Next time, try to get outraged before we spend billions training a security apparatus at the thugs’ disposal, k?

Feigned pearl-clutch! faint! routines aside, this is a horrifying development for any attempt by the U.S. government to earn consent for the U.S.-backed Kabul cartel from the Pashtuns through a counterinsurgency campaign. AWK allegedly ran an operation that delivered huge numbers of fraudulent votes for his brother in the Pashtun heartland, and the locals knew it. Does anyone in Washington understand what a setback we’ll suffer when the population we’re trying to win over from the Taliban realizes that the person who stole their votes was on the CIA payroll?

The revelation about AWK’s CIA ties shows just how lost in the Afghan labyrinth American policymakers are. It’s a labyrinth of glittering generalities, wishful thinking, India/Pakistan gamesmanship, corruption, inter-agency competition and policies working at cross-purposes with one another.  It’s no wonder it’s taken six policy reviews and 10 months for some of the smartest people on the planet to form the basic outlines of even a misguided path forward. Funny thing about the labyrinth in Greek mythology: it’s not designed to keep you out. It’s designed to keep you in.

The poisonous tree of counterinsurgency continues to bear fruit in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that tensions are rising over the fraudulent election. The potential for violence is very real. President Karzai’s main opponent in the election, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, has ruled out participation in a unity government and flatly stated he will not accept an election result that returns Karzai to power. A doctrine that views the situation as “with the government or against it” is dangerous and will inflame the situation.

From The Washington Post:

…tension and suspicion have mounted as the vote count drags on amid widening charges of electoral fraud. Afghans are confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.

From the Times UK:

Hundreds of tribal elders and officials from southern Afghanistan gathered in Kabul yesterday to protest against alleged electoral fraud that robbed entire districts of their votes and allocated them to President Karzai.

In a string of searing testimonies, community leaders told of villages that had been too terrified to vote because of Taleban threats — yet had mysteriously produced full ballot boxes. They said that most of the phantom votes had been cast for Mr Karzai, often by his own men or tribal leaders loyal to him.

“How is it that in a district which a governor can only visit once every two years, where it’s too dangerous for the police to go, where even Nato can’t fly — how come there were 20,000 votes collected?” asked Hamidullah Tokhy, a tribal elder from Kandahar province.

Some of the gathered leaders went so far as to pledge armed resistance should the election commission (all Karzai appointees, led by an outspoken Karzai partisan) validate the corrupted election. Of particular worry is this pledge of violent resistance from a leader in Helmand, into which U.S. forces have pushed to attempt to challenge the Taliban:

Haji Abdul Manan, an elder from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, where British Forces have engaged in heavy fighting with the Taleban, said that most people had been too scared to venture out on election day. “In all the districts there was fraud. Nobody could vote, but the ballot boxes were full of votes for Hamid Karzai,” he said.

Earlier, speaking on the podium, Mr Manan called for a violent response to the fraud, a sign that disenchantment with the polls could further aggravate Afghanistan’s already bloody political landscape.

“I implore military resistance. I swear to God, if an Islamic government does not take office we’re against it,” he said. “The Americans are entering our houses. Our sons are being killed,” he added.

Lashkar Gah is a major Pashtun population center; an uprising there would be a nightmare. It should go without saying that if anti-government violence breaks out in Helmand and other Pashtun regions independent of the incitement of the Taliban, there would be absolutely no room to argue against the conclusion that counterinsurgency has failed (I already believe this to be the case; however a widespread uprising would confirm it beyond a shadow of a doubt.).

President Obama is now ensnared in a trap of counterinsurgency’s making. Should violence break out, motivated not by jihadist extremism or Taliban-inspired ultra-nationalism but by popular rejection of the legitimacy of the Karzai government, counterinsurgency doctrine will offer absolutely no useful guidance. Define “insurgency” in this situation against which we must be the “counterinsurgents.” How would a counterinsurgent distinguish between a man with an AK-47 attacking government buildings motivated by jihadism versus patriotism? You can see where this is going.

P.S.  Considering the history of the last eight months, now is the exact wrong time to add more troops. Prior to the last escalation, much was written about the possibility of intensified U.S. pressure leading to the re-fusion of the various insurgent factions and al-Qaida. Those concerns turned out to be prescient. Should a popular violent outbreak occur, you should expect the same dynamic to play out between those rejecting the Karzai government and the Taliban insurgents.

P.S.S. Enjoy your weekend, Mr. President.

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.

Hamid Karzai with notorious warlords Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Muhammed Karim Khalili, both of which now hold positions in Karzais government (photo from

Hamid Karzai with notorious warlords Mohammed Qasim Fahim and Muhammed Karim Khalili, both of which now hold positions in Karzai's government (photo from

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

The New York Times pegs the original sin of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan:

In hindsight, several current and former administration officials say they have come to believe the decision to turn a blind eye to the warlords and drug traffickers who took advantage of the power vacuum in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was one of the fundamental strategic mistakes of the Afghan war.

Someone will have to explain to me how we’re not compounding the error by pursuing a continued counterinsurgency campaign aimed at protecting from the Taliban a government comprised of the above-mentioned warlords and drug traffickers. NYT’s Helene Cooper and Carlotta Gall, emphasis mine:

Administration officials have routinely complained of Karzai’s failure to crack down on corruption and the drug trafficking fueling the insurgency.

Should Karzai win, either outright or in a second round, Obama administration officials could find a president in Afghanistan who has engaged in so much deal-making that he may be even more beholden to warlords than before.

Warlords and drug lords like Mohammed Qasim Fahim, Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq and Abdul Rashid Dostum dominate the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. They’re one of several reasons why the government on whose behalf we’re fighting a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is not worth another American dime or drop of blood. (Stay tuned for a continuation of my series, “Meet Your Afghan Warlords,” to learn more about the thugs dominating Karzai’s regime.)

President Obama’s election was hailed by progressives as a bright, shining opportunity for the U.S. to regain its moral standing in the world. That’s not going to happen without a radical reordering of U.S. objectives and strategies in Afghanistan. As long as we continue to hold to the Bush-era assumption that terrorism requires a military response, we’ll remain in bed with thugs like these.

Get our troops out of Afghanistan.