Who is behind NY Times leak on Karzai brother’s CIA ties?

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a suspected player in the country’s booming opium trade, has received regular payments from the CIA for much of the past eight years, according to a front-page New York Times account Oct. 28. The report claims the agency pays Karzai for “a variety of services,” including helping to recruit a CIA-directed paramilitary group called the Kandahar Strike Force.

The report says the Strike Force “is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists,” but at least once was accused “of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government…” This was the June killing of Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, in a still-unexplained shootout at the office of a local prosecutor.

Karzai, who seems to reign as Kandahar’s regional warlord, is also apparently paid for allowing the CIA and US Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the provincial capital—which is the former home of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” an anonymous official said.

Karzai is also said to maintain links to the Taliban, and to serve as a secret liaison between US intelligence officials and the insurgents. The report says he “helps the CIA communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban.”

The account cites debriefing notes from DEA interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants maintaining that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the operation that lured Afghan drug lord Hajji Bashir Noorzai to New York in 2005. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the DEA in 2006 that Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after his arrest. (This Juma Khan is not identified, but he may be the governor of Jowzjan province.)

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with US, but denied the charges of involvement in the drug trade or receiving money from the CIA: “I don’t know anyone under the name of the CIA. I have never received any money from any organization. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. This is my duty as an Afghan.” As for the unseemly June shoot-out in Kandahar: “Matiullah was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

In a typically garbled segment, the Times says a CIA spokesman “declined to comment”—then immediately quotes his comment:

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

The account portrays divisions within the Pentagon and Obama administration over the apparent use of such characters as Karzai. “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 US military intelligence official in Afghanistan. “The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone.”

The article itself is likely a tactical coup by those in the administration who think President Karzai has outlived his usefulness. The revelation comes just a week before Afghanistan’s run-off election, which President Karzai only reluctantly submitted to. MidEast Media Line reports Oct. 27 that challenger Abdullah Abdullah is threatening to pull out, saying no measures have been taken to address potential for fraud—allegations of which tainted the first round.

Abdullah may be seen as a safer bet for pulling Afghanistan together and quelling the insurgency. An Aug. 10 profile on RFE/RL informs us that Abdullah was born in Kabul to a Pashtun father who was appointed to the Senate by Afghanistan’s last king, Zahir Shah. After earning his degree as an ophthalmologist during the Soviet occupation in early 1980s, Abdullah migrated to Pakistan. On returning to his mother’s native Panjshir, he became close confidant and personal physician of Mujahedeen commander Ahmed Shah Massoud—a Tajik who later commanded the Northern Alliance, was assassinated in the immediate prelude of 9-11, and is today the focus of a near-frenzied personality cult, especially among ethnic Tajiks. Abdullah became Massoud’s spokesman when eh was named defense minister after the communist regime collapsed in 1992.

Elements in the US administration may be rooting for Abdullah—in line with the strategy of maintaining a Pashtun face on a government in which the traditionally excluded Tajiks are powerful. Abdullah being adopted as the new US client would probably afford Tajik warlords still greater access to power. This mirrors the divide-and-conquer ploy the US employed in Iraq, tilting to the traditionally excluded Shi’ites after the fall of Saddam (and later tactically tilting back to the Sunnis).

An accompanying front-page story in the same edition of the Times, “U.S. to Protect Populous Afghan Areas, Officials Say,” states:

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s advisers are focusing on a strategy for Afghanistan aimed at protecting about 10 top population centers, administration officials said Tuesday, describing an approach that would stop short of an all-out assault on the Taliban while still seeking to nurture long-term stability.

This is portrayed as a compromise between proposals for a 60,000-troops surge aimed at controlling the whole country and for a scale-down to an anti-terrorist mission aimed at neutralizing al-Qaeda rather than defeating the Taliban. It sounds to us like a recipe for a replay of Vietnam and Cambodia, where cities became islands of government control, inevitably overrun by the guerillas that held the countryside—especially if US strategies continue to alienate Pashtuns into the hands of the Taliban.

The news comes as Reuters informs us that eight US soldiers killed in bomb attacks Oct. 27 pushed this month’s death toll to 53, topping the previous high of 51 deaths in August—and making it the bloodiest month in the eight years of the US-led war.

See our last post on Afghanistan.

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