Dying for the Karzai Cartel
Our strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, both of which make sense in theory, no longer apply.


The classic defense of our involvement in Afghanistan is that we need to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a sanctuary for al-Qaeda or other enemies of the United States. Ungoverned spaces attract terrorists, especially when they’re in bad neighborhoods. (See: Pakistan.)

That is strategy. The classic defense of our tactics is that we are fighting a counterinsurgency according to best practices, providing security to the people of Afghanistan so that they can choose to support their elected government rather than the insurgency. Everything our military does in Afghanistan is aimed at that goal. We are trying to train the Afghan security forces to the point where they can take over from us, just as the Iraqi security forces mainly have, and we can go home.

I agree with both the strategy and the tactics, in theory. And I’ve long argued that our military is doing as superb job of ground-level counterinsurgency, and that the Afghans, at least in the north and west, are doing an impressive job at building civil society through the same capitalist methods that have worked in the West.

But what I’ve seen in my last three trips to Afghanistan, and what I’ve read in the Pentagon’s own “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stabilization in Afghanistan” makes me believe that neither our strategy nor our tactics apply any longer.

First, and most important, our strategy makes no sense. We are supporting a criminal state in Kabul that is likely involved with the insurgency itself. There is almost nothing to distinguish the Taliban from the Karzai mafias, whose tentacles reach down to the most obscure rural districts.

American commanders will tell you of governors, police chiefs, district governors, and district police chiefs so corrupt, abusive, and vicious that the Taliban are a desirable alternative. We are talking about Afghan government officials who sell famine aid for their own profit, rape boys and women, run drugs in police cars — and often conspire with insurgents to kill Afghan civilians and security forces, and even American troops.

Ahmad Wali Karzai is running a mafia out of Kandahar, and his brother Hamid Karzai is protecting him. This mafia is worth over a billion a year to him, if the Times of London is to be believed.

One senior coalition figure calculated that the “Karzai cartel” was making a turnover of a billion dollars a year from the coalition involvement in Afghanistan, through lucrative contracts and sub-contracting spin-offs in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food, and security.

In fact, it may no longer be the case that AWK does what he does in order to strengthen the hand of his brother: It may be that Hamid does what he does to strengthen the hand of AWK. The Afghan state is being hollowed out from the inside and becoming a branch of a lucrative criminal enterprise. Why would the Karzais have any interest in defeating the insurgency? They are profiting from it.