Karzai Expels Special Operations Forces From Afghan Province Over Program at Heart of Petraeus’ “Success”

Today’s story in the Washington Post covering Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decree expelling US Special Operations forces from a province just outside Kabul illustrates how completely the upper levels of the US military have been ignoring reality in Afghanistan. The Post reported that the “announcement appeared to come as a surprise to American military officials”. For those who have been paying attention, it has been clear that Afghanistan has been upset for years over a program tied to US Special Operations forces that develops what amounts to private militias which are sometimes under the Afghan Local Police name and sometimes not. These groups are particularly lawless and have been reported to participate in revenge killings, disappearances and torture (which are also the specialties of JSOC). And this program was at the heart of David Petraeus’ operations when he took over in Afghanistan:

Jack Keane, a former Army general and a mentor to David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan when the program began, said that “the brilliance of the program is also the vulnerability” because recruits are selected by elders, not by Americans. Although there has always been some form of NATO vetting, “we’re totally dependent on their judgment as to who they’ve selected.”

And some groups continue to warn of the dangers of reintroducing militia-like forces to a country long bedeviled by warlords. Last year, Human Rights Watch reported instances of killing, rape, theft and other abuses among the local police that raised “serious concerns about the A.L.P. vetting, recruitment and oversight.” The group added: “Creation of the A.L.P. is a high-risk strategy to achieve short-term goals in which local groups are again being armed without adequate oversight or accountability.” (At the time, NATO said that some aspects of the report were dated or incorrect.)

Although a short pause in Special Operations forces training of Afghan Local Police took place back in September when the article quoted above came out, it is clear now that the “re-screening” of ALP personnel was a sham and that the abuses under this program continue. Here is Khaama Press describing Karzai’s decision:

After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people. A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge. However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.”

“The Ministry of Defense was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks,” the statement said adding that “All the Afghan national security forces are duty bound to protect the life and property of people in Maidan Wardak province by effectively stopping and bringing to justice any groups that enter peoples’ homes in the name of special force and who engage in annoying, harassing and murdering innocent people.”

This comes as US special forces and their interpreters were accused of misbehavior and humiliation of innocent local residents in Nekh district of Maidan Wardak province earlier in January.

Most of the news reports covering this move by Karzai do note that Special Operations forces are expected to play a key role after the “withdrawal” of coalition forces planned for the end of 2014. As noted in the Guardian:

Security in the province bordering Kabul has deteriorated over the past year, and it has become a focus of US-led efforts to stop insurgents reaching the capital. The decision could have implications for relations with Washington and for US plans to maintain a counter-terrorist force in Afghanistan after Nato combat troops leave in 2014.

And the New York Times adds further persepctive:

The ban was scheduled to take effect in two weeks in the province, Maidan Wardak, which is seen as a crucial area in defending the capital against the Taliban. If enforced, it would effectively exclude the American military’s main source of offensive firepower from the area, which lies southwest of Kabul and is used by the Taliban as a staging ground for attacks on the city.


Much of the work done by American Special Operations forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else is highly classified, and information about it is closely guarded. A senior American military officer, for instance, said he did not know whether such forces were based in Maidan Wardak or were based elsewhere and were flown in for missions.


With the withdrawal of American forces picking up pace, most of the coalition’s conventional forces in eastern Afghanistan, including in Maidan Wardak, have shifted into advisory roles. Among coalition troops, offensive operations are increasingly becoming the sole purview of the Special Operations forces.

United States officials, in fact, are planning to rely heavily on the elite troops to continue hunting members of Al Qaeda and other international militants in Afghanistan after the NATO mission here ends in 2014.

Karzai’s move adds more difficulty to the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement that will govern the presence of any US forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for which it seems NATO wants to dangle an additional $22 billion in front of Afghan officials for potential embezzlement. Only the Guardian article linked above links these accusations against Special Operations forces with the key issue in the SOFA, immunity for remaining US forces:

The palace announcement served as a reminder that the size and nature of western forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 are far from agreed. Karzai was reportedly irked but reports from a Nato meeting in Brussels on Friday [http://www.navytimes.com/news/2013/02/ap-german-minister-says-us-to-leave-8k-12k-troops-afghanistan-022213/] , at which a follow-out force of 12,000 was discussed. Leon Panetta, the outgoing US defence secretary was quoted as saying that the mainly American force would be deployed in all areas of the country. Observers in Kabul suggested that Karzai’s announcement was intended as a message to Washington not to take Afghan acquiescence in US decisions on bases and unilateral counter-terrorist operations for granted. There have also been tough negotiations between the Washington and Kabul over American demands that serving US soldiers should have immunity under Afghan law.

“This decision is going to complicate the negotiations over bilateral security agreements with the United States,” Najafizada [head of current affairs at TOLOnews television channel] said. “The Americans want to be able to carry out unilateral counter-terrorist operations after 2014 which can justify their presence domestically in the US, but now it seems to be the hard piece to negotiate, along with immunity.”

By linking Special Operations forces with heinous crimes, Karzai appears to be sending the message that he rejects the notion of immunity for remaining US forces. Otherwise, the statement about “bringing to justice any groups” responsible for these crimes becomes meaningless. Of course, the allure of a $22 billion pot of funds ripe for embezzlement could make a principled stand difficult for Karzai.

Update: Thanks to a tweet from @ArifCRafiq, I see that the Washington Post has provided a new article with more details from the Afghan allegations. This bit looks new to me and is what Rafiq tweeted:

In the interview, Khogyani also said 60 tribal leaders were recently rounded up by U.S. special forces — backed by Afghan troops claiming to belong to “Afghan special forces” — then taken to a base and beaten.


Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
5 replies
  1. der says:

    – “Jack Keane, a former Army general and a mentor to David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan when the program began, said that “the brilliance of the program is also the vulnerability””

    Our elites, the Best and Brightest, sacrificing and serving the Motherland. The statement reminds me of Yale-MIT-Harvard mathematicians minds creating brilliant algorithms for complex financial bets that nobody could have predicted would end up being the economy’s vulnerability.

    “You don’t run the world with Elites you wish you had, you run it with the sociopaths you get.” Stupid or Evil?

    The only government action on climate will be some Eric Schneiderman potemkin “Climate Worried Elites Group” then when cooking our eggs and bacon on the front walk we’ll wonder how it could have happened.

    Shoot me.

  2. joanneleon says:

    That looks like an important province.

    I’m a little confused about the denials by NATO/U.S.

    KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said Monday it has found no evidence to support allegations that American special forces were involved in the abuse of Afghan civilians in a restive eastern province that serves as a gateway to Kabul.
    Karzai issued the order on Sunday after a meeting of the National Security Council at which Wardak provincial governor Abdul Majid Khogyani and other local officials blamed Afghans working with U.S. special forces for the disappearance of at least nine men and the murder of an Afghan university student. The U.S. forces are being expelled because of their association with the Afghan groups.

    If the U.S. has already acknowledged the training and working together with arkabai, then this denial would imply that arkabai militias also work on their own and that these activities were done when they were not with U.S. special forces. But the Afghans seem to think they were, or the assumption is made that anything they do is in conjunction with special forces.

    Would these militias have gone through the Afghan police program, ALP (might be getting my acronyms wrong).

  3. joanneleon says:

    Also, Jim, thanks for this post. I knew that I remembered reading about the militias, but did not remember the details. Thanks for the reference links, etc. that helped me refresh my memory about all the dots you and Marcy have connected.

  4. shekissesfrogs says:

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this paper by Mathieu Aikins, it’s pretty interesting.

    @mattaikins: In section 5 of my PSC paper, I predicted SOF/CIA informal armed groups would become bone of contention with Af gov http://t.co/DHfjmJK7p4

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