Afghanistan Claims Zakaria Kandahari Arrested Six Weeks Ago

The continuing saga of Zakaria Kandahari, who has been at the heart of the torture and murder cases that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces troops from the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardak Province took another huge twist Sunday, as Afghanistan confirmed that they have Kandahari in custody. An important point to keep in mind while reading the accounts of Kandahari and the US personnel he worked with is that a strong case can be made that Kandahari most likely was affiliated with the CIA, either directly as an agent or as a contractor. US denials of Kandahari working for Special Forces then become a ruse, since even if Special Forces were present with him, they likely would have been tasked to CIA for those particular missions, providing deniability for the entire group with respect to the missions being carried out by US Special Forces, ISAF or NATO.

From the New York Times story on Kandahari’s arrest:

Afghan officials confirmed Sunday that they had arrested and were questioning Zakaria Kandahari, whom they have described as an Afghan-American interpreter responsible for torturing and killing civilians while working for an American Special Forces unit.

The arrest of Mr. Kandahari, who had been sought on charges of murder, torture and abuse of prisoners, was confirmed by Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, the head of intelligence for the Afghan Defense Ministry. He said Mr. Kandahari, who escaped from an American base in January after President Hamid Karzai demanded his arrest, had been captured in Kandahar by the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence service. There had been speculation for the last three weeks that Mr. Kandahari was in custody.

The Times leaves out a few important details when they mention Karzai’s demand last January that Kandahari be arrested. Back in mid-May, they claimed it was the head of Afghanistan’s military who demanded the arrest and provided details on John Allen making false promises that he would be turned over:

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

Note that the Times said that there had been “speculation for the last three weeks” of Kandahari’s arrest. The article on the arrest in the Washington Post states that he was arrested about six weeks ago:

Zakaria Kandahari was captured in a house in southern Kandahar during a raid by agents from the National Directorate of Security nearly six weeks ago and has been transferred to Kabul for interrogations, officials said. Officials did not say why they waited to announce Kandahari’s arrest.

Virtually every story I have read on Kandahari seems to include a denial by the US that he has US citizenship. Afghanistan continues to claim that he holds US citizenship. The Post article carries a claim that he holds dual citizenship:

The Kandahar governor’s office described Kandahari as holding Afghan-American citizenship.

The timing of Kandahari being arrested six weeks ago is very interesting. That would place the arrest sometime in the final week of May. In the first week of June, we learned that an Afghan colonel had been arrested for turning over prisoners to the group led by Kandahari, so it seems likely this arrest came after Kandahari’s.

There had been multiple public protests in reaction to the atrocities blamed on Kandahari, so keeping Kandahari’s arrest secret for so long suggests that perhaps the Afghan government saw an opportunity to use him as a bargaining chip. What were they seeking that they could have seen as a higher priority than the obvious public accolades they would get for arresting such a hated figure? And was the attack on CIA headquarters in Kabul at all related to these events?

There is one further note on timelines here. From the New York Times story on Kandahari’s arrest, we have this:

In addition, he said, the abuse of detainees continued even after Mr. Kandahari fled when Mr. Karzai demanded that he be handed over to the Afghan authorities. Four of those who were killed had been arrested after Mr. Kandahari fled, the authorities said.

The same article also notes that the disappearances took place “between November and February”. Recall from above that John Allen was still in command in Afghanistan and was the one who made the false promises of turning over Kandahari (Allen handed over command to Dunford on February 10). Karzai’s expulsion of US Special Forces from Wardak province (later narrowed to only the Nerkh District) was not announced until February 24, so it seems within the realm of possibility that Kandahari remained active with his interrogation group behind the scenes after his disappearance from public view but had to be removed from operations entirely once Karzai made his pronouncement. I had been convinced that the CIA had moved Kandahari to a location at which he never would be found, so his apparent capture only about three months after Karzai’s expulsion of Special Forces comes as quite a surprise.

10 replies
  1. Garrett says:

    Iranian Presstv tells us, and U.S. sources don’t, that Kandahari was discovered in the Karzai family’s Aino Mina high-security subdivision.

    The provincial officials say the US citizen of Afghan origin was detained in the troubled Aino Maina region of southern province of Kandahar on Sunday.

    US agent detained in southern Afghanistan

    Might be all sorts of safe houses in there. Including Camp Gecko/Kandahar Strike Force-ish ones.

  2. Garrett says:

    Wardak province is ethnically mixed. And Narkh and Jalrez districts, where much of the fighting and trouble is, are the most Pashtun/Harzara split districts. News media never mentions this.

    Or talks about the complex factional components of the war there either.

    There’s a pretty good possibility that these shadowy U.S. forces in Wardak are involved and taking sides and engaging in ethnic war, I think.

    From the honorific, this torture victim

    Afghan investigators said they uncovered a videotape showing Mr. Kandahari torturing one civilian, Sayid Mohammad, who was later found dead,

    has special status. Possibly from an influential family. That might color local opinion even more than usual, about his being mutilated and dumped in a ditch.

  3. Garrett says:

    [Is it OK if I just dump comments? I worry about posting too much. But there’s a lot to say.]

    On the Hazara side, 2nd VP Karim Khalili is from Wardak. Current National Front guy Mohammad Mohaqiq is not.

    Khalili has cozied up to Sayyaf. How could you support that?

    But Mohaqiq has especially nasty militias. How could you support that either?

    On the Pashtun side, Sayyaf/Ittihad guy Asadullah Khalid is from Ghazni. Ghazni and Wardak politics seem to flow into each other a bit. And if Khalid was not involved in this, before the attack on him, I’ll eat my hat.

  4. Garrett says:

    U.S. and affiliated paramilitaries use humanitarian mine clearing cover:

    He was ostensibly part of a team of Afghans working for a mine-clearing aid group, which was a cover for paramilitary activity.


    That’s “Comprehensive Approach” to an extreme degree.

    Here’s a 2009 story from Paktika:

    Gunmen abducted 16 mine-clearing personnel working for the United Nations in eastern Afghanistan, a provincial police chief said on Sunday. The men were kidnapped as they traveled between Paktia and Khost provinces on Saturday, said Paktia’s police chief Azizullah Wardak. While insurgents operate in the area, Wardak could not say who was responsible for the kidnapping. Similar incidents have happened twice before in Paktia but were resolved successfully, he said.

    Wardak criticised the demining team, part of the UN’s effort to rid the country of decades of planted land mines, for going into the area without informing the police. All of those kidnapped were Afghans.


    A team of Afghans working for a U.N. mine-clearing group was kidnapped. But they hadn’t bothered informing the local authorities about what they were up to.

    The story reads a bit different now, perhaps.

  5. Garrett says:

    For the initial prototype local militia program the U.S. set up in Wardak, here’s Human Rights Watch:

    Ghulam Mohammad and his brother Haji Musa Hotak are significant local figures with strong Jihadi credentials, having previously been involved with the Taliban and the Islamist party Harakat-i-Inqilab-iIslami. Ghulam Mohammad was detained by US Forces in 2004 and spent two years in the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Haji Musa Hotak was a commander of Harakat-i-Inqilab-iIslami, a deputy minister in the Taliban government, and a member of parliament for Wardak province from 2005-2010. Hotak was delisted from the UN’s sanction list in January 2010.

    And here’s the Naval Postgraduate School about the UN-delisted Member of Parliament brother:

    Hajji Mosa Hotak:

    A Pashtun Sunni associated with the Harakat-e Islami political party. Secretary of the Internal Security committee. Graduated from university with a BA. Major business player in the province’s oil and gas transport. He is a former governor of Kabul, former mujahedin commander and former ally of the Taliban. Under the Taliban regime he was a deputy planning minister.

    From “Major business player in the province’s oil and gas transport,” you can see this mess merging into Warlord Inc.

    This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others.

    I’ve never found anything like a Combat Status Review document for the Guantanamo brother. Perhaps he is in the small special group where they don’t have any or we’ve never seen them?

  6. Garrett says:

    And more about the brothers:

    The Guantanamo brother might be padding his resume, about Guantanamo versus Bagram:

    Eventually in 2004, the US forces arrested him and he was jailed for more than two years in the notorious Bagram detention centre, north of Kabul, before being released.

    Afghan bios

    This seems one likely history about the Wardak militias:

    The U.S. couldn’t get anyone to go along with the local militia program. Until they settled on the brothers. Abuse in the program started immediately. The brothers backed out. The U.S. then sent up outsider Kandahar Strike Force guys, but calling it ALP. This brought with it the severe torture/death squad stuff.

    Here’s the souring on the program, by the Guantanamo brother.

    In 2009 plans for an Afghan Public Protection Force were put into effect and he emerged as its potential leader. Hotak says that there are huge flaws in the scheme, however. These include the lack of a formal military-style ranking system among his 1,200 men, which creates indiscipline.

    Afghan bios

    The other one, the MP/businessman, Mosa Hotak, is on the High Peace Council (2010).

    47. Haji Mosa Khan Hotak

    Afghan bios

    Quite a list of names on the Peace Council list, not normally associated with peace. To be less cynical, it shows them trying to work the problems out. But yuck.

  7. Garrett says:

    One other thing, about why now. Why have Afghan officials taken real action, when complaints about abuse have been there all along?

    The previous Wardak Governor had shadow war connections. Wherever our shadow war is, CAI is there too.

    Complaints about abuse fell on deaf ears.

    Last September, Karzai sacked five of the most closely U.S.-connected governors, for corruption, and put in people of his own.

    Without a shadowy U.S. selection as governor, the complaints now had a chance to be heard.

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