Is the CIA Undermining Our Mission in Afghanistan?

A purported major player in the Afghan drug trade has been on the CIA payroll since 2001

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Revelations that Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and purportedly a major figure in Afghanistan's drug trade, is on the CIA payroll could put the intelligence organization at odds with the U.S. military and its efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. As Major General Michael T. Flynn, the top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, told the New York Times, "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," he said. "The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone."

CIA officials purchased intelligence from Karzai and used his land for counterterrorism missions. But Karzai's continued involvement in the opium industry, which is a primary source of funding for Taliban insurgents, could fuel the Taliban in its war with the U.S. military. As many have pointed out, this would mean the CIA is indirectly bankrolling our enemy in Afghanistan and undermining the anti-Taliban mission. What does this apparent conflict mean for America's war in Afghanistan?

  • Ahmed Karzai Is Our 'Biggest Problem'  Former adviser to General Stanley McChrystal and Army Ranger officer Andrew Exum says that Karzai is considered a huge hurdle to success in Afghanistan. "I should say here that I am in no position to confirm or deny this report. I can, however, say that numerous 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. And so if AWK is 'the agency's guy', that leads to a huge point of friction between NATO/ISAF and the CIA."
  • Afghan War Began With CIA Money  Spencer Ackerman suggests our initial strategy in Afghanistan starting eight years ago sowed the seeds of today's revelation and all the trouble it will cause us. "[The war began] with CIA operatives meeting with Northern Alliance commanders and warlords, bearing briefcases and duffel bags full of cash to rent their allegiance for a strike down into Kabul and Kandahar to dislodge the Taliban," he writes. "But once you start paying warlords with dubious human rights records, it can be very difficult to cut off or phase out the payments, particularly when the political structure necessary to keep the Afghan governance enterprise that supports the U.S. presence in business is essentially held together with baling wire."
  • This Is How Business Is Done  Time's Robert Baer, a former CIA officer, insists that using drug lords has always been necessary in gritty Afghanistan, starting with the 2001 invasion. "The CIA knew that its ally the Tajik Northern Alliance was a paid-up proxy of Iran, just as it was fully aware that another ally, Uzbek General Dostom, was one of Afghanistan's great butchers (though Dostum has always denied the widespread allegations of his brutality). When it came to finding crucial partners on the ground, there were simply no alternatives. And let's not forget that CIA isn't the only one with questionable people on its payroll. Since the beginning of the war NATO has been bribing drug smugglers to let fuel pass through the Khyber pass from Pakistan into Afghanistan. NATO payments, thousands of dollars for each truck, have to dwarf anything the CIA is giving to Ahmed Wali Karzai."
  • CIA Oversight Badly Needed  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer makes the case for stricter congressional oversight of the CIA. "My question is, did Congress know about the relationship? Yesterday the House Dems on the intelligence committee accused the CIA of misleading or witholding [sic] information from them five times, but only cited four instances. Was yesterday’s revelation one of those times?" has asks. "Because if the Times report is true, that means that the CIA has not only been undermining the military’s efforts to cut down the Taliban’s revenue base, but it also means that it’s possible that American tax dollars have inadvertently helped fund the same people who are killing American soldiers."
  • Did U.S. Leak The Story?  Time's Joe Klein speculates why it may have leaked, though he admits it may not have. "You've got to wonder why it has broken now, two weeks before the Afghan presidential runoff. The most obvious conspiracy theory--and these are rarely right--is that the U.S. has decided to let this news slip now to adversely affect Karzai in the coming election. A less obvious but, to my mind, more plausible theory is that the U.S. needed to make Ahmed Wali Karzai radioactive so that he could no longer run and ruin Kandahar province as its shadow governor."
  • Indicative of This War's Folly  Salon's Glenn Greenwald laments the incompatibility of targeting some Afghan drug lords while hiring others. "So we're so intent on exterminating Afghan drug 'kingpins' that we're compiling secret lists of the ones we will murder on sight -- except perhaps for those we've been keeping on our payroll and who have been organizing private militias for us, though perhaps we'll kill them, too. What an excellent war." The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan agrees, calling the U.S. mission "neo-imperial."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.