| ||Our Man in Kandahar|
By Matthieu Aikins
Abdul Raziq and his men have received millions of dollars’ worth of U.S. training and equipment to help in the fight against the Taliban. But is our ally—long alleged to be involved in corruption and drug smuggling—also guilty of mass murder? (Note: This article will appear in the forthcoming November 2011 issue of The Atlantic.)
Shyly, at times smiling with weak adolescent bravado, the two young men recounted to me how they were beaten and tortured. It was July, and we were sitting at a table in the cavernous restaurant where they both work, in the stupefying summer heat. They slouched forward with their arms on their knees, frequently glancing down toward their open sandals, at toes where livid burns from the electrical wires were still visible.
I will call them Najib and Ahmad, though their names, like others in this article, have been changed to protect their safety. Both 23 years old, they looked like gangly young men who should be playing basketball on the street outside their house, or perhaps video games inside. But here in Kandahar City, the linchpin of the U.S. military’s campaign against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, they had found themselves the victims of America’s Afghan allies.
One afternoon in June, two younger boys who worked at the restaurant, ages 12 and 14, had been stopped by the Afghan National Police while carrying home leftovers from an afternoon wedding. The boys, who were each paid about $60 a month, explained that they always took home leftover meals for their families. But this time they were arrested and accused of bringing food to insurgent fighters hiding outside the city.
Around 11 o’clock that night, police showed up at the restaurant and arrested Najib and Ahmad as well, accusing them of having sent the younger boys out to feed the Taliban. They were taken to police headquarters, where they were handed over to men wearing the mottled gray-green uniforms of the Border Police.
“They said, ‘We are going to beat you,’” Ahmad recalled.
The Border Police were a new sight in the city: rough-looking types with wraparound shades and bandoliers of grenades, who could be seen lounging at checkpoints throughout the city and guarding installations such as the governor’s palace. Though restricted by Afghan law to operate only in international airports or within 50 kilometers of the border, they’d entered the city on May 29 when their boss, Brigadier General Abdul Raziq, was appointed acting chief of police in Kandahar province, following the assassination of his predecessor. Raziq was well known as a warlord and suspected drug trafficker who had waged a brutal campaign against the Taliban. He was also a close ally of both President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. military.
Inside the station, the policemen tied a scarf to Najib’s handcuffs and hung him from the ceiling until he felt as if his arms were being pulled from their sockets. Then two men—one in uniform and holding a black metal baton, the other in plain clothes and wielding a length of cable—began beating him across his hips and thighs. A third man, also in plain clothes, questioned Najib: “What was the name of the commander you were bringing food to? How often do you bring food to the enemy?” Sobbing, Najib pleaded his innocence. In a nearby room, Ahmad could hear his friend’s screams, though he was spared for the time being.
When the beating was over, Najib and Ahmad were taken outside and thrown into the back of an armored Humvee, where they lay all night with their wrists still tightly cuffed, suffocating in the stiflingly hot, enclosed interior.
Early the next morning, they were taken to the governor’s palace, a long, low white compound fronted by a series of arches, jointly guarded by American soldiers and Border Police, where U.S. and Afghan officials meet on a daily basis. The police brought them around the back, to a filthy room that smelled of human waste, where they were shackled to the wall next to two other prisoners. Then, one at a time, they were taken to a second room, empty except for a gas-powered generator.
Najib went first. He was forced to lie on his back, and wires leading to the generator were attached to toes on both his feet. A group of Border Police crowded around him, jeering and spitting snuff on his face. “Tell us the truth,” they commanded. Then they switched on the power. “It felt,” Najib told me, “like my whole body was filled with moving knives.”
After he passed out from the pain, it was Ahmad’s turn to be tortured. When the two awoke from the ordeal, they were placed in separate rooms. In the evening, they were taken to police headquarters to see Abdul Raziq himself.
Raziq is just 33 years old, slender and boyish-looking, with a square jaw and a widow’s peak that tufts up beneath the embroidered pillbox cap he favors when he’s not in uniform. Uneducated but clever and charismatic, he is, despite his youth, one of the most powerful warlords in southern Afghanistan. He controls a militia of several thousand men, as well as the lucrative drug-smuggling routes that pass through his territory, which includes a key trading town called Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan.
That June evening, Najib and Ahmad were seated facing Raziq, who asked them to explain why they had been arrested. They told him about the younger boys who would take leftover food home to their families, and whether it was because they had not confessed, or because their stories had checked out, Raziq ordered them released.
Najib and Ahmad complained to me of suffering nerve damage in their wrists from being cuffed for two days, and both said they’d had problems with their kidneys since the electrocutions: Ahmad, who had the more-severe burns, urinated blood for three days afterward. I examined the wounds on Ahmad’s and Najib’s toes—distinct circular burn marks that were still raw and unhealed—and I spoke with a number of their co-workers, who corroborated their claims. I was also given photos of their injuries taken immediately after they were released, and was told their story independently by a source inside the Kandahar police department unhappy with the abuses taking place under Raziq. “That’s what happened to them, when they were innocent,” this official said. “Think of what they do to the guilty.”
What happened to Ahmad and Najib is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger pattern of abuse that has occurred wherever Raziq has been in power, first in his outpost of Spin Boldak and now in Kandahar City. Raziq has long been publicly suspected of drug trafficking and corruption; allegations that he and his men have been involved in extrajudicial killings, torture, and illegal imprisonment have been trickling out for years. Raziq categorically denies all such charges, telling The Atlantic, “When someone works well, then he finds a lot of enemies who try to ruin his name.”
Last fall, Raziq and his militia were given a starring role in the U.S.-led military offensive into Taliban-controlled areas west of Kandahar City, a campaign that boosted his prestige immensely. Mentored by an American Special Forces team, Raziq’s fighters won public praise from U.S. officers for their combat prowess. After the offensive, Raziq was promoted to brigadier general—a rank requiring a direct order from President Karzai—in a January ceremony at the governor’s mansion. As Ben Moeling, who was until July the State Department’s senior official in Kandahar province, explained to me at the time, the promotion was “an explicit recognition of his importance.”
Nor was that promotion the only evidence of Raziq’s continuing ascent. In May, when Karzai appointed him chief of police for Kandahar province, Raziq accepted only on the condition that he also remain in charge of Spin Boldak, the seat of his economic and tribal power. So, in a move that enabled him to retain both jobs, Raziq was appointed “acting” police chief in Kandahar.
While beatings in police custody have been common in Kandahar for as long as there have been police, a number of Afghan and international officials familiar with the situation there told me that Raziq has brought with him a new level of brutality. Since his arrival, Raziq has launched a wave of arrests across the city in coordination with the government intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security. One human-rights official who has conducted prison visits in Kandahar told me that the number of prisoners is up more than 50 percent since Raziq’s arrival. In July, even the U.S. military seemed to have realized that the situation was out of hand, when American and NATO forces quietly halted the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities in southern Afghanistan, because of credible allegations that prisoners had been severely abused while in police and NDS custody.
Though Raziq has risen in large part through his own skills and ambition, he is also, to a considerable degree, a creation of the American military intervention in Afghanistan. (Prior to 2001, he had worked in a shop in Pakistan.) As part of a countrywide initiative, his men have been trained by two controversial private military firms, DynCorp and Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, at a U.S.-funded center in Spin Boldak, where they are also provided with weapons, vehicles, and communications equipment. Their salaries are subsequently paid through the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, a UN-administered international fund, to which the U.S. is the largest contributor. Raziq himself has enjoyed visits in Spin Boldak from such senior U.S. officials as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.
In public, American officials had until recently been careful to downplay Raziq’s alleged abuses. When I met with the State Department’s Moeling at his Kandahar City office in January, he told me, “I think there is certainly a mythology about Abdul Raziq, where there’s a degree of assumption on some of those things. But I have never seen evidence of private prisons or of extrajudicial killings directly attributable to him.”
Yet, as a 2006 State Department report shows, U.S. officials have for years been aware of credible allegations that Raziq and his men participated in a cold-blooded massacre of civilians, the details of which have, until now, been successfully buried. And this, in turn, raises questions regarding whether U.S. officials may have knowingly violated a 1997 law that forbids assistance to foreign military units involved in human-rights violations.
Among a certain group of Kandaharis, the rough outlines of the massacre in question are well known. But nailing down a consistent, detailed version of what took place required two years of cross-checking with a diverse set of sources, including tribal elders, human-rights workers, police officers, and government officials. Most important, I was eventually given direct access to information and photos from a suppressed police investigation into the episode.
On March 20, 2006, Shin Noorzai, a burly smuggler in his mid-30s, arrived with 15 companions at the guesthouse of an acquaintance, Zulmay Tufon, in Kabul. It was the eve of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, occasion for Afghanistan’s biggest festivities, and the capital city’s bedraggled trees were strung with fallen kites and the first buds of spring.
Shin had grown up in southern Afghanistan during the violent, turbulent times of the anti-Soviet and civil wars, and had once been jailed in Pakistan for kidnapping a man. His companions, though, were a mixed group. Some were smugglers, but others were simply friends from the vicinity of the Afghan-Pakistani border, farmers or traders accompanying him on a trip to Mazar-e Sharif, a northern city famous for its new-year celebrations.
According to an acquaintance of Shin’s who was also present at the gathering, he and his friends had arrived at the invitation of another man, Mohammed Naeem Lalai, an old friend of Shin’s who was then working as an officer in the Border Police. It was Lalai who had persuaded Shin and his friends to stop in Kabul on their way to Mazar. As the group sat down to dinner, Shin’s acquaintance, a fellow tribesman, watched uneasily, nervous about the company Shin was keeping. He offered to make the trip with Shin instead. “Come with me to Mazar,” he said to him.
Shin replied that he was going to travel up to Mazar with Lalai. But first, he said, Lalai was taking him to another house where music and entertainment were promised. That night, as darkness fell over Kabul, Shin and his 15 companions left the house with Lalai. Their friends and families would never see them alive again.
At the second house, Shin and his friends were apparently drugged. Unconscious, they were bound and gagged, then loaded into vehicles with official plates, one of them a green Ford Ranger with the seal of the Border Police on its doors.
Driving along back roads, the cars made their way 500 kilometers south to Kandahar province, and by the next morning arrived at Spin Boldak, where Abdul Raziq, then a Border Police colonel in his mid-20s, was waiting for them.
Raziq and Lalai had together lured Shin and his associates to Kabul. The tribes to which Raziq and Shin belonged had been feuding over smuggling routes, and Raziq held Shin responsible for the 2004 killing of his brother. Shin had been a marked man ever since. His 15 companions were just going to be collateral damage.
Raziq and his men loaded their captives into a convoy of Land Cruisers and headed out to a parched, desolate stretch of the Afghan-Pakistani border. About 10 kilometers outside of town, they came to a halt. Shin and the others were hauled out of the trucks and into a dry river gully. There, at close range, Raziq’s forces let loose with automatic weapons, their bullets tearing through the helpless men, smashing their faces apart and soaking their robes with blood. After finishing the job, they unbound the corpses and left them there.
Arriving back in Spin Boldak, Raziq reported to his superiors and to the press that he had intercepted “at least 15” Taliban fighters infiltrating from Pakistan, led by the “mid-level Taliban commander Mullah Shin,” and had killed them in a gun battle. “We got a tip-off about them coming across the border. We went down there and fought them,” Raziq told the Associated Press the next day. It was the beginning of a cover-up that would go all the way up to President Karzai in Kabul.
Last January, I followed a turbaned old man down an alley off the bustling Char Suq Bazaar in Kandahar City. The man, whom I will call Waheed, was a relative of one of the men who was killed in the gully outside Spin Boldak. I was dressed in local garb—I speak Dari and, with my half-Asian features, can pass for Afghan—and was carrying photos from the suppressed police investigation of the massacre.
As Waheed and I passed children kicking a soccer ball, he beckoned to me and ducked inside a doorway. He led me into a tiny guest room, where he clicked on a low-watt bulb and his adolescent son brought us tea. In the dim light, the three of us went through the series of 21 photos taken by crime-scene investigators. The bodies, lying close together in the gully, had been numbered by the investigators. One had had his neck blown apart; another was unrecognizable, his face a mass of charred flesh. Yet another photo was of a young boy, seemingly untouched, his smooth, skinny neck sticking out of a baggy tunic. He might have been asleep, were it not for his sightless eyes gazing skyward.
“There, Father. That’s Tooryalai,” Waheed’s son said, pointing at the picture of a rotund, walrus-mustached man, his face scrunched in agony, the white fabric around his midsection drenched with blood. Waheed nodded. “That’s him.”
Tooryalai had been about 35 years old, and had worked as an occasional taxi driver and laborer. He had known Shin for years, and the invitation to accompany him to the Nowruz festivities in Mazar had seemed a welcome chance to escape the stultifying rural backwater of Kandahar province. Waheed, his relative, had advised against it. “I said, ‘Don’t go with him, you are a poor man, and you should stay at home,’” Waheed told me.
But Tooryalai went. They found his vehicle later, abandoned in Kabul. Tooryalai’s wife and children moved in with her father. Two of his brothers joined the Afghan National Police in hopes of one day avenging Tooryalai, but both were killed in the war before they had the chance. Their father had since gone mad, and Tooryalai’s youngest brothers were now picking rags in the street.
“It was a tribal conflict,” Waheed said, shaking his head, his long fingers trembling as they tapped against his cheek. “Raziq had a problem with Shin, but why did he have to kill all the others?”
As Raziq intended, the victims were framed as Taliban in the Afghan press. There was an outcry across the border in Pakistan, however, where many of the victims’ families lived. On March 23, two days after the murders, the Pakistani Foreign Office lodged a protest with the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad. Yet it is likely that Raziq and Lalai would have kept the truth hidden, were it not for an Afghan official working for the European Union who had happened to be in Spin Boldak at the time of the murders.
When he heard of the suspicious killings, this official called his boss, Michael Semple, who was then the deputy to Francesc Vendrell, the European Union’s special representative to Afghanistan. “He had real-time information and alerted me,” said Semple, who noticed the discrepancy between word-of-mouth reports in Spin Boldak and the official line. “It was being sold as a heroic defense of Afghanistan against the Taliban.”
A tall Irishman with a flaming-red beard, fluent in Dari and Pashto, Semple was known as a foreigner who didn’t hesitate to get directly involved in Afghan politics. That hands-on attitude would later get Semple in trouble, when he was caught up in a 2007 dispute over a local cease-fire with the Taliban and was kicked out of the country by Karzai. He’s now a fellow at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and a widely respected expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Concerned that a massacre by Afghan security forces had just occurred, Semple got in touch with a senior Afghan official at the Interior Ministry, who was able to get a team from the Criminal Investigations Department sent to Spin Boldak from Kandahar City.
One of the members of that CID team, whom I will call Mohammad, met with me earlier this year in Kabul. As he described it, the team drove to Spin Boldak on March 22, the day after the killings. After asking around among the local villagers, the investigators realized that the victims’ bodies were still out there, and drove to a Border Police outpost near the site. “We asked the local police what happened, and they said that Abdul Raziq came in five or six vehicles, and then they heard firing,” Mohammad told me.
The CID team found the 16 corpses lying a meter or two apart in a ravine near the Pakistani border. Mohammad told me that it was immediately obvious that Raziq’s story of a fierce battle with Taliban fighters could not have been true. The men had clearly been killed at close range. They were clumped together at the bottom of a steep-walled gully, an improbable place for a gun battle. Their wrists bore bind marks, and their clothes were clean and new, more suitable for a party than for a Taliban incursion.
As an investigative officer in one of the most violent provinces in Afghanistan, Mohammad had seen hundreds of dead bodies. But this time, he was overcome with emotion by the corpse of a boy who could not have been more than 16—the same boy whose picture I had looked at with Waheed. “He was a lovely boy. I wept for him as I lifted his body,” Mohammed said, his voice thickening. “For one person, Raziq killed 15 innocents.”
Raziq refused to meet with the CID team and went to stay in the house of his friend Asadullah Khalid, then the governor of Kandahar province and now the minister of tribal and border affairs; it was announced in the press that Raziq had been “taken into custody and temporarily replaced in his job pending an investigation.” Khalid, though, would hardly seem to be one to call Raziq to account: in 2007, while Khalid was governor, the Canadian military temporarily ceased detainee transfers after persistent allegations of torture by security forces, including Khalid’s notorious palace-guard force, Brigade 888.
The CID team reported its findings to Kabul, and a larger investigation was launched, interviewing scores of witnesses and establishing the identities of the murdered men, the fact that they had been lured to Kabul and drugged, and the involvement of Mohammed Naeem Lalai. (Lalai, now a member of the Afghan Parliament, denied any involvement to me.)
At the behest of President Karzai, a delegation of senior officials was sent to Kandahar, led by Major General Abdur Rahman, who was the deputy director of the Border Police. The delegation interviewed the Kandahar CID team, a variety of witnesses, and Raziq himself, before returning to Kabul.
There, according to a senior Interior Ministry official who is directly familiar with the events, President Karzai and other top officials were briefed by Rahman on the CID investigation. Semple, who was later shown the contents of the report, said that it was an open-and-shut case. “They documented the killings in such a way that would leave no reasonable person in doubt that these were summary executions carried out by the Border Police,” he said.
Yet after the CID file was handed over to the attorney general’s office, no prosecution was ever initiated. And on April 6, well after he had presented the CID’s evidence to Karzai, Rahman gave an interview to the Afghan station Tolo TV in which he backed up Raziq’s version of the story, claiming that the murdered men had been Taliban infiltrators. Raziq was soon back in charge of his post at the border.
Not long after, in one of their meetings with Karzai, Semple and his boss, Vendrell, raised the issue of the killings. “We informed Karzai that we were aware of the incident in Spin Boldak and we considered that the evidence pointed to summary executions by [Raziq’s] forces, and that they had sufficient evidence of it to mount a prosecution,” Semple told me. “And he said something to the effect of ‘Abdul Raziq is a special case.’ The implication that I understood from that was that he was saying that Abdul Raziq was an essential ally against whom he was not prepared to take action, irrespective of the nature of the allegations or the evidence.”
Vendrell didn’t recall Karzai’s exact response, but he remembered the incident clearly. “It was pretty shocking, in the sense that one of the tasks of my office was to ensure that there would be no gross violations of human rights after the Bonn accord,” he told me. He reported the incident to his headquarters in Brussels, which meant that all members of the EU were made aware of it.
For Semple, it felt like a watershed moment for impunity under the Karzai regime. “It wasn’t a case of ‘Everybody’s up to it, and only poor Abdul Raziq got caught,’” he said. “Whatever may be the sins of post-2001 security forces in Afghanistan, a propensity to indulge in multiple summary executions is not among them.”
A spokesman for the Karzai administration declined to comment. Raziq himself continues to maintain that the men killed outside of Spin Boldak were Taliban. “In the past five years, a lot of soldiers have been killed, and our enemies have also been killed,” he told The Atlantic. “And those who have been killed, they were terrorists.”
The U.S. Embassy was also aware of the killings of Shin and his companions. Each year, with the help of embassy staffers around the world, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor produces an annual report on every country’s human-rights situation. In the 2006 report for Afghanistan, the bureau notes:
In March Commander Abdul Razaq of Kandahar province was removed from his post for allegedly attacking 16 rivals under the pretext that they were Taliban militants. The 16 men were Pakistani citizens who had traveled to Afghanistan for Afghan New Year celebrations. They belonged to a clan in Pakistan that Razaq blamed for the death of his brother two years earlier.
Nor was that the only time Raziq’s force was featured in the human-rights report. Last year’s report referred to an incident in February 2010, noting that “Afghan Border Police mistakenly killed seven civilians who were collecting firewood near a checkpoint in the border town of Spin Boldak.” As reported in the press, the seven victims were from the remote village of Sortano, near the border. In an exchange remarkably similar to that which followed the Shin Noorzai killings, Raziq claimed they had been mistaken for Taliban infiltrators, while the Pakistani press reported simply that they were “Pakistani drivers” who had been killed over “old differences.”
Other episodes have been reported as well. In January 2010, Nader Nadery, a commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, held a press conference to denounce abuses in Kandahar. One of the subjects he brought up was Raziq. “In at least three cases where the chief of the Border Police in Spin Boldak was involved, people gave testimonies that they were illegally imprisoned and tortured,” Nadery told me. The victims claimed to have been beaten with cables and held incommunicado, one of them for three months. According to Nadery, they were simple men who had not been accused of serious crimes. Their detentions may have been politically motivated, or related to conflicts over business.
Given the level of violence in Kandahar, confirming these sorts of claims is extraordinarily difficult and dangerous. According to Mohammad, who was part of the CID team that investigated the deaths of Shin Noorzai and his companions in 2006, a comparable government investigation of allegations against Raziq would be unthinkable today. He has grown too powerful.
I was, however, able to speak with multiple sources about the deaths of two young men, whom I will call Sediq and Faizullah. The two were allegedly killed by the Border Police on September 7, 2010, at the height of the U.S.-led military offensive. Their deaths, among others, strongly suggest that the murders of Shin Noorzai and his friends were not an isolated incident, but rather part of a pattern of private detention and extrajudicial killing overseen by Raziq.
Both men, according to family members, had been in custody in one of Raziq’s private prisons in Spin Boldak, before being pulled from jail and shot in the last days of Ramadan, possibly in retaliation for the assassination on August 31 of one of Raziq’s favorite commanders. Faizullah had been from a family of taxi drivers, and was about 21 years old. He had been arrested by the Border Police in Spin Boldak three months earlier. Sediq, around the same age, was a madrasa student who had been arrested a month before that. Though they hadn’t known each other, they wound up sharing a grave in a remote area near the village of Katsai Ziarat.
“Their hands were tied, in a dried gully, far from the village,” one of their relatives, who recovered the bodies, told me. “The shepherds from the village had seen dead bodies, and so the locals took us there.”
It is impossible now to tell whether the men had any involvement with the Taliban, or worked for rival smuggling gangs, or were, as their relatives claimed, truly innocent. Regardless, though, they were, according to these sources, summarily and illegally executed. And the desperation and fear of their relatives was palpable. “We went so many times to the Americans,” another relative claimed. “They did nothing. What else can we do?”
Since then, thanks in part to the support and forbearance of the United States, Raziq has become the acting police chief of Kandahar province, which includes Afghanistan’s second-largest city, and he seems to have brought with him the brutal methods of the borderlands. In July, I spoke with a man who told me that his son, an 18-year-old shopkeeper, after being seen with a man the police suspected of being an insurgent, was detained by police and beaten so badly in custody that he died of internal injuries. And I saw with my own eyes the round burn marks on Najib’s and Ahmad’s toes, where, they told me, they had been electrocuted during questioning about crimes they did not commit.
Moral questions aside, Raziq’s record of reported human-rights abuses should make it illegal for the U.S. to train and assist his forces. In 1997, in response to abuses by the Colombian army, Congress passed the Leahy Amendment, named after its sponsor and most vocal advocate, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. The law prohibits State Department or Defense Department assistance or training to a foreign military unit where there is “credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.”
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor—which put out the 2006 report citing Raziq’s alleged involvement in the massacre of civilians—is also the group responsible for overseeing compliance with the Leahy Amendment. Yet, incredibly, U.S. support for Raziq seems never to have triggered Leahy concerns. “No Leahy Amendment issues have come to me,” Ben Moeling, the State Department official in Kandahar, told me in January.
The question is whether Raziq’s apparent exclusion from Leahy vetting represents a baffling oversight, or a deliberate evasion. In August, WikiLeaks released hundreds of classified, Leahy-related cables from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that revealed that, from 2006 to 2010, the U.S. vetted thousands of Afghan security officials before training them. In one instance, on September 29, 2007, the embassy vetted 251 mid-level and senior officers in the Border Police. Raziq’s name was conspicuously absent.
“U.S. training of Afghan security forces is covered by the Leahy Amendment,” Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me. “I’m concerned about the effectiveness of the vetting, and that the amendment isn’t being applied as vigorously as it should be.” (A State Department spokesman said the department cannot comment on whether it has investigated an individual over Leahy concerns.)
Now that Raziq has moved to a higher-profile job, as the acting police chief of Kandahar, the American military seems finally to have become concerned about being complicit in his abuses. The decision to bar all units in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force from transferring detainees into police or NDS custody in southern Afghanistan, pending resolution of concerns over the allegations, was quietly issued in a classified report on July 12.
The problem of the human-rights abuses by America’s Afghan allies is broader than just Raziq. A UN report drafted in September interviewed hundreds of detainees held in police and NDS detention facilities and found that more than half reported that they had been tortured. Though the Afghan government rejected the report, ISAF halted detainee transfers to several additional prisons based on its findings.
But the abuses seem likely to continue, as long as those ordering the torture do so with impunity. On August 22, Karzai appointed Asadullah Khalid—the former governor who protected Raziq in 2006 and whose personal guard unit had been implicated in torture—as his special representative to oversee all security forces in southern Afghanistan.
The halting of detainee transfers in Kandahar province might well result in Raziq’s returning, for now, to his fiefdom on the border. But this is not the first time that the United States and ISAF have considered withdrawing their support for him. Toward the end of 2009, senior ISAF officials reportedly thought about pushing for Raziq to be replaced. According to leaked cables, a high-level meeting was convened in Kabul, chaired by Deputy Ambassador Earl Wayne and Major General Michael Flynn, to discuss the problematic behavior of Raziq, among others. “Nobody, including his US military counterparts,” one cable noted, “is under any illusions about his corrupt activities.” Ultimately, however, General McChrystal, who was then the commander of ISAF and U.S. forces, decided that Raziq was too useful to cut loose, according to an article in The Washington Post. (McChrystal, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.) Cables also reveal that an American information-operations team even proposed a plan, “if credible,” for “the longer-term encouragement of stories in the international media on the ‘reform’ of Razziq.”
For his part, Raziq continues to deny all allegations of wrongdoing. “We have told the world and the media,” he said, “that if you have any proof regarding this matter, come and drag us to court.”
That has been America’s balancing act in Kandahar—weighing the allegations of abuse and criminality that have been raised regarding Raziq against his effectiveness as an ally in the war on the Taliban. Or, as Moeling told me back in January, before the most recent round of allegations: “At the moment, I think we have to take a look at what he’s been able to achieve. For us, trying to see the negative doesn’t really get us anywhere.”