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How CIA Money, Drug Money and Taliban Money Mix in the Same Pot

As I’ve been writing since last night, the tale of the CIA’s payments to Ahmed Wali Karzai seems less like a story about corruption than it does a story about the insurgency. Gretchen Peters, author of a recent book about the drug trade in Afghanistan and its effects on the insurgency, helped me flesh that out.

It’s been widely speculated that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, is deep into the drug game. (I even interviewed the Afghan ambassador to the United States about it in 2007.) Peters told me there’s no question. “I’ve been shown intelligence reports indicating he’s worked with a major drug trafficker connected to the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” she said. That would be Haji Juma Khan, the “Pablo Escobar of South Asia,” whom Peters describes as moving up to $1 billion worth of opiates annually.

Now check out this indictment of Khan from a New York Court last year. The indictment claims that Khan repeatedly kicks money up to the Taliban, and on several occasions, shortly after Khan’s payments come in, the Taliban pulls off attacks. I’m not sure how strong the connection is there — the Taliban surely have more than one revenue stream — but it’s not nothing, either. And despite the indictment, Khan’s network is still in business.

What’s the relationship between the two men? You’re not going to catch Ahmed Wali Karzai with large quantities of opium in his SUV. “He’s believed to be, by law enforcement officials, a facilitator of the drugs trade,” Peters said. “He is in a position to appoint sympathetic characters, people who look other way, to the right positions, so when shipments move on the highway, the police look the other way, checkpoints are not going to stop that car, and customs/border agents are not going to search that shipment. He’s a person who makes those relationships happen.”

And the people who benefit are the Taliban. What does the United States get out of the arrangement? According to The New York Times story, the recruitment of “an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction” around Kandahar. Recently, Amnesty International identified an Afghan paramilitary group acting out of a former Taliban base known as Camp Gecko or Firebase Muholic, that also houses “regular international troops and special forces units, as well as personnel from intelligence agencies forces, such as the Central Intelligence Agency.” That would seem to fit the Times’ description. And here’s a recent report from New York University’s Center for International Cooperation that ties Gecko/Muholic’s Afghan residents to a June assassination that (however briefly) stunned observers:

The challenge posed by illegal militia groups employed by foreign armed forces to Afghan state authority was demonstrated on June 29, 2009, when 41 Afghan nationals employed by an “armed support group” (ASG) – an unregistered militia force – run by US Special Forces (SF) out of Camp Gecko in Kandahar killed the chief of police of Kandahar province and five other police officers. The incident occurred during a gun battle inside a government compound after the ASG sought the release of a one of their members arrested earlier that day. When the provincial attorney general refused and called the Afghan National Police, the firefight broke out. USSF claimed they could not be held responsible for the actions of the ASG, but the incident raised the question of how 41 heavily armed men and their vehicles could simply drive out of a USSF-run base. President Hamid Karzai responded to the killing, stating, “Such incidents negatively impact the state-building process in Afghanistan” and “weaken the government.”

My emphasis. The Times discusses the police shootout in its piece. Ahmed Wali Karzai told the Times reporters that the police chief, Matiullah Qati, was in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” Assume that’s true, and not the alternative explanation that Karzai had Qati killed. That suggests the money paid to Karzai, which helps him go about a business that helps finance Taliban attacks, also pays for a rogue force of killers. And that’s the benign explanation.

Who’s going to be the first to call for a congressional investigation?

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