Our Choices Haunt Us

by Joshua Foust on 3/18/2011 · 6 comments

A few months back, I argued in The Atlantic that a focus on short-term objectives in Afghanistan was ruining our ability to consider the long term consequences of our choices and actions. One of those short-term objectives—most recently explained by General Petraeus at his Congressional testimony this week—is to build up local security forces to drive out the Taliban. The desire, however understandable, to push half-thought out solutions can have disastrous consequences:

An Afghan warlord backed by US special forces faces persistent allegations that he launched a two-year spate of violence involving burglary, rape and murder of civilians, desecration of mosques and mutilation of corpses. Yet, despite repeated warnings about the atrocities Commander Azizullah is alleged to have committed, he has remained on the payroll of the US military as an “Afghan security guard”, a select band of mercenaries described by some as “the most effective fighting formation in Afghanistan”.

Further in the story, the Independent alleges this warlord also sexually abused boys—that he had his own private bacha bazi dungeon, partially financed by U.S. money. We do not know where this Azizullah is. The Independent never says. But how on earth can we sell our version of security as morally, socially, and religiously preferable to the Taliban when this is what we offer the Afghans?

Sadly, there are other cases of U.S.-backed local strongmen abusing the people they’re meant to protect. In Ghor province, which is administered by the Lithuanians, it seems the Afghan security forces are more of less throwing a continuing rape party.

IWPR has gathered evidence from provincial government officials, police and residents of Ghor, who report that numerous grave human rights abuses are being committed by militia forces which in theory are not even supposed to exist any more.

The abuses they are accused of include assault, coerced marriage and public beatings for alleged immoral behaviour.

Remind me again, how this is preferable to the Taliban? This is the inevitable consequence of our obsession with quick fixes and easy panaceas over considered, comprehensive solutions to the challenges we face. We do not plan for or monitor or control the people we empower, and in the process sow the seeds of our own defeat.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Burk March 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

When do you propose to put Afghans in charge of Afghanistan, if ever?

Steve Magribi March 18, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Good Post and Article by the Independent. This is basically all very accurate.

First hand on this guy and some of the others, I was down there in January and heard about this from the District leaders and Elders.

The point is valid. The SF guys don’t have a clue on who to work with. You really need a long term view to discern who are the real honest Afghan patriots that command huge respect in many areas. This can only be done if you have spent time and integrated yourself somewhat in “who is who, what happpened before, and why.” This is exactly what most of the one year SF cowboys cannot do mostly due to lack of interest, effort, and real knowledge.

The guy in question is a real piece of work. He jumps every time a sound goes off and his hand shakes when upset. He is not even remotely mentally stable. He gets in moods and the SF guys know not to even approach him. When he gets vengeful or thinks some farmer or village is not giving him enough respect he will go in and do some really shitty stuff. He made a snotty comment to me and I reminded him of how I helped his uncle a long time ago and he shut up.

Basically he should be in jail with the Taliban guys. So it is a real mess. His clan members know but no one can talk to him because he loses it so often.

P4 is in fact running a bad program because it is not well thought out; has no national interlocking strategy; is not done in concert with the Afghan Government; ignores real local powerbrokers; is rushed with emphasis on gains in numbers and failures in logic.

This whole program needs to be scratched and restarted now.

I have a little map with me that has “no go” zones. Some are Taliban base areas, others are “friendly militia controlled.” I avoid both areas because both are lawless, not run on Afghan cultural lines, and just plain dangerous. We are creating our own badlands.

It is a poor system. Once again Karzai was right to oppose it so forcefully last year. Petraeus needs to change his game plan or go. It is as simple as that.

marc March 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm

It was the chaotic system of violent feuding criminal warlords that allowed the Taliban to come to power in the first place. I don’t understand how re-creating those conditions will prevent the Taliban from regaining power. The U.S. will have to maintain a robust military presence in Afghanistan forever just to keep our thumb on the scale in favor of the warlords.

Tintin March 18, 2011 at 4:25 pm

The Independent article does say roughly where — Orgun district in Paktika.

Alvaro Gómez Castro March 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hi, very good work. I invite you to visit my blog about philosophy and literature:


Greetings from Santa Marta, Colombia

TJM March 19, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Don’t worry. High level talks between the GIRoA and Taliban will result in political reconciliation and power-sharing. Then only some portions of the country will face this type of abuse. Other portions will face Taliban abuse.

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