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War in Afghanistan

Drug Economy

Project: War in Afghanistan
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1982-1991: Afghan Opium Production Skyrockets

Afghan opium production rises from 250 tons in 1982 to 2,000 tons in 1991, coinciding with CIA support and funding of the mujaheddin. Alfred McCoy, a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin, says US and Pakistani intelligence officials sanctioned the rebels’ drug trafficking because of their fierce opposition to the Soviets: “If their local allies were involved in narcotics trafficking, it didn’t trouble [the] CIA. They were willing to keep working with people who were heavily involved in narcotics.” For instance, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a rebel leader who received about half of all the CIA’s covert weapons, was known to be a major heroin trafficker. Charles Cogan, who directs the CIA’s operation in Afghanistan, later claims he was unaware of the drug trade: “We found out about it later on.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Alfred McCoy, Charles Cogan, Central Intelligence Agency, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Category Tags: Drug Economy

CIA covert weapons shipments are sent by the Pakistani army and the ISI to rebel camps in the North West Frontier province near the Afghanistan border. The governor of the province is Lieutenant General Fazle Haq, who author Alfred McCoy calls Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s “closest confidant and the de facto overlord of the mujaheddin guerrillas.” Haq allows hundreds of heroin refineries to set up in his province. Beginning around 1982, Pakistani army trucks carrying CIA weapons from Karachi often pick up heroin in Haq’s province and return loaded with heroin. They are protected from police search by ISI papers. [McCoy, 2003, pp. 477] By 1982, Haq is listed with Interpol as an international drug trafficker. But Haq also becomes known as a CIA asset. Despite his worsening reputation, visiting US politicians such as CIA Director William Casey and Vice President George H. W. Bush continue to meet with him when they visit Pakistan. Haq then moves his heroin money through the criminal Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). A highly placed US official will later say that Haq “was our man… everybody knew that Haq was also running the drug trade” and that “BCCI was completely involved.” [Scott, 2007, pp. 73-75] Both European and Pakistani police complain that investigations of heroin trafficking in the province are “aborted at the highest level.” [McCoy, 2003, pp. 477] In 1989, shortly after Benazir Bhutto takes over as the new ruler of Pakistan, Pakistani police arrest Haq and charge him with murder. He is considered a multi-billionaire by this time. But Haq will be gunned down and killed in 1991, apparently before he is tried. [McCoy, 2003, pp. 483] Even President Zia is implied in the drug trade. In 1985, a Norwegian government investigation will lead to the arrest of a Pakistani drug dealer who also is President Zia’s personal finance manager. When arrested, his briefcase contains Zia’s personal banking records. The manager will be sentenced to a long prison term. [McCoy, 2003, pp. 481-482]

Entity Tags: Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Fazle Haq, William Casey, George Herbert Walker Bush, Pakistani Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy

CIA Director William Casey gets a legal exemption sparing the CIA for a requirement that they report on drug smuggling by CIA officers, agents, or assets. Attorney General William French Smith grants the exemption in a secret memorandum. On March 2, Casey thanks Smith for the exemption, saying it will help protect intelligence sources and methods. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 110-111] There are allegations that in 1981 President Reagan approved a covert program to weaken Soviet soldiers fighting in Afghanistan by addicting them to illegal drugs (see February 1981 and After). A book cowritten by two Time magazine reporters will even allege that “a few American intelligence operatives were deeply emeshed in the drug trade” during the war. [Scott, 2007, pp. 124-125] President Clinton will rescind the exemption in 1995. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 111]

Entity Tags: William French Smith, Central Intelligence Agency, William Casey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, CIA Operations

The New York Times reports that “Afghanistan is one place where the drug issue has been subordinated to the [Reagan] administration’s policy of supporting anti-Communist insurgencies.” In interviews with The New York Times in 1986, dozens of Afghan rebel leaders admitted cultivating and selling opium poppies. US intelligence suspects that the same planes and trucks sending US aid to rebels in Afghanistan are returning to Pakistan with drugs. However, little is being done about this. One anonymous Reagan administration official tells the Times: “We’re not going to let a little thing like drugs get in the way of the political situation. And when the Soviets leave and there’s no money in the country, it’s not going to be a priority to disrupt the drug trade.” [New York Times, 4/10/1998]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy

The New York Times reports that tens of thousands of Islamic radicals from around the world have come to train in Afghanistan since the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, in order to bring the militant jihad struggle back to their home countries. There are dozens of training camps all over the country, with around 20 under control of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar alone. [New York Times, 3/13/1994] Even though bin Laden is living in Sudan at this time and has moved some training camps there, he also keeps some camps and guesthouses open in Pakistan and Afghanistan until he moves back to Afghanistan take direct control of them in 1996. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 63] A civil war that has raged non-stop since the Soviets left and the growing importance of the opium crop made Afghanistan into “essentially a lawless country. There is no civil law, no government, no economy—only guns and drugs and anger.” Abdul Haq, a politically moderate warlord, says, “For us, Afghanistan is destroyed. It is turning to poison, and not only for us but for all others in the world. If you are a terrorist, you can have shelter here, no matter who you are. Day by day, there is the increase of drugs. Maybe one day [the US] will have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to deal with that. And if they step in, they will be stuck. We have a British grave in Afghanistan. We have a Soviet grave. And then we will have an American grave.” [New York Times, 3/13/1994]

Entity Tags: Abdul Haq, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy

Before 9/11, US intelligence had collected a list of potential bombing targets in Afghanistan (see Late August 1998-2001). The list is said to include 20 to 25 major drug labs and other drug-related facilities. But according to a CIA source, when the list is turned over to the US military after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House refuse to order the bombing of any of the drug-related targets. This CIA source complains, “On the day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the [National Security Council] threw it out the window. We had tracked these [targets] for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But they refused.” This source believes that if the US had bombed those targets, “it would have slowed down drug production in Afghanistan for a year or more.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154] The US will continue to avoid taking action against drug operations in Afghanistan (see February 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Council, White House

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US Military Strategies and Tactics

November 21, 2001: Opium Boom in Afghanistan

The Independent runs a story with the title: “Opium Farmers Rejoice at the Defeat of the Taliban.” Massive opium planting is underway all across Afghanistan. [Independent, 11/21/2001] Four days later, the Observer runs a story headlined, “Victorious Warlords Set to Open the Opium Floodgates.” It states that farmers are being encouraged by warlords allied with the US to plant “as much opium as possible.” [Observer, 11/25/2001]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy

Ayub Afridi, a well-known Afghan warlord and drug baron, is released from prison in Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan with the apparent approval of both the US and Pakistani governments. Afridi had just begun serving a seven year sentence after being convicted of attempting to smuggle over six tons of hashish into Belgium. The Pakistani government gave no explanation for his release nor pointed to any law allowing the release. The Asia Times claims, “Afridi was a key player in the Afghan war of resistance against the Soviet Union’s occupying troops in the decade up to 1989.” The CIA lacked the billions of dollars need to fund the Afghan resistance. “As a result, they decided to generate funds through the poppy-rich Afghan soil and heroin production and smuggling to finance the Afghan war. Afridi was the kingpin of this plan. All of the major Afghan warlords, except for the Northern Alliance’s Ahmed Shah Massoud, who had his own opium fiefdom in northern Afghanistan, were a part of Afridi’s coalition of drug traders in the CIA-sponsored holy war against the Soviets.” The Asia Times speculates that Afridi, an ethic Pashtun, was released to help unify Pashtun warlord support for the new US supported Afghan government. Afridi also served three years in a US prison for drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. [Asia Times, 12/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, United States, Ayub Afridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Pakistan Involvement

Haji Juma Khan.Haji Juma Khan. [Source: US government]Afghan drug kingpin Haji Juma Khan (see July 2000) is arrested and taken into US custody. Although his role in the illegal drug trade is known to US officials, he is let go. A European counterterrorism expert says, “At the time, the Americans were only interested in catching bin Laden and Mullah Omar.” Another major kingpin is arrested and released around this time as well (see Late 2001). After being released, Khan reestablishes a smuggling network that greatly benefits the Taliban and al-Qaeda. For instance, in May 2004, a tip off will reveal that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of Pakistan to the Middle East. Some return trips bring back plastic explosives, antitank mines, and other weapons to be used against US troops in Afghanistan. In 2004, Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles says of Khan, “He’s obviously very tightly tied to the Taliban.… There are central linkages among Khan, Mullah Omar, and bin Laden.” [Time, 8/2/2004] In 2006, a report by the research arm of Congress will label Khan as one of three prominent drug kingpins with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but he apparently has not yet been put on the official US list of wanted drug figures. [Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Robert Charles, Taliban, Haji Juma Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US-Taliban Relations

James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Hamid Karzai, Taliban, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Economic Reconstruction, Political Reconstruction

In the 1990s, Afghan drug kingpin Haji Bashir Noorzai developed close ties to Taliban top leader Mullah Omar, al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani ISI. He becomes the top drug kingpin in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He is also reputedly the richest person in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s banker. For instance, according to US sources, as the Taliban began their military defeat after 9/11, they entrusted Noorzai with as much as $20 million in Taliban money for safekeeping. But he then surrenders to the US military in Afghanistan. Noorzai later says of this time, “I spent my days and nights comfortably. There was special room for me. I was like a guest, not a prisoner.” [CBS News, 2/7/2002; Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] He spends several days in custody at the Kandahar airport. He speaks to US military and intelligence officials, but is released before Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents arrive in the country to question him. [National Public Radio, 4/26/2002] The other top drug kingpin for the Taliban is also arrested then let go by the US at this time (see December 2001 and After). Noorzai then lives in Pakistan, where he has been given a Pakistani passport by the ISI. He operates drug-processing laboratories there and has little trouble traveling to other countries. [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162] In 2004 it will be reported, “According to House International Relations Committee testimony this year, Noorzai smuggles 4,400 pounds of heroin out of the Kandahar region to al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan every eight weeks.” [USA Today, 10/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Haji Bashir Noorzai, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US-Taliban Relations, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

According to one former National Security Council official, Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith argues in a White House meeting that since counter-narcotics is not part of the war on terrorism, the Pentagon doesn’t want to get involved in it. The former official complains, “We couldn’t get [the US military] to do counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.” Author James Risen comments, “American troops were there to fight terrorists, not suppress the poppy crop, and Pentagon officials didn’t see a connection between the two. The Pentagon feared that counter-narcotics operations would force the military to turn on the very same warlords who were aiding the United States against the Taliban, and that would lead to another round of violent attacks on American troops.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154] Immediately after 9/11, the US had decided not to bomb drug-related targets in Afghanistan and continued not to do so (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Douglas Feith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US Counter-Narcotics Operations

April 1, 2002: Afghan Opium Crackdown Fails

An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields.An Afghani farmer stands in his opium poppy fields. [Source: Shaul Schwarz/ Corbis]“American officials have quietly abandoned their hopes to reduce Afghanistan’s opium production substantially this year and are now bracing for a harvest large enough to inundate the world’s heroin and opium markets with cheap drugs.” They want to see the new Afghan government make at least a token effort to destroy some opium, but it appears that the new government is not doing even that. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had announced a total ban on opium cultivation, processing, and trafficking, but it appears to be a total sham. The new harvest is so large that it could be “enough opium to stockpile for two or two and a half more years.” [New York Times, 4/1/2002] Starting this month, Karzai’s government offers farmers $500 for every acre of poppies they destroy, but farmers can earn as much as $6,400 per acre for the crop. The program is eventually cancelled when it runs out of money to pay farmers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Hamid Karzai

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US Counter-Narcotics Operations

Afghan Vice President Hajji Abdul Qadir is assassinated by Afghan warlords. Some believe that Qadir was assassinated by opium warlords upset by Qadir’s efforts to reduce the rampant opium farming and processing that has taken place since the US occupation. Qadir had been overseeing a Western-backed eradication program, and had recently complained that the money meant to be given to reward farmers for not planting opium was in fact not reaching the farmers. Additionally, Qadir “had long been suspected of enriching himself through involvement in the opium trade.” [New York Times, 7/8/2002; Chicago Tribune, 7/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Hajji Abdul Qadir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Political Reconstruction

The Independent reports that “there is mounting evidence that [Afghanistan’s] booming opium trade is funding terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.” The governor of Kandahar, in a joint press conference with a US general, states, “One of the most important things prolonging terrorism is drugs. We are 100 percent sure that some of the top terrorists are involved in drug smuggling, and eradication of this industry would not only benefit Afghanistan but would be a step towards eradicating terrorism [worldwide].” The Independent comments, “Patrolling US troops routinely turn a blind eye to opium farming and trading, ignoring poppy fields, and have recruited warlords suspected of being drug dealers to fight al-Qaeda.” Troops are explicitly told not to engage in drug eradication (see November 2003). It is believed that the US and allied military forces are overstretched in Afghanistan, and would face a violent backlash if they took more steps to confront drug trafficking. The Independent notes, “The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has raised the possibility of using the 17,000 US soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan to take a more active role against the drug trade. [Independent, 8/14/2004] However, nine months later, no such change of policy will be evident. It will be reported that US and Afghan officials decided in late 2004 that a more aggressive anti-poppy effort is “too risky.” [New York Times, 5/22/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US Counter-Narcotics Operations

The Daily Telegraph reports that “the search for [bin Laden] the world’s most wanted man has all but come to a halt because of Pakistan’s refusal to permit cross-border raids from Afghanistan, according to CIA officials.” Even spy missions by unmanned Predator drones need Pakistani military approval involving a lengthy chain of command that frequently causes delays. Most accounts have bin Laden still alive and living in the near-lawless Pakistan and Afghanistan border region. US officials believe bin Laden and his deputies are being hidden by sympathetic local tribesmen, who are continuing to fund his operations from opium sales. [Daily Telegraph, 12/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Pakistan-Afghan Relations, Drug Economy

Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]

Entity Tags: Afghan Government, United Kingdom, Taliban, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other Islamist Radical Groups, Other, Other US Allies, US-Taliban Relations, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

American Delta Force commandos in Afghanistan reportedly net a “high ranking al-Qaeda official” in a secret raid that leaves five people dead, upsetting German military officials and intelligence sources who later tell Der Spiegel magazine that the US forces are actually used by a drug clan to execute an underworld rival. The secret raid, which the Germans describe as “unilateral,” takes place in Kunduz province where German forces are assisting with security and reconstruction. According to the Der Spiegel report, the operation commences when a US liaison officer asks a German reconstruction team to guard the Kunduz airport without informing the Germans of the impending operation. A Hercules transport aircraft then lands at the airfield together with a fleet of combat and transport helicopters, which then take off for the nearby town of Imam Sahib. There, the American commandos reportedly storm a guesthouse owned by the local mayor, killing his driver, cook, bodyguard, and two of his guests. According to the US military, one of those captured is the target of the operation, a “high-ranking” member of al-Qaeda, but Der Spiegel reports that the tip-off to the person’s location comes from a source in a rival drug clan close to a member of the Afghan government reputed to be deeply involved in the drug trade. High-ranking German commanders in Afghanistan are later understood to have alerted Der Spiegel to the mission and intelligence sources explain how the Americans are “set up.” There will be no immediate comment from the American military regarding the allegations. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/30/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Al-Qaeda, Germany, US Special Forces

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other, CIA Intel, Military Operations, Civilian Casualties, Critics of US Military Action, Other US Allies, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardons five convicted drug traffickers who in 2007 were caught in military uniforms transporting over 100 kg of heroin in a police truck and sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. One of the released men is the nephew of a powerful Afghan politician who heads Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign in 2009. A spokesman for Karzai will later confirm the pardons. The spokesman, Siyamak Herawi, explains that Karzai ordered the release of the five men only after the customary intercession of tribal chiefs. “The tribal chiefs had sought their release and the president… acquitted them,” he will say. One of the pardoned men is Bilal Wali Mohammad, the aforementioned nephew of Haji Din Mohammad, the powerful politician who will later resign his post as Kabul governor to become Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign manager. Spokesman Herawi will also claim that the pardons are not linked with the 2009 election or Haji Din Mohammad’s position. At the time of his arrest, Bilal was working as the personal secretary for his cousin, Haji Zahir, commander of the border police in Takhar, a province that borders Tajikistan and serves as a conduit for drugs to Europe. In fact, all five pardoned traffickers were employed by Zahir at the time of their arrest. Reuters adds that Bilal belongs to a powerful family from eastern Afghanistan, and that one of his brothers served as a deputy to Karzai before he was assassinated in 2002. The Boston Globe will report that by July 2009, Karzai has ordered the release of at least 10 convicted drug traffickers since he began pardoning drug traffickers this month. Records seen at the Afghan attorney general’s office suggest that the total figure is almost certainly far higher. [Boston Globe, 7/3/2009; Reuters, 7/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Haji Din Mohammad, Bilal Wali Mohammad, Haji Zahir, Hamid Karzai, Siyamak Herawi

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other

Mohammad Qasim Fahim.Mohammad Qasim Fahim. [Source: Ozier Muhammad / New York Times]President Hamid Karzai formally registers as a candidate for re-election, choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim—a powerful warlord accused of human rights abuses and criminality—as one of his vice presidential running mates, just hours before leaving for meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Zadari. Human rights groups immediately condemn the selection of Fahim, who was a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during Afghanistan’s 1990s civil war, a Northern Alliance intelligence chief, a former interim vice president, and defense minister.
Human Rights Watch: Choice a "Terrible Step Backwards for Afghanistan" - Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Karzai is “insulting the country” with the choice. “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009] General Fahim was one of the chief Jamiat-e-Islami commanders under Ahmed Shah Massoud. A 2005 HRW report, “Blood-Stained Hands,” found that “credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Fahim, who was among those “directly implicated in abuses described in this report, including the 1993 Afshar campaign.” [Human Rights Watch, 7/6/2005]
Afghan Civil Society Responds - Fahim served as Karzai’s first vice president in Afghanistan’s interim government set up after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion. During the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket. Aziz Rafiee, the executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum says that Karzi’s pick begs a question. “If (Fahim) was a good choice, why did (Karzai) remove him [in 2004]?” Rafiee asks. “And if he was a bad choice, why did he select him again? The people of Afghanistan will answer this question while voting.” According to Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political columnist and the editor in chief of the Afghan newspaper 8 a.m., Fahim could be an issue for Western countries invested in Afghanistan’s success. “Perhaps if Karzai wins the election Western countries are going to use this point as an excuse and limit their assistance to Afghanistan,” he says. “This is also a matter of concern for all human rights organizations who are working in Afghanistan and working for transitional justice.”
US Response Evasive - The US Embassy does not comment on the choice, saying it is not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. However, the US does issue the following statement: “We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, Jamiat-e-Islami, Hamid Karzai, Afghan Civil Society Forum, Afghan Government, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Aziz Rafiee, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Qasim Fahim

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other Islamist Radical Groups, Other, Political Reconstruction

Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Taliban, Larry Nicholson, Obama administration, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Stanley A. McChrystal, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, US-Taliban Relations, Other, Other US Allies, US Invasion, Occupation, US Military Strategies and Tactics

Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other, Civilian Casualties, Other US Allies, US Invasion, Occupation, Taliban Actions, Rhetoric

Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Taliban, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Afghan National Army, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Hamid Karzai

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Drug Economy, Other, Civilian Casualties, Other US Allies, US Invasion, Occupation

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