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Karzai Rejects US Apologies on Civilian Deaths, Gates Suddenly Appears

7:34 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

DoD photo of General David Petreaus greeting Secretary Gates on his arrival in Afghanistan on Monday.

Over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai informed General David Petraeus that US apologies for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are no longer sufficient. In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday.

CNN.com described Karzai’s rejection of US apologies over the killings of nine boys, ages nine to fifteen, who were gunned down from US helicopters last week:

Apologies are not sufficient when it comes to civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the NATO commander Sunday, days after a NATO airstrike killed nine Afghan boys.

Karzai told Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, that incidents of civilian casualties during coalition military operations are the main reason for tensions in the U.S.-Afghan relationship and he demanded there be no more, according to a statement from Karzai’s office.

Even President Obama is in on the apology parade:

U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed regret for the deaths, calling it a “tragic accident.” A White House statement said Obama and Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine shared U.S. and Afghan efforts in fighting terrorism.

Perhaps because Karzai sees the apologies as not sufficient, Defense Secretary Gates suddenly appeared in Afghanistan Monday:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday at a time of increased strain between Kabul and its Western backers and with important security transition milestones looming.

Karzai complained ahead of Gates’s unannounced visit after nine Afghan children were mistakenly killed by helicopters from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Even Reuters, in this same article, strains to put a positive spin on NATO “progress” in Afghanistan:

Gates is expected to visit parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan where NATO commanders say they have weakened the Taliban and created “bubbles” of security they hope to link up.

Defense Department tool spokesperson Geoff Morrell tried to put a positive spin on the trip in a Defense Department press release:

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates will visit areas in regional commands South and East, where he will meet with troops and assess progress on the ground.

Gates has settled into a regular rhythm of Afghanistan visits, averaging a trip each quarter, Morrell said.

“Frequent, regular visits provide him with good measuring sticks to determine how rapidly progress is being made,” Morrell said, noting that the secretary has repeatedly said visiting forces in the field and getting their assessment of conditions is the most important part of his trips.

Those on-the-ground assessments have been positive over the last few visits, Morrell said, with troops and leaders who are “taking on the Taliban” expressing confidence in their Afghan counterparts and reporting improved security conditions in former Taliban-controlled areas.

After painting this rosy picture of “progress” and how Gates loves measuring that progress himself, Morrell then moves on to noting that Gates will meet with Karzai. What will Gates have to offer to Karzai to get him to join the happy chorus on US “progress”?

Here is the video apology from Petraeus’ number two in command in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez, issued last week:

What I haven’t seen in any of these “apologies” is even the beginning of an explanation of how helicopter gunners could possibly have mistaken boys as young as nine years old for enemy insurgents. How can Rodriguez, Petraeus, Gates and Obama believe that their apologies will be seen as sincere when they haven’t addressed such a huge issue?

Update: It appears that an apology and some tears from Gates have been enough for Karzai to now say he accepts the apology.

Petraeus, Spox Smith Lie Again When Confronted With Afghan Civilian Deaths, Injuries

6:07 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith (US Navy photo)

In a meeting Sunday at the presidential palace in Kabul to investigate reports of multiple civilian deaths in a US operation in Konar province, General David Petraeus deeply offended those present when he suggested that Afghan civilians had deliberately burned their children in an effort to blame US attacks for their injuries. Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, the top military spokesperson in Kabul, then provided a statement to the Washington Post suggesting that the burns were inflicted on the children as punishment. This development is remarkably similar to events last March, when Smith initially stated after Special Forces killed two pregnant women in a night raid that the women had been slashed to death by knives before the raid took place, only for a later investigation to reveal that the Special Forces soldiers had used knives to remove the bullets that they had fired into the women.

Here is the Post’s description of the military operation in Konar province:

Afghan government officials alleged Sunday that a U.S. military operation in the remote mountains of northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, the most serious allegation of civilian casualties in months.

/snip/

A NATO statement said that video and information from the coalition showed that 36 insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. The U.S. troops involved responded to insurgent activity and fired with aircraft and an unmanned Predator drone, the senior military official said.

/snip/

Karzai, who put the death toll at 50 civilians, said in a statement that it is his responsibility to protect Afghans’ lives and property and that he “will take any steps necessary to prevent and stop civilian casualties in his country.”

Note that locals are claiming 65 civilian deaths, while Karzai states that it is 50 civilians who died. The US, however, sticks to its claim that they have video showing that they killed 36 insurgents carrying weapons. Elsewhere in the article, the spokesman claims that those killed were wearing civilian clothes but that “the majority of them” were “civilians engaged in hostilities”.  Later in the article there also is the admission that in this mountainous area, the residents are extremely isolated and don’t want US personnel present.

In the meeting at Karzai’s palace, Petraeus profoundly offended Afghan personnel present when he tried to claim that civilians had deliberately burned their children in order to make the US attack appear worse:

To the shock of President Hamid Karzai’s aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.

The Afghans who were present did not respond to Petraeus’ suggestion very well:

“I was dizzy. My head was spinning,” said one participant, referring to Petraeus’s remarks. “This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd.”

Making matters much worse, top spokesman in Kabul Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith then provided this statement to the Post:

The U.S. military “did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned,” Smith said. “We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be.”

Sadly, it appears that the military has been setting the stage to use this disgusting defense. Just last month, Stars and Stripes carried a story on suspicious burns on Afghan children, using the story to drum up hatred that appears to be a bit more broad than just against the parents who would do this:

He noted that the burn went all the way around one ankle, like a sock — a “circumferential” burn strongly indicating someone had held her leg in boiling liquid and that the child had not been able to recoil from the pain.

“More likely than not,” McCormack said, “this was punishment.”

/snip/

In the space of just three months, McCormack and his medics have treated a dozen Afghan children under 5 suffering from burns that they suspect were caused intentionally, by scalding.

“It’s a disturbing thing to see a 3- to 5-year-old that’s been abused,” McCormack said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

“I despise these people,” said a medic who declined to be named.

It seems that the Stars and Stripes article turns the hatred generated by such child abuse into a generalized hatred against “these people”, which appears to be a broader hatred than just being aimed at the parents who commit the offensive acts.

The profile of the injuries in Konar province also does not match the punishment by burning described in Stars and Stripes. The punishment cases documented all appear to have involved toddlers. The Post article states that the injured civilians were “seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger”, so the age profile does not match up at all.   Smith then provides a detail that completely destroys his punishment claim, noting that the injuries included “burns and shrapnel wounds”. Is Smith next going to claim that in addition to burning their children, the Afghans are exploding bombs next to them so that they have shrapnel wounds?

Note also that this article provides clues for how one could distinguish intentional burns from burns that might have been sustained in an attack by US forces. It does not appear that either Petraeus or Smith cited evidence that would support intentional burns in the case of the injuries reported in the attack under investigation.

It is even more important to consider that by making such an offensive suggestion about injuries, Petraeus and Smith have removed the focus from the deaths which are being investigated, including the deaths of many children.

It’s really hard to understand how Smith still is employed as a spokesman, given his abject failure during the investigation of the killing of the pregnant women last February by Special Forces troops. From the New York Times on March 15:

On Feb. 12 in a village near Gardez, in Paktia Province, Afghan police special forces paired with American Special Operations forces raided a house late at night looking for two Taliban suspects, and instead killed a local police chief and a district prosecutor when they came out, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate. Three women who came to their aid, according to interviews with family members and friends, were also killed; one was a pregnant mother of 10, the other a pregnant mother of 6.

/snip/

“The regret is that two innocent males died,” Admiral Smith said. “The women, I’m not sure anyone will ever know how they died.” He added, however, “I don’t know that there are any forensics that show bullet penetrations of the women or blood from the women.” He said they showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and appeared to have died several hours before the arrival of the assault force. In respect for Afghan customs, autopsies are not carried out on civilian victims, he said.

Smith’s big lie was exposed by Jerome Starkey in London’s Times:

US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened, Afghan investigators have told The Times.

Starkey’s article did suggest that the Special Forces soldiers were primarily responsible for the attempted cover-up and that they lied to McChrystal, but the behavior of Petraeus and Smith in the current case fits so well with an intentional deflection that the cover-up last year now looks to have been carried out in a very similar high-level fashion.

Petraeus and Smith are trying to portray Afghan citizens as generally barbaric and medieval as they invoke rare, isolated events to make an offensive suggestion to deflect blame for barbaric acts by our own troops.  There really is no good reason that either of these men should continue to wear the uniform of our country.

Why US Foreign Policy Is Flummoxed by Egypt’s Uprising

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence via Wikimedia Commons

As the United States struggles to respond to rapidly changing conditions in Egypt, it is informative to look at the arc of US foreign policy over the past half century or so. Foggy Bottom is stuck in a fog precisely because the approach to foreign policy has not evolved sufficiently since the demise of the Cold War. US foreign policy today is just as dependent on supporting individual despotic leaders today as it was in the 1950′s and 1960′s.

Consider the “crowning achievement” of the neocons under George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda”. Because they were imposing freedom at the end of a gun, rather than through the actions of the people, Bush’s new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq have given us corrupt leaders in the form of Hamid Karzai and Nouri al Maliki, whose governments are, at best, only loosely engaged with their citizens. Laying aside for a moment the underlying agenda of the robber barons promoting the neocon agenda to enrich themselves, note just how disengaged these governments, formed under US leadership, are from their citizens. Karazai still operates as if he is a small time drug lord and is actively squirreling away assets and real estate in Dubai. Iraq was unable to form a government for over a year after elections, because there was no real mechanism built into the US-designed “democracy” for people to have a voice.

The US has long backed Hosni Mubarak, and as Marcy has noted, the new Vice President has been an essential cog in the US rendition-torture process, so he is a natural replacement for Mubarak as the typical thug repressing his people to promote US foreign policy. The US stumbles in considering Mohammed el Baradei, perhaps because he is not proposing to come in as a “strongman”, but is instead saying that all he wants is a voice for the people.

In 2009, the US was slow to support a popular uprising in Iran against a despot who is not in favor in Foggy Bottom. However, perhaps because we had not yet chosen a new “Shah”, the US did not provide enough signals to the people of Iran that we would support their moves to overthrow the suppressive regime.

I believe that our foreign policy is too stuck on the wrong passage from the Declaration of Inedpendence. Policy today is centered on this clause from the Declaration:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient cause

Perhaps Foggy Bottom should spend some time reading how that paragraph begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Clearly, Mubarak has lost (if he ever had it) the consent of those whom he governs. Likewise for Karzai and al Maliki. A new US foreign policy with the consent of the governed as the primary focus would go a long way toward having a proper response to popular uprisings like the one already completed in Tunisia, the one under way in Egypt, and those that might be beginning in Yemen, Jordan and Syria.

In fact, it is also the failure to take this approach that was the basis for the Bush administration’s utter failure when Hezbollah Hamas (corrected h/t Hannibal in comments) won the democratic elections in Palestine. By refusing to even acknowledge their win, the US emboldened Israel’s brutal stranglehold which continues today under Obama.

h/t: I have seen several people over the past few days make the observation of US foreign policy being mired in the Cold War era and felt the idea needed further fleshing out. I apologize for not remembering and being able to note just those who brought up the concept.

Breaking: Exclusive Video from Obama’s Visit to Afghanistan

11:27 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Exclusive video from Obama’s visit to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan just came in to Firedoglake:

Petraeus Pouts When Karzai Pierces Silence on Night Raids

6:29 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

Petraeus only wants happy stories out of Afghanistan, like this terrific bread-buying adventure, not stories of innocent civlians disappearing from their homes in the dark of night. (ISAFMedia photo)

Earlier this year, while Stanley McChrystal still headed US forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal lost control of messaging and stories began to come out revealing the extent to which Special Operations Forces night raids were alienating Afghan civilians. One of the more telling reports was by Anand Gopal, where he described in detail the anguish of families who lose members to these intrusions into family compounds, with loved ones disappearing into a secret prison system. Shortly after that report, we had the disgusting revelation of Special Operations Forces carving their bullets out of the dead bodies of women they killed in a botched raid on a family compound. Somehow, even though the number of these night raids has increased dramatically since David Petraeus has taken over after McChrystal was fired, stories detailing the horrors of night raids and the deaths and destruction caused to families who are incorrectly targeted have not appeared as frequently as they did in the spring. This weekend, the silence on night raids was broken by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and that action sent David Petraeus into a toddler-level pout.

Here is the Washington Post reporting on their interview with Hamid Karzai:

President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that the United States must reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations in Afghanistan and end the increased U.S. Special Operations forces night raids that aggravate Afghans and could exacerbate the Taliban insurgency.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Karzai said that he wanted American troops off the roads and out of Afghan homes and that the long-term presence of so many foreign soldiers would only worsen the war. His comments placed him at odds with U.S. commander Gen. David H. Petraeus, who has made capture-and-kill missions a central component of his counterinsurgency strategy, and who claims the 30,000 new troops have made substantial progress in beating back the insurgency.

“The time has come to reduce military operations,” Karzai said. “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan . . . to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.”

Those night raids are Petreaus’ main weapon, and when Karzai pointed out how they “only worsen the war” and constitute “intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life” he was upset mightily. He was given a chance to push back against Karzai in the Post:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coalition military commander in Afghanistan, warned Afghan officials Sunday that President Hamid Karzai’s latest public criticism of U.S. strategy threatens to seriously undermine progress in the war and risks making Petraeus’s own position “untenable,” according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Officials said Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” with Karzai’s call, in a Saturday interview with The Washington Post, to “reduce military operations” and end U.S. Special Operations raids in southern Afghanistan that coalition officials said have killed or captured hundreds of Taliban commanders in recent months.

And, yes, this Post article confirms that Petraeus sees his precious night raids as his only tool:

The night raids are at the heart of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy and are key to his hopes of being able to show significant progress when the White House reviews the situation in Afghanistan next month.

The Post finds Petraeus’ pout so severe that they feel compelled in the article to state that Petreaeus hasn’t actually threatened to resign.

The New York Times outlines how Petraeus is using the night raids as his primary tool to justify “progress” ahead of a strategy review by NATO:

The phased four-year plan to wind down American and allied fighting in Afghanistan will be presented at a NATO summit meeting in Lisbon later this week, the officials said. It will reflect the most concrete vision for transition in Afghanistan assembled by civilian and military officials since President Obama took office last year.

/snip/

The plan came amid escalating pressure from President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to reduce the visibility of American troops, to halt night raids unless carried out by Afghan soldiers or police officers and to begin withdrawing foreign forces by next year. “The time has come to reduce military operations,” Mr. Karzai told The Washington Post in an interview that stirred renewed concern among American officials on Sunday. “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan.”

/snip/

On the ground, the tempo of Special Operations raids has greatly increased, resulting in what the United States military says is a sixfold increase in captures and killings of Taliban commanders, but also in an increase in night raids that sometimes lead to civilian casualties.

Poor little Petraeus had clamped the lid down so well over the real effects of his rampant night raids, only to have Karzai crack that lid just when real evaluations of where we stand in Afghanistan get underway. Little wonder, then, that he would go into full-scale pout and foot-stomping. US strategy in Afghanistan can only be viewed as successful when information coming out of Afghanistan is strictly controlled. When that control slips, failures start to be revealed, and Petreaus is just not used to being viewed as the failure that he is.

The Obama administration and the military are working hand in hand to push back the timeline of withdrawal from Afghanistan because they realize that Petraeus is an utter failure at training Afghan troops, just as he was with training Iraqi troops. With “progress” from night raids now threatened, too, Petraeus has nothing left.

US Soldier Arrested, Criminal Investigation of Afghan Prisoner Death Underway

5:11 am in Afghanistan by Jim White

A US Special Operations soldier discusses a joint patrol with Afghan forces on August 28 in Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar province.  ISAFMedia photo on Flickr.

Details are beginning to emerge in the death of an Afghan prisoner on Sunday night. According to ISAF, a US soldier is in custody and a criminal investigation is underway. Hamid Karzai issued a short statement calling the death a killing by coalition forces. The New York Times recounts that one version of the story suggests the prisoner may have been trying to escape, but other Afghans who were present at the prison disagree on that point.

Here is the entire text of the statement released by ISAF:

A U.S. soldier is in custody following the death of a Taliban insurgent found dead in his holding cell Sunday in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province.

The detainee, who died of an apparent gunshot wound, was being held temporarily at an Afghan government facility under U.S. guard, awaiting transfer to formal Coalition custody.

“The U.S. takes very seriously any mistreatment of detainees,” said Rear Admiral Greg Smith, U.S. Forces Afghanistan Director of Communication. “Our forces are trained to uphold the rights of persons in custody and any violation of those rights are fully investigated.”

The detainee was captured Saturday by a partnered Afghan-Coalition force during an operation in Arghandab district, and was known to be a senior leader of the Taliban network in Arghandab.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the detainee’s death. U.S. Forces Afghanistan will keep the Afghan government apprised throughout the investigation process.

McClatchy provides a statement from Karzai and places this event in perspective for NATO efforts in Afghanistan:

Earlier, Karzai had issued a blunt statement launching his own probe of the allegations emanating from Arghandab, a district that’s now the focus of intensified military efforts to oust Taliban forces from the fertile valley.

"Based on reports from Arghandab, coalition troops entered the Arghandab district prison at 9:30 p.m. Sunday and killed a detainee named Mullah Mohibullah," Karzai’s office said.

/snip/

The shooting is the second major military controversy to emerge from Kandahar province. Five other American soldiers who served in a neighboring Taliban stronghold have been accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport and keeping fingers as battlefield trophies.

The article also discusses the fact that NATO is trying to make the case that progress is being made in the Kandahar offensive and that a close working relationship between Karzai’s government and the Obama administration is needed for success. The botched rescue of Linda Norgrove is also mentioned in the context of this discussion.

The New York Times has spoken with the local police chief where the killing occurred:

The police chief of Arghandab, Niaz Muhammed, confirmed the killing and offered details.

“He was in the custody of Americans, and when he was trying to escape custody he was shot by the Americans,” he said. “Maybe it was done by mistake.” He said he had seen the soldier who killed the detainee “being handcuffed by other Americans.”

Other Afghans who were there said they were not sure if the detainee was trying to escape at the time that he was killed. Local elders said the detainee was a local Taliban commander named Hajji Mohammed who had given a different name, Mullah Muhibullah, to the Americans.

The photo above becomes quite ironic when viewed in the context of the killing of the prisoner. It was taken on August 28 in the same region where the killing occurred. Here is the entire caption provided by ISAFMedia:

A Special Operations Task Force-South senior weapons sergeant conducts an after-action review with policemen from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Afghan National Civil Order Police Brigade, following a joint patrol Aug. 28 through the Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. A 20-man team from SOTF-S is partnered with 3rd Battalion and conducts joint patrols and training with the unit in order to increase their proficiency.

Note that the prisoner, as noted by ISAF in their release, "was captured Saturday by a partnered Afghan-Coalition force during an operation in Arghandab district", so there is a reasonable chance that this same group of Afghan and US soldiers was involved. However, the tables are now turned, as the "after-action" investigation now centers on the actions of an American who seems to have been "proficient" with his weapon when using it on an unarmed prisoner.

Hamid Karzai’s Call to Disband US Private Security Contractors: Promoting Peace While Consolidating Family Business

10:13 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Ahmed Wali Karzai (ISAFMedia photo)
Ahmed Wali Karzai (photo: ISAFMedia on Flickr)

In a Reuters article on Sunday, we see yet another call from Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan for the disbanding of US private security firms. It is undisputed that these firms represent a huge destabilizing presence, as seen by the small riot that ensued in Kabul on July 30 when a vehicle driven by DynCorp personnel was responsible for the deaths of four Afghans in a traffic accident. But in calling for the disbanding of US security contractors, is Karzai promoting peace or simply consolidating businesses controlled by his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai?

After providing the background that there are probably between 30,000 and 40,000 private security contractors in Afghanistan ostensibly under the control of US firms, but noting that last year the US was unable to provide an accurate count, the Reuters article then quotes Hamid Karzai:

Karzai has criticized private security guards often in the past but launched a stinging attack at the weekend, saying they were too costly and were "daily creating miseries."

/snip/

"We ask the international community to dissolve these private security companies because Afghanistan no more has the ability to afford these companies."

But I found this throw-away sentence buried near the end of the Reuters article especially informative:

Karzai’s government tried unsuccessfully last year to register the firms, find out the amount of arms they had and where they came from, and how much money the industry was worth, an Afghan security source said.

What possible reason would Hamid Karzai have for wanting to know the value of the private security market in Afghanistan? For the answer to that question, here is a portion of the testimony of Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight, on June 18 of this year before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan:

In the short term, we need to significantly improve the government’s capacity to oversee security contracts. One of the biggest weaknesses in the government’s oversight of PSCs [Private Security Contractors] is its inability to scrutinize subcontractors, particularly in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is currently auditing the number and volume of contracts in place to provide security services in Afghanistan. As Raymond DiNunzio testified before the Commission last month, “The U.S. does not have the ability to monitor Afghan security contractors or determine the nature of their affiliation or allegiance. Similarly, the U.S. government has difficulty identifying and monitoring second and third tier subcontractors that are Afghan or third-country-owned businesses. Multi-tiered subcontracting is problematic and results in weak oversight control and accountability.”[9]

Rumors abound that there is massive corruption at those subcontractor levels. The Afghanistan Ministry of Interior encourages private security companies to partner with Afghan companies, many of which are allegedly controlled by relatives of President Karzai.[10] When you are talking about corruption in security contracting in a war zone, this is not simply about dollars wasted. PSC personnel have repeatedly told POGO that the only way convoys are assured a safe passage is if the security contractors pay off the local warlords not to target their convoy. The issue here is that we don’t know who U.S. dollars are paying—are they actually paying off the very people our troops are fighting?

Digging a bit further, here is an excerpt (pdf) from footnote number 10 in Brian’s testimony, where she mentions control of subcontractors by family members of Hamid Karzai:

Although there are numerous private security companies in Kandahar, they are ultimately controlled or influenced by a small number of powerbrokers. Ahmad Wali Karzai retains significant influence with the PSCs run by the Karzai family, including Asia Security Group and Watan Risk Management. He also directly controls other forces, including his own personal security detail and the Kandahar Strike Force.4 Finally, his hand-picked commanders, Haji Seyid Jan Khakrezwal and Akhtar Mohammad, respectively control the Provincial Council Security Force and the security forces that operate in Ayno Mena, the gated community in Kandahar that he financed and developed.5 Finally, Watan Risk Management has subcontracted to the security forces of Commander Ruhullah , Haji Seyid Jan Khakrezwal’s nephew, to secure Highway One from Kandahar to Kabul.

Ahmed Wali has thus already largely consolidated the PSCs in Kandahar under his influence, although the units retain their own commanders and individual unit names. He does not control all PSCs in Kandahar, however. Other powerbrokers, including Gul Agha Sherzai, the former governor of Kandahar and the current governor of Nangarhar, maintain private security forces in the province. For example, Gul Agha provides security for Haji Abdullah Khan (a wealthy banker and owner of the construction firm that built the houses in Aino Mena).6 Further consolidation of private security forces in Kandahar may allow Ahmed Wali Karzai to bring his rivals’ security forces under the control of a commander loyal and responsive to him.

Most people who are aware of Ahmed Wali Karzai only know of him through the rumors of his ties to the drug trade or the disclosure that he is on the CIA payroll. But even the New York Times story where the CIA connection was first disclosed has a hint of these security contracting activities, while suggesting his paramilitary group called the Kandahar Strike Force mentioned above is directly paid by and partially controlled by the CIA:

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists.

When Hamid Karzai’s government asked the US to provide an estimate of the value of private security contracting in Afghanistan, it would appear that Hamid was just doing market research for his brother, who appears to be in position to control that market entirely when US companies are excluded. If Hamid Karzai is able to drive US private security companies out of Afghanistan, then it stands to reason that Ahmed Wali Karzai will be able to price his services appropriately when the Afghanistan government puts out its own security contracts. I suspect that once these contracts are kept within the family, Hamid Karzai will no longer claim that Afghanistan cannot afford them.