After the US pulls out, will CIA rely more on Afghan mercenaries?
Thousands of Afghan mercenaries are believed to be helping America battle Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their allies. But they're accused of flagrant human rights abuses.
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Security analysts say that the practice of raising paramilitary units, trained by US Special Operations Forces, run and funded by the CIA, and working closely with local intelligence officials, fits that bill perfectly.Skip to next paragraph
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There is, however, a down side to this light-footprint, low-visibility warfare.
Militias are not popular in Afghanistan. They stand accused of murder, rape, and extortion across the country.
In 2009, one of Afghanzai’s comrades was detained. It sparked a shootout that killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief, the head of the province’s criminal investigations department, and several more officers. Afghanzai and 40 of his men were convicted of murder and then imprisoned. It was a rare example of the Afghan judiciary coming down on a US bankrolled mercenary – and likely only happened because Afghanzai and his men killed a well-connected Afghan Police commander in broad daylight.
Other allegations of wrongdoing, such as armed robbery, have been impossible to properly investigate because of the group’s clandestine nature and connections.
“These kinds of forces are the most shadowy and the most unaccountable in the country, and it’s a really serious problem [that] nobody’s quite taking responsibility for it,” says Rachel Reid, a senior policy adviser to the New York-based Open Society Foundation with extensive experience in Afghanistan.
Groups raised and bankrolled by the CIA or Special Operations Forces have repeatedly run into allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and larceny – even though US law prohibits tax dollars going to units facing credible accusations of rights abuses.
The 'ugly reality'
The ugly reality, says Matt, a Green Beret captain who gives only his first name because of protocol security concerns, is that if the US wants to prevail against the Taliban and its allies, it must work with Afghan fighters whose behavior insults Western sensibilities.
“There are no good guys by our standards. There is no standard to begin with. There is no justice system or rule of law to hold people accountable,” Matt says. “The Taliban are not horribly bad and the Afghan farmer is not an innocent victim.”
In this moral twilight, refusing to work with paramilitaries accused of rights abuses accomplishes nothing, he argues. Instead, as relationships develop, so do the possibilities for altering the “moral calculus” of the Afghan fighters.
“I don’t like this reality,” says Matt. “But I do not have the power to make Afghans conduct themselves like Americans in matters of politics and warfare. I can only influence it over time.” The alternative is to “go home now.”