Our Man in Kandahar: From Shop Worker in Pakistan to General in Afghanistan, But Was He Ever Leahy Vetted?

In the current issue of The Atlantic, Matthieu Aikins writes a disturbing case of “our man in Kandahar,” Brigadier General Abdul Raziq,  “well known as a warlord and suspected drug trafficker who had waged a brutal campaign against the Taliban.”  According to Mr. Aikins, an independent journalist, General Raziq is not only a close ally of President Hamid Karzai  but has also been “mentored” by an American Special Forces team.  This past May, General Raziq was appointed by President Karzai as Acting Chief of Police for Kandahar province, an appointment that allowed him to remain in charge of Spin Boldak, a key trading town near the Pakistani border where an alleged massacre of civilians purported to be members of the Taliban occurred.

The piece is not a pretty read. It includes allegations of abuses, torture (with graphic photos) and extra-judicial killings as well as tribal feuds and cover-ups.  As well, it brings up questions of what our officials know over there. The article has a cast of characters that include a State Department official in Kandahar, State’s DRL bureau and questions about the Leahy vetting.

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McCrystal, International Security Forces commander,
walks alongside Afghan border patrol commander Col. Abdul Razziq
and Pakistani Lt. General Khalid Wynne at the Friendship Gate
border crossing, Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, Jan. 18, 2010.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II)


Last fall, Raziq and his militia were given a starring role in the U.S.-led military offensive into Taliban-controlled areas west of Kandahar City, a campaign that boosted his prestige immensely. Mentored by an American Special Forces team, Raziq’s fighters won public praise from U.S. officers for their combat prowess. After the offensive, Raziq was promoted to brigadier general—a rank requiring a direct order from President Karzai—in a January ceremony at the governor’s mansion. As Ben Moeling, who was until July the State Department’s senior official in Kandahar province, explained to me at the time, the promotion was “an explicit recognition of his importance.”

Nor was that promotion the only evidence of Raziq’s continuing ascent. In May, when Karzai appointed him chief of police for Kandahar province, Raziq accepted only on the condition that he also remain in charge of Spin Boldak, the seat of his economic and tribal power. So, in a move that enabled him to retain both jobs, Raziq was appointed “acting” police chief in Kandahar.
Though Raziq has risen in large part through his own skills and ambition, he is also, to a considerable degree, a creation of the American military intervention in Afghanistan. (Prior to 2001, he had worked in a shop in Pakistan.) As part of a countrywide initiative, his men have been trained by two controversial private military firms, DynCorp and Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, at a U.S.-funded center in Spin Boldak, where they are also provided with weapons, vehicles, and communications equipment. Their salaries are subsequently paid through the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, a UN-administered international fund, to which the U.S. is the largest contributor. Raziq himself has enjoyed visits in Spin Boldak from such senior U.S. officials as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus.

In public, American officials had until recently been careful to downplay Raziq’s alleged abuses. When I met with the State Department’s Moeling at his Kandahar City office in January, he told me, “I think there is certainly a mythology about Abdul Raziq, where there’s a degree of assumption on some of those things. But I have never seen evidence of private prisons or of extrajudicial killings directly attributable to him.”
Yet, as a 2006 State Department report shows, U.S. officials have for years been aware of credible allegations that Raziq and his men participated in a cold-blooded massacre of civilians, the details of which have, until now, been successfully buried. And this, in turn, raises questions regarding whether U.S. officials may have knowingly violated a 1997 law that forbids assistance to foreign military units involved in human-rights violations.
The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor—which put out the 2006 report citing Raziq’s alleged involvement in the massacre of civilians—is also the group responsible for overseeing compliance with the Leahy Amendment. Yet, incredibly, U.S. support for Raziq seems never to have triggered Leahy concerns. “No Leahy Amendment issues have come to me,” Ben Moeling, the State Department official in Kandahar, told me in January.

The question is whether Raziq’s apparent exclusion from Leahy vetting represents a baffling oversight, or a deliberate evasion. In August, WikiLeaks released hundreds of classified, Leahy-related cables from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that revealed that, from 2006 to 2010, the U.S. vetted thousands of Afghan security officials before training them. In one instance, on September 29, 2007, the embassy vetted 251 mid-level and senior officers in the Border Police. Raziq’s name was conspicuously absent.
Toward the end of 2009, senior ISAF officials reportedly thought about pushing for Raziq to be replaced. According to leaked cables, a high-level meeting was convened in Kabul, chaired by Deputy Ambassador Earl Wayne and Major General Michael Flynn, to discuss the problematic behavior of Raziq, among others. “Nobody, including his US military counterparts,” one cable noted, “is under any illusions about his corrupt activities.” Ultimately, however, General McChrystal, who was then the commander of ISAF and U.S. forces, decided that Raziq was too useful to cut loose, according to an article in The Washington Post. (McChrystal, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.) Cables also reveal that an American information-operations team even proposed a plan, “if credible,” for “the longer-term encouragement of stories in the international media on the ‘reform’ of Razziq.” (Note: WK link-do not read from USG workstation).
For his part, Raziq continues to deny all allegations of wrongdoing. “We have told the world and the media,” he said, “that if you have any proof regarding this matter, come and drag us to court.”
That has been America’s balancing act in Kandahar—weighing the allegations of abuse and criminality that have been raised regarding Raziq against his effectiveness as an ally in the war on the Taliban. Or, as Moeling told me back in January, before the most recent round of allegations: “At the moment, I think we have to take a look at what he’s been able to achieve. For us, trying to see the negative doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

Continue reading, Our Man in Kandahar.

The author was interviewed here by Democracy Now.

Section 551 of the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriation Act for FY 2006, P.L. 109-102 (FOAA), includes a provision commonly referred to as the Leahy Amendment that states:

“None of the funds made available by this act may be provided to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights, unless the Secretary determines and reports to the Committees on Appropriations measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces to justice.”

The Wikipedia entry for the Leahy Law points out the two amendments attached to DOD and State appropriations:

There are actually two different Leahy Laws. One is attached to the
Defense Appropriations and the other is within the Foreign Operations
The Foreign Operations Appropriations Leahy Law cover weapons funding
and training, but the 2001 Defense Appropriations act Leahy Law only
covers training. Both Leahy provisions have similar wording.
The Leahy Law version attached to the Foreign Operations Appropriations has no waivers,[8]
but the Leahy Law in the Defense Appropriations version can be waived
if the Secretary of Defense determines that “extraordinary
circumstances” require it.[9]

According to a publicly available material, the State Department human rights vetting process under the Leahy Law follows these steps:

  • The U.S. Embassy investigates unit/individual for human rights violation by reviewing files and database, including the Abuse Case Evaluation System (ACES) database. (This database may have been superseded by the INVEST system used for Leahy Amendment vetting and overseen by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).
  • If derogatory information is found on an individual presented for vetting, the officer at post tasked with vetting will enter that information to the database.
  • The embassy cables the regional bureau at the State Department with the search results and requests a similar review of the Department’s files and databases.
  • Information of the unit/individual is circulated to appropriate personnel at State, including the Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL); Intelligence and Research (INR)’ and Pol-Mil Affairs (PM) for review.
  • If no credible derogatory information is found, the regional bureau sends a reply to post indicating that no credible derogatory information has been found and the individual/unit may participate in training/assistance.
  • If credible derogatory information is found, the regional bureaus send a reply to post indicating that credible derogatory information has been found and the individual/unit may not participate in training/assistance. Any ongoing training/assistance will be terminated immediately.

If the State Department official in Kandahar was not in charge of Leahy vetting, then who was that person in the org chart?  Wasn’t there anyone at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul who had this role in his/her work requirement statement?

Pardon me? They had a bad translator?

I’d hate to think that we looked the other way because “our man” was quite effective in the alleged killing of our alleged enemies.  Or is it like what our State Department official told the author, “trying to see the negative doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

And seeing the positive would absolutely get us somewhere. Like win us this war. Of course, how dense of me.

Besides, really – what’s an alleged torture or alleged civilian massacre here or there? It’s just one more maze in this muck that we’ve wandered into and have so far refused to get out.  But we’re still the good guys, right? And we’re still fighting a good war, right?

Sleep tight, sweet bunnies!