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Afghanistan: — Can General Petraeus turn the tide in Kandahar?

By Khalil Nouri STAFF WRITER

The southern city of Kandahar, the last Afghan territory to be handed over by the British in 1830, was also known as the center of greatest resistance to the Russian occupation in the 1980’s. Today it measures as the epicenter of intense political competition, drug trafficking and an operational nightmare for a U.S. led counterinsurgency campaign; once again proving its historic destiny as a make-or-break location for another Afghan war.

–General Petraeus–

Prior to the Rolling Stones article that caused the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, the bewilderment was clearly apparent regarding how he was to eliminate the Taliban from their cradled Pashtun heartland. U.S. and Afghan military planners jointly exploited sophisticated cultural and customary operational know-how in an effort to strongly symbolize a new approach that would protect residents from insurgents and provide them with a functioning government; similar to the one in the Marjah operation called “Mushtarak” (meaning “Together” in the local languages) that General McChrystal later called a “Bleeding Ulcer.” However, the operation in Kandahar was first called operation “Hope”, then it was changed to “Cooperation for Kandahar”; the words “Operation” and “Offensive” were scrubbed from the lexicon in an effort to paint a more non shock-and-awe theme in the minds of the indigenous.

This disorientated operation—which is now unofficially underway—took a slow thrust last June because Gen. McChrystal underestimated the time it would take to achieve his operational goals. In addition, despite when the U.S. says, “It won’t look like war”, it has already created an atmosphere of panic and fear; causing many local residents to abandon the city in case of major firefights between Taliban and joint NATO/Afghan government forces. In retrospect, some believe the battle for Kandahar is a matter of political negotiations rather than a decisive military campaign. In either case, our indigenous analysis suggests, both the Marjah and Kandahar scenarios to be the cause of increasing instability; and a sound and independent plan led by native Afghans should be examined for a possible win-win situation for both the Marjah/Kandahar inhabitants, and NATO forces.

An elder from the Alokozai tribe told us, “Local officials who don’t obey Wali Karzai are killed. He has his own militias and (controls) elements of the Taliban. He can kill whenever he wants and so far many people have disappeared.” Another elder said, “He replaces the tribal elders with people he can control or collaborate with effectively.” So ruthless is his control that his accusers dare not ask the government to intervene.


McChrystal thought he could succeed by playing not by the traditional rules of the U.S. military but by Afghan rules, specifically with the ethnic Pashtun tribesmen who populate the country’s south. He built personal relationships with the people he thought he needed to get close to, from Hamid Karzai to a plethora of tribal elders and religious leaders; but, building ties with this population may prove the most difficult job of all for a non-native Afghan. Of course, McChrystal presumed the relationships were based on building trust, which only needed commitment, patience and time. But he was clearly headed towards a black hole of futility because his genuine offer of partnership and trust was being trampled upon; and he was actually being played for a naive fool by those whom he relied on as partners.

The politics of Kandahar clearly reveal that some of President Karzai’s closest allies, including his half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, are more interested in manipulating the coalition for their own financial gain and interests than in any genuine partnership. Per some fellow Kandaharis, “Wali Karzai’s behavior and waning popularity among local populations promotes instability and provides space for the Taliban to exist.” This offers a grim description of a lawless city where the Quetta Shura Taliban of Mullah Omar competes with a mafia resembling network of power brokers led by Wali Karzai.

With the Taliban effectively controlling many of the rural districts surrounding the city and stepping up an assassination campaign inside Kandahar, Wali Karzai’s network –with support from Kabul—has moved to marginalize the provincial governor and police force. He also has allegedly monopolized Western aid contracts and built up private security companies. My points of contacts in Kandahar allege that Wali Karzai’s “cartel” was making a billion dollars a year off coalition funded initiatives in Afghanistan, through lucrative contracts in convoy protection, construction, fuel, food and security.

But with the U.S. relying on Wali Karzai for intelligence to strike against the Taliban, and efforts to pressure Hamid Karzai to clamp down on corruption making little headway, Western efforts appear to be largely boxed in.

The plans for the above mentioned “Cooperation for Kandahar” has been narrowed down in part over Hamid Karzai’s refusal to support the kind of military-led operation requested by U.S. officers. And the continuing NATO struggle to clear the Taliban stronghold of Marjah and install a credible local government (months after U.S. commanders promised a swift operation) has also contributed to the downgrading of U.S. expectations. Some in Kandahar believe that this has all been a political game by Hamid Karzai to gain Taliban accreditation and support for reconciliation; by discouraging the U.S. operation in the Taliban’s birthplace that he may gain more credibility in their eyes.

We natives believe, the efforts in Kandahar should largely be civilian-led, aimed at boosting reconstruction efforts and improving local government. But with the “catch—22” status that currently has evolved, it is hard to predict what the outcome could bring.


The spotlight is now on the PhD warrior General David Petraeus, the new NATO commanding general in Afghanistan, who like Mr. Obama sees the U.S. policy in Afghanistan as remaining unchanged. But our analysis suggests, the said policy could be tweaked, at least on the political level, where U.S. understanding appears to be totally naive and deficient, specifically concerning the tribal game-playing behavior of Kandahar’s power brokers.

Some people eagerly suggest, that the U.S. must get rid of Ahmad Wali Karzai and his Mafia government and bring in a transparent and professional governor. But up to now, Hamid Karzai does not have any intention of allowing that to happen. Thus, as a result, the operations in Kandahar cannot be successful as long as NATO is handcuffed by Karzai et al.

However, the truth is that, removing Mr. Wali Karzai is an Afghan issue and only an Afghan solution is to be applied. The bottom line is that, efforts to clean up Kandahar will make little progress unless cleanup starts at the top.

Mr. Hamid Karzai has stated that he cannot “sideline or fire” his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai. He said, “I had mentioned my brother to Mr. Obama… (of) that, I would not disclose any details… and that ‘I cannot fire my brother issue’… is resolved as it stands now.” He went on to say, “(my) brother was overwhelmingly chosen by the tribes and therefore he cannot be removed.”

This tribal card, as played by President Karzai, can only be decisively dealt with on a tribal level, by the tribes themselves. There is also a criminal aspect to this drug and illegal activaties business where international laws could be applied.

On a tribal level, maybe Mr. Karzai’s brother was chosen overwhelmingly, but it was against the will of the tribal elders. In fact, tribal elders, that we know, have knowledge of how Ahmad Wali Karzai was actually chosen; and they are overwhelmingly opposed to him. They say, “Ahmad Wali Karzai has support of two tribes: his own and one other, but the rest of the 30 or so tribes are against his appointment as the head of the tribal council in Kandahar.” In that regard, Mr. Hamid Karzai has fraudulently labeled his brother as the legitimate head of the tribal council. This can be regarded as falsification and deceit against the people of Kandahar; an obvious fact that is destabilizing the entire tribal structure in Afghanistan.

I reiterate the obvious, that tribal political manipulative games can only be understood and solved by Afghans, because the rest of the world just doesn’t understand or care that they are being duped.

Our indigenous source has a plan in hand, but due to the sensitivity of the issues, the source is not at liberty to reveal further details openly.

On a criminal level; by now, enough evidence exists to arrest everyone involved in this narco-syndicate; by now, enough evidence exists to arrest everyone involved in the outright theft of billions of dollars that were allocated to help the ordinary people of Afghanistan.

Millions of dollars are now in offshore accounts, attesting for all the wrongs that have been afflicted upon the Afghan people. Therefore, it is time that we no longer just stand by and watch everything go unheeded. Anyone or any nation should not stand idly-by and witness criminal activities being perpetrated by a corrupt narco-government on its people. It is time for international law to be applied towards the crimes against the people of Afghanistan.


The authority to revitalize the counterinsurgency campaign has now been inherited by Petraeus, with little time to change course or much apparent room to maneuver. The hero of Iraq, whom Hamid Karzai says will be a “trusted partner” just as McChrystal was, faces immense pressure to show results quickly, both for the U.S. and for the Afghan audience. Kandahar, it seems certain, will provide the stage for a different second act.

In the second act, General Petraeus should work with the, very few, independent Afghan tribal experts who can evaluate the bad blood between communities of sub-tribes, clan of tribes, and divisions of clans. He should consult with those who have the foresight to act judiciously; and he should avoid acting alone with certain shady characters akin to Ahmad Wali Karzai.

Success in Afghanistan requires a broad, continuous and integrated campaign that prudently uses not much military power, but more smart power that is rooted in a foundation of rule of law and a core of Afghan norms and culture, which by itself is a unique style of Afghan democracy.

Therefore comments akin to “harnessing the leadership potential that Ahmad Wali Karzai has” by Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges (the NATO commander in Kandahar) or “NATO doesn’t have any great options and has obviously decided it’s going to have to accept Wali Karzai and try to work with him,“ mentioned by Carl Forsberg, (an analysts for the institute of study of war) are ludicrous, harmful to Kandahar and damaging to the U.S. reputation worldwide. The U.S. is judged by its associations, and guilt by association is the natural-norm.

Moreover, our Afghan think tank can prove Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius’s quote baseless and farfetched, when he says, “Shaking up the power structure might put the United States on the side of the Pashtun man in the street, but it would open up a power vacuum that could be exploited by the Taliban.” He also said, “There isn’t time for risky experiments in Kandahar.”

The only quote that seems to coincide with our core native Afghan mindset is by McChrystal’s intelligence chief, Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who bluntly states “The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone.”

We Afghans have a native solution ready to be discussed, which can change the entire dynamics of the war effort; it can win the hearts and mind of “all” the Afghans as well by embracing the legacy Afghans had prior to the Soviet invasion.

I therefore conclude by saying that General David Petreaus can turn the tide in Kandahar if and when the Afghans, who have already contemplated this real home-grown predicament, have his ear.

Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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