It’s the most understandable, intuitive and tempting mistake in geopolitics: secretly pay a powerful foreigner to do what you want. The CIA, like many spy agencies, has done it throughout its history, and now we know it helped undermine the America’s longest war.
Nearly every month since the war began in 2001, the CIA has sent a guy over to Afghan President Hamid Karzai with a bag — sometimes a suitcase, sometimes a backpack, sometimes a shopping bag — full of cash. His former chief of staff says they used to call it “ghost money,” and it totals tens of millions of dollars, according to an eye-opening New York Times story. Quite the hypocritical twist from a sponsor country that so frequently hectors Karzai about corruption. “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” a U.S. official levels with the paper’s Matthew Rosenberg, “was the United States.”
When Iran pays off Karzai, it’s disruptive foreign meddling. But when the CIA does it, it’s supposed to be an insurance policy to entrench U.S. influence in the president’s office. Alas, there’s something more important than influence in geopolitics: leverage. When Washington most needed leverage with Karzai, it didn’t have much — at least not that it was prepared to use — and the CIA ghost money helps explain why.
Consider some of the U.S.’ goals in Afghanistan over the past several years. (Put aside whether you think they’re smart or stupid.) In 2009, the Obama administration began pressing Karzai to clean up his kleptocratic government and expand its institutional capacity to provide services to a dispersed population. Where once the U.S. hugged Karzai close and publicly praised him, diplomats and top officials began talking more about free and fair presidential elections. During that election season, someone decided to let slip that Karzai’s brother was on the CIA payroll.
Former President George W. Bush reflected on his tenure in the White House during an interview with the Dallas Morning News published Sunday, saying that he was comfortable with his decision-making regarding the Iraq War.
“I’m confident the decisions were made the right way,” Bush explained. “It’s easy to forget what life was like when the decision was made.”
Bush’s rare interview comes as he prepares to attend a ceremony for the opening of his presidential library next week in Dallas. He’ll be there along with President Barack Obama and every other living former president. Speaking to the Morning News of the legacy that the library is meant to honor, Bush suggested he had few regrets.
“I’m comfortable with what I did,” he said. “I’m comfortable with who I am.”
Now, back to the world where reality operates.
The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, taken together, will be the most expensive wars in US history – totaling somewhere between $4 to $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The largest portion of that bill is yet to be paid.
Gen. Ray Odierno gives his advice on the course of the Afghanistan war “quite regularly” to Gen. John Allen and the chain of command, he said on Friday.
So, what does he think about the war? He’s not telling.
Few Americans know more about commanding a counterinsurgency in the Middle East against an extremist Islam-fueled enemy than Odierno, Army chief of staff. But trying asking him about Afghanistan, and the former commanding general of the Iraq war will tell you it’s not his place to go there.
On Friday, the E-Ring asked Odierno why.
“I keep my comments internal for several reasons,” he said, at the Military Reporters and Editors conference, on Friday in Washington. “I provide my comments privately back, internal, to the organization. Why? Because I know what it feels like to be a commander in Iraq, and I understand that it doesn’t help if the chief of staff of the Army is back here making comments about Afghanistan.”
Odierno recently visited Afghanistan, he said, and keeps in close contact with Allen.
“Gen. Allen and I are very close, we served together several times in Iraq together. And so I’m here to assist them … in a way to make sure the Army is prepared, and I focus my time on making sure we’re is prepared.”
“I don’t think it’s my place right now to be talking about policy and development of what that course of action, or, in Afghanistan. That’s Gen. Allen’s job, that’s [Central Command’s] Gen. [James] Mattis’ job, that’s the chairman’s job,” he said, speaking of Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.
“Do I give them advice? I do, and I give it to them quite regularly and I’m not afraid to tell them what I think. But I don’t feel like right now it’s my position to be out publicly talking about it.”
The former commander of the Afghanistan war and the most elite unit in the U.S. military wants to use robotic aircraft “a lot.” But retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal actually sounded more like a skeptic of the U.S.’ robotic arsenal during a talk to an elite audience. McChrystal sounded notes of caution about both the lethal and the non-lethal functions of the U.S. robotic arsenal.
“We can look at things and get an extraordinary ability to see things,” McChrystal told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer at the Aspen Ideas Festival, a meeting of U.S. economic, political and media elites. But McChrystal, who revolutionized the Joint Special Operations Command’s intelligence operations, said drones provide merely “one part of an understanding. We need to understand what drones are not.”
Drones are no substitute for information derived from human beings, the former commander emphasized, on the ground in dangerous, confusing places. McChrystal reminded an audience that isn’t particularly familiar with the U.S. military that for all hype about the sophisticated drones — Schieffer, a news anchorman and talk show host, casually asserted that the drones are “very effective” — they can’t peer inside buildings or assess an enemy’s intentions. “I hope we don’t use them to the exclusion of teaching people [foreign] languages, [and] sending people to live” in foreign countries, McChrystal said.
And their ability to expedite killing the wrong people is profound.
Will the final chapters of the Afghan war be written in Chicago? It’s possible. At next month’s NATO summit here, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and global leaders will discuss an exit strategy for foreign troops fighting the Taliban, a task no doubt complicated by the news last week that U.S. soldiers posed for photos with dead insurgents. The war, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks, will soon become the longest in U.S. history. Here are 10 facts onAfghanistan’s war:
1 The U.S. has authorized $557 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan — enough for every man, woman and child in Chicago to buy 20 iPads, 30 Kindle Fires, Bulls season tickets, a campaign fundraiser photo with Michelle Obama and dinner at Alinea every night for a year.
2 CIA operatives have occasionally offered Viagra to elderly tribal chieftains to secure their cooperation.
3 Very little is known about the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar — except that he has one eye. According to Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former high-ranking member of the Taliban, Omar lost his eye fighting the Soviets in vicious, hand-to-hand street fighting in the 1980s. Zaeef wrote that the next day, Omar had to be persuaded to get treatment rather than continue the fight.
4 The story of Pat Tillman, who quit a $3.6 million NFL contract to join the U.S. Army, was often obscured after his death in Afghanistan. The military covered up the fact that he died from friendly fire, and speakers at his memorial service invoked the deity even though Tillman was either an agnostic or atheist and had requested no chaplain at his funeral. Also little publicized after his death was the fact that he was opposed to the war in Iraq. Writing about Iraq in his diary, he declared that “we have little or no justification other than our imperial whim.”
5 More than four dozen countries have committed troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. But while the United States has deployed 90,000 service personnel in ISAF, others are less invested: Austria has kicked in 3 troops, compared withIceland’s4,Ireland’s7,Luxembourg’s11 andEl Salvador’s24.
6 Afghanistan lost two popular leaders at a crucial time. Two days before the Sept. 11 attacks, anti-Taliban guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud was killed by assassins posing as journalists. Sept. 9 is a now Massoud Day, a national holiday in Afghanistan. Seven weeks after Massoud’s death, another admired leader, Abdul Haq, was captured and executed by the Taliban after riding into the country on horseback to lead a popular revolt without U.S. support.
7 A “jingle truck” or a “jingly” is a vehicle used by Afghans to deliver goods to Western troops. Often brightly painted, they have trinkets or tassels hung from the truck frame so that they jingle. Some troops also use the term “jinglies” to refer to the Afghans themselves.
8 John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” captured in Afghanistan, is imprisoned near Terre Haute, Ind., in the same federal correctional complex where terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed and where former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is held. (The ex-governor is in a low-security camp separate from Lindh’s facility.)
9 The Javelin missile is so expensive ($75,000, by one account) that British soldiers in Afghanistan refer to firing a Javelin as “throwing a Porsche at them.”
10 Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s signature headwear, the karakul hat, has been praised as stylish and denounced as a product of animal cruelty. The karakul is made from the pelt of a newborn lamb or — in the case of the more expensive ones — a lamb fetus that is removed when a pregnant ewe is cut open.
Target, Afghan Hero Dog , Is Euthanized by Mistake in U.S. - NYTimes.com
By MARC LACEY
Published: November 18, 2010
This will break your heart.
FLORENCE, Ariz. — When a suicide bomber entered an American military barracks in Afghanistan in February, it was not American soldiers but Afghan stray dogs that confronted him. Target and two other dogs snarled, barked and snapped at the man, who detonated his bomb at the entrance to the facility but did not kill anyone.
The dogs were from the Dand Aw Patan district, in the eastern Paktia Province near the Pakistani border. One died of wounds suffered in the blast, and months later, Target and the other dog were flown to the United States by a charity and adopted by families. Target — who received a hero’s welcome, including an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — went to live with the family of Sgt. Terry Young, an Army medic, who witnessed the animals’ bravery that night and helped treat the dogs and several American soldiers who were wounded.
The glory, though, was short-lived. Target, after learning to get along with the Young family’s other dog in Arizona, becoming accustomed to dog food and to using a doggie door to relieve herself, escaped from her yard. She was captured last week and euthanized by mistake.
“My 4-year-old keeps saying: ‘Daddy, bring Target home. Daddy, get the poison out,’ ” Sergeant Young, a father of three, said in a telephone interview, his voice choking with emotion. “Obviously, at first there was extreme anger and horror. Now that a couple of days have passed, the anger has been replaced by sorrow.”