RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Boardman writes: "Perhaps it's just another sign of American psychic numbing, but the Times story seems to have provoked little response from other media, from politicians of any stripe, or from the public. More American war crimes in some Muslim country? Well, Happy New Year!"

Adel Shah, 10, left, was wounded by shrapnel when the strike force blew up one of the compound's doors. His father bled to death. (photo: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)
Adel Shah, 10, left, was wounded by shrapnel when the strike force blew up one of the compound's doors. His father bled to death. (photo: Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

Afghanistan in 2019: Fewer US Troops, More CIA Torture and Killings

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

03 January 19


No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept…. It is a vestigial limb of empire, and it is time to let it go. 

Op-Ed by Robert D. Kaplan, The New York Times, January 1, 2019

his is the voice of American imperialism speaking through one of its more reliable hand-puppets. Foreign Policy has twice named Robert Kaplan one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” In his op-ed, Kaplan blames Afghanistan’s current problems on the illegal US war on Iraq in 2003, adding parenthetically and without further explanation: “which I mistakenly supported.” The unintended joke here is that he frames the Iraq War as a mistake largely because it diverted the US from nation-building in Afghanistan. Yes, he says exactly that. He has nothing to say about either war’s criminality or US atrocities. Those are not serious concerns for the imperial mindset – those are just the necessary inconveniences of maintaining an empire. He even appears unaware that his formulation about Afghanistan and the decline of the American empire perfectly fits the historical reality of US defeat in Vietnam.  

On New Year’s Eve, the day before Kaplan’s op-ed, the lengthy lead story in the Times was headlined: “CIA-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse.” This report is based on months of reporting on night raids, torture, and summary executions of Afghan civilians carried out by CIA-trained death squads, euphemistically called “strike forces” in the paper. The instances described in the report are horrifying and savage. In one, the death squad puts bags over the heads of two brothers, executing them with their families in the next room. For good measure, the death squad blew up the room where the bodies lay.

Perhaps it’s just another sign of American psychic numbing, but the Times story seems to have provoked little response from other media, from politicians of any stripe, or from the public. More American war crimes in some Muslim country? Well, Happy New Year!

The US invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, under Operation Enduring Freedom, accusing the Taliban of harboring some of the 9/11 attackers, most of whom were Saudis. More to the point, the US has been creating havoc in Afghanistan at least since 1979, when we started training the mujahedeen to fight the Russians only to receive “our” Islamist radicals’ blowback at the Twin Towers. Afghanistan is a country about the size of Texas with a population of about 35 million (almost 40% literate). Some 63% of the population is under 25 years old and so has little conscious memory of a time when Afghans weren’t the targets of the American war machine.

Presently the US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, but nobody now quite knows how long they’ll be there. Mostly what US troops do is protect the official government from the apparent majority of the population that prefers the Taliban or some imaginary other option. The Afghan government controls little more than half the country most of the time. All sides have been killing civilians at the rate of about 8,000 a year for several years now, with the US and allies doing most of the killing. At least 18 CIA operatives were killed in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2017. This disproportionately deadly toll has not done much to win the hearts and minds of the people, but in seventeen years, the US hasn’t figured out how to do anything else better than create carnage.

The CIA-run death squad campaign isn’t new, but it has been seriously expanded during the past two years. Death squad personnel run into the thousands, mostly Afghans, but are recruited, trained, equipped, and controlled by CIA agents or CIA contractors. They operate independently of the US military command, typically without the military’s knowledge. They are effectively terrorist cells. They carry out night raids, long opposed by the Afghan government and the population at large. The night raids target civilians the CIA thinks it has reason to assassinate or capture and torture. The Times report describes survivors of night raids, all of whom insist on their innocence. There is no official accountability for these terrorist tactics:

A spokeswoman for the C.I.A. would not comment, nor would Afghans directly involved with the forces. Afghan security officials in Kabul tried to play down the level of the forces’ autonomy and the nature of their abuses. When pressed with details of specific cases, they did not respond.

And there is no evidence that these terrorist tactics are doing any good in a country that has despised foreign invaders for centuries. Virtually the same US terror tactics failed spectacularly in Vietnam. There the CIA mounted the infamous Phoenix Program to terrorize South Vietnamese villages with CIA-run death squads who “neutralized more than 80,000 real or suspected Viet Cong.

Once Osama bin Laden escaped capture in 2001, the US war in Afghanistan lacked any clear mission. The Bush administration and the military shifted their attention to making war on Iraq instead. Failing to disengage sensibly from Afghanistan, the US let the war drift on mindlessly. In 2009, President Obama declared Afghanistan the “smart war” and decided to escalate it without really figuring out why. Obama relied particularly on CIA drones to kill massive numbers of people, mostly civilians, ultimately to no useful purpose.

In 2016, President Trump campaigned on getting out of Afghanistan. Once in office, trump appointed Mike Pompeo to run the CIA. Pompeo set out to expand CIA killing, particularly with the death squads discreetly called “strike forces” by the Times. This paramilitary escalation, primarily against the Taliban, was first reported in October 2017, creating little stir. Six months later, the CIA still denied the story was true. In the fall of 2017, Pompeo expressed US policy this way:

We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive. This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.

At the same time, the Institute for Public Policy had a different perspective, offered by former State Department career officer Matthew Hoh, who served in Afghanistan. Hoh had resigned in 2009 in protest against the Obama administration escalation of the war there. Calling the 2017 CIA’s expanded death squads part of “the broader war campaign of the United States in the Muslim world,” Hoh accurately predicted:  

This CIA program of using Afghan militias to conduct commando raids, the vast majority of which will be used against civilians despite what the CIA states, falls in line with American plans to escalate the use of air and artillery strikes against the Afghan people in Taliban-held areas, almost all of whom are Pashtuns. Again, the purpose of this campaign is not to achieve a political settlement or reconciliation, but to brutally subjugate and punish the people, mostly rural Pashtuns, who support the Taliban and will not give in to the corrupt American run government in Kabul. 

Since 2001, the US has watched passively as three presidents waged war on Afghanistan, each committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that would surely, in a just society, constitute impeachable offenses. For all the public splutter of self-designated serious people over the possible withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria, the absence of real reaction to how badly it’s all going in Afghanistan is sort of amazing (or would be for anyone still capable of amazement).

Email This Page

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+3 # BobC 2019-01-03 23:45
Not that I completely disagree with your overall point, but I just want to make sure you realize that letting the Taliban take over the government will mean that even in the few areas we've managed to Westernize, teenage girls will get shot in the face for attending school and women will be publicly executed for not wearing burqas or otherwise failing to live up to the twisted death-cult interpretation of Islam. Is that OK?
0 # WBoardman 2019-01-06 17:55
BobC makes a pertinent point with his concern that
the Taliban is likely to take over Afghanistan, but I think
his concern is rooted more in fear than fact.
We simply don't know what the future holds for Afghanistan, but we do know the present is pretty much intolerable.

The choice is not easy. But there are few if any reasons to cling
to status quo that includes (1) an ineffective, corrupt Kabul government, (2) unreliable American bombardment that
kills civilians willy-nilly, (3) a thriving heroin trade that was all but
non-existent before the US invasion, (4) a multi-sided civil war
that also kills civilians randomly.

We know something of what the Taliban was before 2001.
What do we know now?
What is life like in Taliban-control led areas (maybe half
the country)? Why does the Taliban continue to gain strength?

BobC refers to "the few ares we've managed to Westernize,"
as if that's necessarily a good think and not just a thriving
black market and prostitution trade around US bases.
Why would Afghanis (the ones not on the take) want their
culture Westernized?

BocC cites teenage girls shot in the face for attending school –
THAT infamously happened in Pakistan. The treatment of women
is variously awful to horrifying across the region – do we apply
one standard to Afghanistan and another to Saudi Arabia, Iran,
Kuwait, Bahrain, and the rest of our real and/or pseudo-allies
in the region?

Fear-mongering is not useful.
0 # BobC 2019-01-07 23:49
All good points. I don't like the double standards either. When we first went into Afghanistan, the sick Islamofascism of the Taliban was one of the most alarming things witnessed. I remember the consensus among our U.S. populace that in addition to routing out Al Qaeda we needed to protect the women and girls who simply wanted to be educated and live a normal, decent life. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time. You're right that there's no point in making things worse in some ways (at great expense to ourselves) in order to make things better in other ways. But the problem when we go into these places is that we make allies --- people who help us with our mission --- who will then be at the mercy of the "enemy" after we leave. That amounts to a betrayal if they thought we were going to stay until the country was stable (just in case that would ever happen). This occurs over and over again (the Shia in Iraq in 1991, the Kurds in Syria after we leave there, etc.). I'm not sure why you think the Taliban might not take over the country again and be just as awful as they ever were, if not more so since vengeance will be their first order of business. I saw a Frontline episode a couple years ago showing ISIS in Afghanistan killing Taliban because they were too moderate! But everyone's moderate compared with ISIS.
+11 # DongiC 2019-01-04 01:54
Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad, certainly applies to America and Afghanistan. Not only that but our policy of death squads replicates our experience in Vietnam. Study history, learn our mistakes, repeat them endlessly. Besides, our military leaders can indulge their need for bloodshed especially by using new toys like drones. And, this amazingly violent culture of ours still doesn't get it:
it has become the monster which it is so afraid of. As Pogo once said,
"We have met the enemy and it is us." Indeed, mayhem pays and pays well. Our economy has never been better.

I just wonder where this golden road of prosperity, so paved with blood and destruction, is ultimately taking us. The swamp of no return?
+9 # johnescher 2019-01-04 07:01
O man, this is so true.

Richard Holbrooke on his deathbed, spoken to his doctors: "You have to get us out of Afghanistan."
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-04 12:16
I've never heard that about Holbrooke. He was one of the great evil people in US government. It is very ironic that his last thought was to repent a great crime. Did he think he could compensate for a life of pure evil? The gods have better memories than that.

Is there any context to this comment or did it come out of the blue?
+2 # johnescher 2019-01-04 14:32
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
I've never heard that about Holbrooke. He was one of the great evil people in US government. It is very ironic that his last thought was to repent a great crime. Did he think he could compensate for a life of pure evil? The gods have better memories than that.

Is there any context to this comment or did it come out of the blue?

Surely someone who writes as much as thou, Russian murderer, can do his own research?

And Richard, my first publisher, was evil? You didn't like the Dayton Accords, eh?
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-05 08:56
I certainly did not like the Dayton Accords. They were forced on Yugoslavia and continued the US/NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. Holbrooke was behind the rise of Nazis in the former Yugoslavia. You must know the history of Alija Izetbegović who was brought to power by the Dayton Accords. He was a WW II era Nazi who fought with the Waffen SS. He was also a Muslim fundamentalist who supported Islamic terrorism.

Holbrooke was always heavily involved with criminals like Izetbegović. That was his specialty.
+1 # johnescher 2019-01-05 13:28
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
I certainly did not like the Dayton Accords. They were forced on Yugoslavia and continued the US/NATO aggression against Yugoslavia. Holbrooke was behind the rise of Nazis in the former Yugoslavia. You must know the history of Alija Izetbegović who was brought to power by the Dayton Accords. He was a WW II era Nazi who fought with the Waffen SS. He was also a Muslim fundamentalist who supported Islamic terrorism.

Holbrooke was always heavily involved with criminals like Izetbegović. That was his specialty.

Well, you certainly make Richard sound awful. But didn't he reach some accord even if it was the Dayton Accord? Didn't he bring some very difficult leaders together to forge a compromise? I am not aware of the Bosnian-Serb conflict lingering on today like any one of our own stupid wars starting with Afghanistan. Richard also appears to have been the member of the Clinton administration most eager to get out of Afghanistan. Anyway, you can go to Amazon and buy my online book THE LAST WORDS OF RICHARD HOLBROOKE if you like. The conservatives who read it utterly detested it. I'm not aware that Richard's Hungarian widow Kati Marton liked it either. (I failed to get a response from her but there could have been another reason.) Personally speaking, I think Richard was a great guy. As editor of the Brown Daily Herald Supplement he featured an article by me that helped transform our crew from a club to a varsity sport.
+7 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-04 08:07
The US has been involved in Afghanistan undermining and destroying its democracy since the mid-1970. The US brought heroin production to Afghanistan, brought Islamic fundamentalism, brought terrorism and heavily armed war lords, and brought the violent oppression of women. It is time for the US to get out of Afghanistan now. Just leave. Afghans are more than capable of establishing their own political structures.

In 2001 when GW Bush invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban controlled only about 25% of the nation. Now they control about 85% and their control is growing. In another 5 years, the Taliban will control all of it. All US actions are irrelevant. The US can kill, torture, and punish a lot of people, but it cannot control the nation. The US can build prisons, military bases, and bomb where ever it wants, but it cannot persuade people to accept US occupation.

I have a friend who is Afghan. She has a masterd degree in Chemistry earned in the 1970s when Afghanistan's democracy was flourishing. A few years ago I asked her about the Taliban. She said that they have changed over the years. At first (in the 1990s), they were mercenaries of the CIA and Saudi Arabia. Now, she says, they are our brothers, sons, fathers and we are not afraid of them. They are fighting the invaders and when the invaders leave, they will become a political party.

The US is the road block to the recovery of Afghanistan.

Boardman gets it just right.
+3 # Anne Frank 2019-01-04 12:57
Let's not forget that the Al Qaeda religious nuts, organized and armed by the U.S., rose up in response to the proposal by the Russia-friendly government to allow women to attend the university.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-04 16:43
AF -- the 1964 Afghan constitution actually guarantees equal access to women. It really opened up the country.

Saudi Arabia set up religious schools called Madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They taught Wahabbism, a militant fundamentalist Islam. These were fully supported by the US government (CIA) as training academies for al Qaeda and later the Taliban. "Taliban" actually means "students" since they all came out of these Saudi/CIA run schools. That is no longer the case now after 30 years.
+1 # janie1893 2019-01-04 13:48
Rodion--please give specifics re your statement that the US brought heroin production to Afghanistan. And that the the US brought Islamic fundamentalism and warlords. Your statements are so misleading that they are 'alternate truths' ie; plain lies. America has caused great harm in Afghanistan but the truth is sufficient condemnation. Your lies are not helpful.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-04 16:39
Janie -- OK, sure. These are not "alternative truths." They are the real truth that isn't often told inside the US.

1. watch this documentary -- "Afghan Women: A History of Struggle." It was made by a friend and I'm acquainted with many of the people in the film who tell their stories. The woman I referenced above is in the film. It covers the Islamic Fundamentalism part of your question.

2. Heroin (opium in the earlier form) has always been a drug produced by state militaries. It was brought to Europe by the British East India Company, a quasi military group. Opium was the main commodity of the East India Company. China fought two "Opium Wars" in order to throw out the British military and their opium business. In 1948, when Mao Zedong and the communists finally came to power, they stopped the heroin/opium business cold. It moved to SE Asia, particularly Vietnam with the French. When the French left Vietnam, the US military and CIA took over the heroin business and expanded it all over SE Asia -- the Golden Triangle. See Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.

In the 1970s when it was clear the US would be thrown out of SE Asia, the CIA began moving its heroin business to Afghanistan. By the early 1980s, Afghanistan became the center for 95% of the world's heroin production, where it remains today.

The CIA/ US military supports a class of war/drug lords.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-05 07:48
One more point. It is clear to US rulers that it will not remain in Afghanistan for much longer. Already the CIA is moving its heroin production business to Mexico. In ten years or so, Mexico will be producing 90% of the world's supply of heroin. NAFTA destroyed corn farmers in Mexico and many of them and their land is being converted to poppy growing. The CIA works through drug lords, gangsters, and a criminal class as usual. It did the same in Colombia with the Cocaine production. Read the story in former DEA official Michael Levine's book, "The Big White Lie: The Deep Cover Operation That Exposed the CIA Sabotage of the Drug War."

Drug revenues enables the CIA to conduct totally off the books operations all over the world. It also means that the CIA works with some of the most vicious organized criminals on earth. This is a problem that NO ONE in the major media will touch. Ask Gary Webb, author of "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion." Oh, you can't ask him. He's dead.
+7 # lfeuille 2019-01-04 20:45
The US intervention resulted in a resurgence in heroin production in Afghanistan after the Taliban had wipe it out. This may not have been an intended effect, but it nevertheless was a result of US action and probably should have been foreseen.

The US financed Islamic fundamentalist in a proxy war against the Russians in Afghanistan in the late '70's. They stayed on after the Russians left. Osama Bin Ladin was one of them. It was pure blowback. US policy all over the world is extremely short sighted.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-01-05 08:03
from Wikipedia --

"The Golden Triangle[1] is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers.[2] The name "Golden Triangle" — coined by the CIA[3] — is commonly used more broadly to refer to an area of approximately 950,000 square kilometres (367,000 sq mi) that overlaps the mountains of three adjacent countries.
Along with Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent, it has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia, and of the world, since the 1950s. Most of the world's heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world's largest producer."

Is it just a coincidence that the two areas of the world that have produced nearly all of the world's supply of heroin since the 1950s are also the areas of the world of the largest of all CIA operations? Most people don't think so.

The CIA did not name this area of SE Asia "The Golden Triangle" for no reason. It's revenues from heroin made it possible for the CIA to grow into a total world secret government.
0 # WBoardman 2019-01-06 18:12
janie1893 should spend more time researching issue than
calling people liars – when she is more wrong with they.

The nexus of heroin, CIA, Viet-Nam, Afghanistan et alia is amply
documented even if difficult to prove definitively.

One hard fact: heroin trade in Afghanistan was all but extinguished
by the Taliban, only to resurge to record levels after the US
invasion and occupation. The situation is dynamic....

Coherence from the Brookings Institute:

"The focus on Taliban-linked traffickers is an area of possible cooperation with Russia. Moscow has long complained that the United States is not concerned with the flood of heroin destroying Russian addicts, sometimes accusing the United States of deliberately allowing the heroin trade to poison the Russian nation. However, interdiction cooperation with Russia is tricky, as many key Afghan drug traffickers in the north are also Russia’s favorite proxies vis-à-vis the Afghanistan war and the Islamic State in Khorasan (which Russia fears far more than the Taliban), and more broadly against the expansion of jihadism into Central Asia. Conversely, many key powerbrokers in Afghanistan’s south and east whom the United States has embraced, including provincial and police district chiefs, have been implicated in the Afghan drug trade."
+5 # allanmillard 2019-01-04 20:50
Yes, Boardman gets it just right, and yes, RR knows his history.

I travelled widely in Afghanistan in the 1960s and saw an interesting competition between the US and the USSR in providing assistance (foreign aid) for such things as paved roads (as camel caravans plodded along parallel to the roads) and the Salang Tunnel (through which I drove as camels rested in the snow sheds). It was a modern version of The Great Game, with one new (and clumsy) player - the USA - on a very old set.

While progress on literacy and rights for women was slow, there was progress, until that old USian phobia about communism or anything smacking of socialism set in. It is tempting to wonder what would have happened if the USA had simply stayed out of The Great Game in the 1970s and 1980s and let Afghanistan reclaim independence along with the other 'Stans when the Soviet Union imploded.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.