Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why We Fight Redux

This past weekend was the fifth anniversary of the American led invasion of Afghanistan. And in a stunning report from Sarah Chayes; who is one of the few American Journalists to have stayed in Afghanistan for the whole time, comes this story of why we are fighting in Kandahar. Not because of the Taliban, but because American political machinations that failed. It is a tale of Americans undermining the Karzai government for their own ends. Which end up with Canadian troops having to clean up their mess at a cost of our soldiers lives.

Sarah Chayes, former NPR correspondent who covered the US invasion of Afghanistan. She left journalism in 2002 to run an aid organization in Kandahar called Afghans for Civil Society. Sarah’s new book is "The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban." She now runs a cooperative called Arghand that sells hand crafted products in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: You, very early on in your book, talk about a report you couldn’t do or didn’t get in onto NPR. What was that story?

SARAH CHAYES: It was really this story. It was, I watched -- there were U.S. Special Forces that were embedded in a group, a kind of tribal militia, which was directed to put pressure on Kandahar from the south. President Karzai also had U.S. Special Forces with him. He was coming down toward Kandahar from the north. The Taliban surrendered to him. They left. Al-Qaeda left the city. The city was in the hands of President Karzai and his chosen representative, and then these U.S. Special Forces urged this warlord to take the city by force from President Karzai.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, now, explain how this went down and how you understood what was happening. You were on the border with this --?

SARAH CHAYES: I was on the border. I was not with this group, but I was on the border, and I was listening to the radio, where a lot of this played out, and I was speaking to people who were coming back across the border, and I knew that President Karzai had designated a certain person whose name is Mullah Naqib to be governor of Kandahar. And then, suddenly this warlord is in the city. And then, there’s this huge and angry standoff, which is being played out on the airwaves of the BBC actually, of their Pashto Service, and this warlord is saying, “No, I’m going to be governor of Kandahar.” And I knew there was something strange. And eventually that’s what happened. And Mullah Naqib basically pled old age and said, “Oh, I’m too old.” And I thought, “That’s not right.” You know.

AMY GOODMAN: The Karzai appointee for governor.

SARAH CHAYES: The Karzai appointee, that’s right, said, “Okay, this other guy is going to be governor. I’m too old to be governor.” And I knew that something had happened. And then I rode into the city maybe two days after this with somebody who had been with this warlord, so I asked him, “Well, how did it go? How did you guys happen to go and take Kandahar?” And He was a very young kid, you know, so he’s kind of all excited and enthusiastic. You know -- Speed! Speed! -- we went up the road, you know. And then I said, “Well, what about the Americans who were with you?” He said, “The Americans? They told us to do it.” I thought, “You have to be kidding me.”

And that, I thought, was a really emblematic story to tell that would help show us the direction this thing was going in, because it seemed to me -- remember, this was before Iraq, Afghanistan was it -- and I saw the eyes of the world riveted on how we were going to operate in Afghanistan, how Afghanistan was going to turn out, was going to be crucial to what happened in the next decade or the next half-century even, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s saying the U.S. Special Forces had put this other warlord up against the U.S.-backed Hamid Karzai.

SARAH CHAYES: Right, exactly. So the United States was working at cross purposes with itself, number one. Number two, you’re already constraining the power of the person that you have designated to be president. You’re saying, “Okay, you can be president, but you can’t name -- you don’t have the power to name your own governor.” And this dogged President Karzai for the first two years of his administration, when he was trying to limit the powers of some of these warlord governors that we had brought, we had allied with them.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. government had.

SARAH CHAYES: The U.S. government, that’s right, had allied with these guys, supposedly in the interest of the war on terror, and President Karzai was trying to limit their power and constrain them or even remove them, and he was told repeatedly that he couldn’t do that. And so, now he’s pretty much given up trying.

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