Former Afghan President Karzai was almost killed by an errant US missile weeks before he took office

Hamid Karzai Afghanistan White HouseCharles Dharapak/ReutersHamid Karzai, then Afghanistan’s president, attends a joint news conference with President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, on Jan. 11, 2013.

The first leader elected to take over Afghanistan’s interim administration following the US-led invasion was almost killed by an American missile strike in southern Afghanistan just weeks before taking office, according to the new memoir of a former CIA agent.

In his new book, “88 Days to Kandahar: A CIA Diary,” Robert Grenier, the former station chief in Pakistan, describes how Hamid Karzai almost didn’t live to receive the phone call telling him that he had been chosen to head Afghanistan’s transitional administration.

On Dec. 5, 2001, Karzai and a group of his fighters were visiting an Afghan schoolhouse when the American soldier accompanying them accidentally triggered a US missile strike — on their own location.

Karzai escaped relatively unscathed, suffering some minor injuries to his facial nerves from flying glass. Others were not so lucky — more than 40 people were either maimed or killed in the so-called “friendly fire” attack. One man was decapitated.

Karzai was selected by prominent Afghan political figures in 2001 to serve a six-month term as chairman of the country’s interim administration. He then served as the administration’s interim president for two years before being elected President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in 2004 — a position he kept for nearly a decade.

Had he been standing a few feet to the left or right in the Afghan schoolhouse that December day, Karzai might have been killed by the 2,000-pound smart bomb. A new leader might have been elected, and the fate of Afghanistan might have been irrevocably changed.

Grenier’s memoir is filled with anecdotes like Karzai’s near-death experience that show just how random wartime successes and failures can be, according to Justin Lynch’s review of the book in Foreign Policy.

“What makes Grenier’s memoir unique is that it depicts the war in real time,” Lynch writes. “Like the incident with Karzai, successes often come down to luck, and tragedy is decided at random. The book provides a useful reminder that inevitable victories are actually decided by slim and sometimes arbitrary margins.”

Click here to read the full review in Foreign Policy.

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