The amount of progress made in Afghanistan after 13 years of war is still up for debate.
(Certainly the reports out of the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction have only gotten more shrill as exodus approaches.)
Nonetheless, the disappearances, beatings, and downright murders that remain unsolved in one special forces team’s area of operations threaten whatever progress has been made.
Matthieu Aikins recently wrote a piece that sheds the most light on the potential war crimes of the Army’s shamed efforts in Warduk province.
The exact culprit or culprits responsible may not yet be settled upon, but Aiken has taken an unsolved mystery and at the very least explained it well.
[S]ix months after its arrival, the team would be forced out of Nerkh by the Afghan government, amid allegations of torture and murder against the local populace.
If true, these accusations would amount to some of the gravest war crimes perpetrated by American forces since 2001. By February 2013, the locals claimed 10 civilians had been taken by U.S. Special Forces and had subsequently disappeared, while another eight had been killed by the team during their operations.
Aikin’s whole post is worth reading, but there’s one paragraph worth taking a second look at, with respect to the geopolitical effects that have reverberated out of Warduk.
Officials at the American-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, categorically denied these allegations, which came at an extremely delicate moment — as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the American government were locked in still-unresolved negotiations over the future of American forces in Afghanistan. The sticking point has been the U.S.’s demand for continued legal immunity for its troops, which Karzai is reluctant to grant. Privately, some American officials have begun to grumble about a “zero option” — where, as in Iraq, the U.S. would rather withdraw all its forces than subject them to local law — but both sides understand that such an action could be suicidal for the beleaguered Afghan government and devastating for American power in the region.
The ‘zero option,’ or leaving zero coalition troops in Afghanistan by the middle of next year, would result in a disastrous vacuum — one Afghans and military officials told me would either be filled by a competition between Pakistan and Iran, or that of China and Russia.
The Taliban — already playing a role in peace talks — would likely see its stake in the government expand, while that of Karzai’s successor wilted (if not disappeared altogether, as in the 90s).
So while there’s general agreement Washington’s direction will avoid any expansion of operations, the U.S. also has a tangible interest in maintaining some level of influence over Kabul post-2014 pull out.
One needs only look at the pre-civil war Iraq, increasingly warm to Iran and Russia, to see the potential results of sudden vacancy.
Remember: the same Status of Forces agreement was at stake in Baghdad a few years ago, and it was the same unchecked misbehavior and lack of oversight which put the kibosh on Obama’s intent to maintain troop levels into 2012.
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