American reporter Michael Hastings wrote a devastating portrait last year of leading US military man Stanley McChrystal. It was clear, unafraid to upset the establishment and devastating. McChrystal resigned shortly after.
Hastings is now back, with another fascinating essay on the war in Afghanistan, this time profiling the role of General David Petraeus. The conclusion is that Petraeus is engaged in a brutal and ultimately pointless war. Moreover, he’s using tactics that will only make locals hate Americans more. Warlords are embraced. “Democracy”, Washington-style:
During his time in Iraq, Petraeus earned the nickname King David, for the imperious manner in which he ruled over the ancient city of Mosul. In Afghanistan, a more apt honorific might be the Godfather. To get America out of the war, Petraeus has turned to the network of warlords, drug runners and thieves known as the Afghan government, which the general himself has denounced as a “criminal syndicate.” Within weeks of assuming command, Petraeus pushed through an ambitious program to create hundreds of local militias — essentially a neighborhood watch armed with AK-47s. Under Petraeus, the faltering operation has been expanded from 18 districts to more than 60, with plans to ramp it up from 10,000 men to 30,000.
In Afghanistan, however, arming local militias means, by definition, placing guns in the hands of some of the country’s most ruthless thugs, who rule their territory with impunity. In the north, Petraeus is relying on Atta Mohammed Noor, a notorious warlord-turned-governor considered to be one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan, to prepare militias for a long fight with the Taliban. Smaller militias in the region — which have been likened to an L.A. “gang” by their own American advisers — are also getting U.S. training. In the east, where violence has significantly increased, efforts to back local strongmen have already resulted in intertribal violence. And in the south, Petraeus has given near-unconditional support to Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother and one of the country’s most unsavory gangsters.
“The Americans have backed so many warlords in so many ways, it’s very hard to see how you unscramble the egg now,” says John Matisonn, a former top U.N. official who left Kabul last June. “There has never been a strategy to get rid of the warlords, who are the key problem. The average Afghan hates them, whether they’re backed by the Taliban or the Americans. They see them as criminals. They know that the warlords are fundamentally undermining the rule of law.”