Just two weeks before the Afghan presidential runoff, unnamed sources reveal to the New York Times that the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been on the CIA payroll for years.
No, I'm hardly shocked - shocked - that we're paying off Ahmed Wali Karzai for services rendered. That's standard stuff when it comes to our Mideast client states. But the real story is the obvious divide within the United States' military-political leadership over Afghanistan policy and it's reached the point that someone (or more?) was so fed up with our current policy as to rat out a CIA surrogate to the press.
Figuring out why is the harder part. Was it was disgust at underwriting a warlord accused of being a drug runner because, as the Times' story notes, Ahmed Wali has been an asset to the U.S. in its fight against the Taliban. Or was it a way of getting back at Hamid Karzai for stealing the Afghan elections last month?
If the former, then file this one under the header of "scenes we'd like to see" (tip of the hat to Mad Magazine because that would mean Afghanistan is looking more like Vietnam all the time.
Let's assume the story is legit and the CIA is doing business with a drug trafficker who runs a crucial chunk of Afghanistan. Talk about flashbacks. During the 1960s and 1970s, the CIA similarly found itself working along side of unsavory sorts who made their money in the so-called Golden Triangle heroin trade. But they were useful contacts who knew the local terrain so arrangements were reached.
Ahmed Wali also was thought to be a useful contact, though it's now clear that not everyone within the national security bureaucracy shared that view. But this is an extraordinary leak. The last time we heard about the outing of a CIA agent was the Valerie Plame affair and you remember the storm that created.
Another Vietnam parallel. In Vietnam, tensions between the Kennedy administration and Saigon paved the way for Ngo Dinh Diem's removal in a U.S.-approved military coup. Just like Hamid Karzi, Diem was favored by the U.S. early in his administration but had worn out his welcome in Washington after eight years. Whoever was behind the leak knew the disclosure would harm Hamid Karzai's ability to govern the country. Tensions have grown with the U.S., which pressured Hamid Karzai to allow a re-do after the rigged election results. Now, the Afghan leader also has to fight allegations that his corrupt brother is in cahoots with the CIA, the bête noir of every 3rd World conspiracy nut out there.
Andrew Exum, who participated in General Stanley McChrystal's review of the American strategy in Afghanistan, notes offers this analysis:
"[N]umerous military officials in southern Afghanistan with whom I have spoken identify AWK and his activities as the biggest problem they face—bigger than the lack of government services or even the Taliban. And so if AWK is "the agency's guy", that leads to a huge point of friction between NATO/ISAF and the CIA. Again, I am not currently serving as an advisor to ISAF and cannot speak for Gen. McChrystal's command."
He doesn't need to. This story landed in McChrystal's inbox almost as soon as it got published. Now it's fated to become fodder for any politician who wants the U.S. to reconsider its troop commitment in Afghanistan.