Which way to the CIA?

Your clickbait is killing journalism which is how by George I will make Afghanistan relevant today.

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This was supposed to go out earlier, but a long tequila-fueled discussion on other things more pressing happened, and so here we are. I keep thinking I’ll do a “weekend” version of this thing, and probably will, but today this is what the “daily” version of this will look like until I change my mind again.

Because the point is to find something interesting from the day and deconstruct that for a minute, plus a few add ons of things that are probably worth knowing about national security for the day.

So instead of some barely coherent massive link dump, there’s going to be a “big” story with the words and the pictures and the GIFs, followed by some snarkerific commentary on some other links and things I thought were interesting today.

Plus, some other shenanigans when the urge strikes.

From the ‘gram

Yup, there’s an Instagram.

It has things like this in it.

"And I've got some follow ups about the spurs." #natsectacular
September 29, 2019

Quote of the day

Because “abandoning our Kurdish allies while sending our troops into harm’s way to guard Syria’s oil fields” felt a little too on the nose.

TIL that the CIA has a militia problem

I may have spent to much time in and on Afghanistan.

Too many days reading about how this place is circling the drain.

Put together a few too many words that said just that.

Which is one of the reasons why I quit blogging at Sunny In Kabul, because I wanted to think about someplace else. And because my timing sucks, about the time I made that decision, people started thinking a lot more about Afghanistan again.

So this is, yeah, going to be about Afghanistan, but more about how journalism can’t have nice things because lazy shits who can’t be bothered to tell the rest of us what’s really going on in the world are comfortable with the worn narratives that the CIA is awful and murdering people and oh shit we just learned this today so let’s amplify that.

Plus, some other folks who I didn’t think were lazy shits help continue that narrative.

Kids, people like Commander Azizullah here have been in Afghanistan for a while.

Just because the HRW releases a report about another CIA-backed militia doesn’t mean this is a new thing here. Just new to those of you who were either a) born after 9/11, or b) have been busy being woke about more important things, like whether we still like Obama or not.

To be clear, I woke up in a bit of a mood this morning.

That fact is unrelated to yesterday’s tequila is a thing I am telling myself today.

But I’m not here to talk about tequila even though I could and yes I get that tequila is now a thing because famous people are making it, but I like my añejo, and that’s got nothing to do with the CIA in Afghanistan.

Last week Human Rights Watch and its Perturbed Letter Writers division released a report detailing abuses by CIA-backed Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-backed Afghan forces have committed summary executions and other grave abuses without accountability, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. These strike forces have unlawfully killed civilians during night raids, forcibly disappeared detainees, and attacked healthcare facilities for allegedly treating insurgent fighters. Civilian casualties from these raids and air operations have dramatically increased in the last two years.

It’s 53 pages, and if you’d like to read the whole thing for yourself, you can find it here. Attached to that report but still, a fun read on their own are the responses by both NATO and the CIA to the report.

From NATO:

War will never be “immaculate.” The nature of war is horrific, particularly when civilization is challenged by terrorists whose aim is to sow fear, instability and division through spectacular attacks. The battlefield is complex—the fighting is in crowded cities and in populated villages. Our challenges are immense because we face enemies who do not wear uniforms, who hide among women and children, and who use lies about the death of civilians to try and check our effectiveness. The Taliban purposefully operate in ways which result in civilian casualties. They intentionally seek the deaths of innocents by all parties to use them for propaganda and to sow insecurity and instability

From the CIA:

For many years, well-intentioned journalists and non-governmental organizations have published accounts of alleged abuses by Afghan forces like those contained in the Human Rights Watch report. The U.S. Government routinely reviews such serious allegations to determine their validity. Although Human Rights Watch did not provide the CIA time to study the particular allegations in this report, without confirming or denying any particular role in Government of Afghanistan counterterrorism operations, we can say with some confidence that many, if not all, of the claims leveled against Afghan forces are likely false or exaggerated. Past in-depth reviews of similar allegations have shown this to be the case.

War is messy, Taliban lie, we’d love to end this, but they won’t stop.

The people attached to this report and some of the reporters covering the story are some of the smartest people I know on Afghanistan. Probably on other things, too, but I only know their work on the graveyard of smart journalism.

The bone I’m picking isn’t with them; it’s with the rest of the clickbait factory that’s been sharing snippets of this story, and making it out like this is something new and exciting and shiny and whatnot. Like this from about a week ago.

Mr. Taub is not a clickbait factory drone, it’s just indicative of my point, which is admittedly weak, but I’m too far gone on the original premise to back away now.

I am not my best self in the ensuing tweets.

Five years ago, I wrote for Vice News about one of the principal commanders of those units, the aforementioned Azizullah. Since I am a blogger and not an original reporting journalist which is a job that is hard while I’m the guy making popcorn and throwing it from the back row at it, my “piece” is built on other people’s work.

A warlord, an illiterate drug smuggler, and a CIA-funded killer walk into a war.

That's not the setup to a joke — it's the punchline to America's failed intervention in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama said yesterday that US forces would be all but out of the country by the end of 2016. That may be America's best political solution to Afghanistan's military problem, but the reduced footprint will make it much harder to keep an eye on the less savory characters the Americans have used there to help fight al Qaeda.

That post has not aged well: Raziq’s dead, Dostum’s in semi-disgrace, and I’m guessing Azizullah’s still around.

Most of what I had to say on him came from the great work done on Azizullah by Julius Cavendish in 2011.

An Afghan warlord backed by US special forces faces persistent allegations that he launched a two-year spate of violence involving burglary, rape and murder of civilians, desecration of mosques and mutilation of corpses. Yet, despite repeated warnings about the atrocities Commander Azizullah is alleged to have committed, he has remained on the payroll of the US military as an "Afghan security guard", a select band of mercenaries described by some as "the most effective fighting formation in Afghanistan".

Some of you will note that Azizullah’s referenced as being supported by US special forces, not the CIA. You are correct. But that region of Afghanistan is rife with CIA dollars and has been since the beginning. And SOF/CIA continue to operate as part of what have been called “cross-matrix” teams under the Omega program. If you’re curious about the recent(ish) history of the CIA and what they’ve been up to in Afghanistan, I’d recommend:

  • Spencer Ackerman’s 2011 piece on the CIA’s “killing machine”

  • Dan Lamothe in 2015 on US "kill missions”

  • Eric Schmitt in 2017 about a resurgent CIA in the country

And if you really just have nothing else to do but be horrified by what the CIA’s been doing in backing these militias, recommend reading The CIA’s “Army”: A Threat to Human Rights and an Obstacle to Peace in Afghanistan, which I heard of through the always-excellent Afghan Analyst Network’s writeup on the HRW report.

I am, again, really regretting my original pitch, that people are dicks for writing about the paramilitaries like it’s a new thing. Yes, that happens in coverage of this place. A lot. And probably anywhere else in the world where someone has a “beat” for more than three years.

Again, not a journalist, just someone who happened to work here and then started writing about it and has more fun being a dick about writing about it than not so here we are.

A long way around to say this: CIA paramilitaries…anywhere…are a bad idea.


Unless what you want is a cowed population. Or an enemy that fears you enough to come to the table. Or if you want to keep a country just unstable enough that they’ll want you to stick around forever.

Then they’re fantastic.

To execute a certain kind of war, the kind that’s red in tooth and claw and doesn’t sound good at a party, then they’re the best. I mean that without irony. Because the problem with all the wars anymore is we don’t really know why we’re fighting them. There appears to be no end, and no clear objective.

So the CIA and its militias do what they’ve always done: go out at night and shoot people in the face. And they will keep doing that until someone makes them stop.

Guess we’ll need a bigger report.

The links

Here’s some other stuff worth reading.

  • Lt. Col Alexander Vindman did the right thing by testifying about what he heard on that Ukraine call. But since it may not have been the legal thing to do. he could still be court-martialed for it.

  • Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, would like the world to buy American, because the Chinese make crappy military shit: “He began by pointing to four Chinese-made Harbin Z-9 helicopters purchased by Cameroon in 2015, one of which crashed soon after purchase. Similarly, Kenya bought a handful of Chinese-made Norinco VN4 armored personnel carriers, ‘vehicles that China’s own sales representative declined to sit inside during a test firing. Since going ahead with the purchase regardless, sadly dozens of Kenyan personnel have been reportedly killed in those vehicles.’” Sounds like a ton of fun at parties.

  • Mentioned in the tweet above, but the US is sending the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) into Syria to secure the oilfields after abandoning the Kurds to Turkish incursion in other parts of the country. No blood for Kurds is not a catchy anti-war slogan.

  • The DoD’s getting 13% off its F-35s for the next three years, but it costs 100% more to fly per hour than other fighters. This Groupon sucks.

  • And even the other planes the Air Force flies are getting too expensive, since it costs more to keep a small fleet running than it does a larger one. Expect more multi-role aircraft purchases in the future, yeah?

This, but elsewhere