The US government undermined its own efforts to tackle abuses and corruption in Afghanistan by allying with abusive warlords as part of its counterinsurgency policy, said a US government oversight agency.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) slammed the US government’s pursuit of “short-term gains” in supporting Afghan warlords since the US overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
 

Militiamen in Kunduz province, Afghanistan.

© 2011 Ton Koene

SIGAR described that policy as a self-defeating failure that has done lasting harm to Afghanistan:

Early on, the United States allied with Afghan warlords—many of whom had committed war crimes and grave human rights abuses against fellow Afghans—to seek their help in eliminating al-Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban. Many warlords were brought into government, where they continued their abuses, maintained private militias, and had links to narcotics, smuggling, and criminal networks. With a weak central government and no fear of law enforcement, the warlords gained impunity and their patronage networks became more entrenched. U.S. partnerships with such individuals gave the Afghan population the impression the United States tolerated corruption and other abuses, seriously undercutting U.S. credibility.

Human Rights Watch has documented the harmful impact of US support for Afghan “strongmen.” Among them is Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq, the Kandahar province chief of police who has been directly implicated in ordering extrajudicial executions. Reports indicate that another recipient of US assistance, the former head of Afghanistan’s security agency Asadullah Khalid, had participated in torture, extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against women and girls. In December 2013, when he sought medical care in the United States for wounds incurred in a suicide bomb attack, he received a visit from President Barack Obama, reaffirming US support.

SIGAR urged the US government to “limit alliances with malign powerbrokers.” But the United States also needs to link funding of Afghan security forces to improved accountability, including prosecutions for killings, enforced disappearances, and torture. The US should also fully implement the Leahy Law, which bans providing military assistance to any unit of foreign security forces that has allegedly committed gross violations of human rights and where no “effective measures” are being taken to bring those responsible to justice.

Unless those measures are taken, the legacy of the US government reconstruction effort in Afghanistan will be rampant impunity rather than sustainable development.