Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Razzik can beat the Taliban." - A report regarding one of our "friends" at Spin Baldak on the AFPAK border

In the ultimate cinematic send up to the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now, the writers captured the essence of the frustration that the military faced in trying to win a war in a country that had long since frustrated any outside army that stumbled in.... The futility of fighting in some places became spawned statement such as this:

" They blow up the bridge every night and we rebuild it, so the Generals get to say that the road is open."

Things aren't quite that bad in AFGHN but we have come to the realization that not all the people we will work with operate with the same "westernized view" of the battle. That's why we have guys like Col. Abdul Razzik....

He has been assisting us with keeping things working at SPIN B (otherwise known as Spin Baldak) on the Pakistan place I did not go when I was there and one I was not unhappy that I missed either.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Turns 'Malignant Actor' Into Ally .
By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, and MATTHEW ROSENBERG in Kabul

American officials in Afghanistan used to call Col. Abdul Razzik a "malignant actor" who must be sidelined. Now they hail the suspected drug lord as a hero of the new Kandahar offensive and a leader with national potential.

Once seen as a 'malignant actor,' he has turned ally in the U.S. bid to clear Taliban strongholds.

Col. Razzik—an illiterate 34-year-old Afghan Border Police officer who calls himself General, wears flashy Swiss watches and controls southern Afghanistan's lucrative border crossing with Pakistan—emerged over the past two months as the coalition's top choice for clearing Taliban strongholds in Kandahar province, the campaign's centerpiece and the insurgents' heartland.

His reversal of fortune reflects a departure from U.S. counterinsurgency efforts to better governance, marginalize crime-tainted power brokers and win civilians' trust. Since U.S. Gen. David Petraeus took command of coalition forces in July, the military has focused more on killing as many Taliban as possible with the help of whatever local allies can be found, including strongmen whose abuses had made the Taliban popular in the first place.

U.S. officials say they are still broadly committed to the counterinsurgency principles but that targeting Taliban commanders comes first in areas where escalating violence makes governance efforts impossible.

"Now, the first priority is to beat the Taliban. Once this is done, we can shift our attention to these illicit actors," said U.S. Special Forces Lt. Col. James Hayes, who teamed up with Col. Razzik during recent clearing operations in Kandahar. "Razzik can beat the Taliban."

Col. Razzik and his force of some 250 men have become invaluable to the U.S.-led operations to seize Taliban redoubts in Kandahar province, U.S. commanders say. Unlike other Afghan security forces—often ineffectual, reluctant to fight or simply unfamiliar with Kandahar's terrain—his men have wowed American commanders with their tactical skills and determination.

"I have a clear strategy: When the enemies are killing us, we shouldn't be giving them flowers," Col. Razzik said in an interview, as he awaited a visit by the American ambassador to his fort-like base in the border town of Spin Boldak. "But maybe that's what others have been doing until now."

Col. Razzik's ability to safeguard the strategic Spin Boldak crossing from the Taliban in recent years has allowed him to stay in office. That job security comes despite what officials in Kabul and Washington say are well-founded concerns that he has been enriching himself and his patron, President Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, with revenue from heroin smuggling, customs-skimming and bribes.

Both men deny any wrongdoing. Col. Razzik, who has also been accused of running private jails and executing detainees, said he has challenged U.S. officials to find "at least one heroin lab" in his area.

The core of Col. Razzik's support comes from his Achakzai tribe, which has long controlled the drug trade in Spin Boldak and fielded a tribal militia to help the pro-Soviet regime in the 1980s. Col. Razzik, whose father served in that militia, says his current force is open to all tribes.

"His ideal candidate is a tough young kid with no family and no tribal ties," said Lt. Col. Hayes. "He brings them up and they're loyal to no one but him. It's kinda like the Foreign Legion."

Until recently, coalition officials cited tribal considerations, alongside with a desire to rein in Col. Razzik's power, as a reason why his force shouldn't be allowed to operate beyond Spin Boldak. A bloody operation by his men in Panjway district in 2006 had inflamed the rival Noorzai tribe, bolstering the Taliban's popularity there.

This past August, Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and a gathering of top regional commanders turned to Col. Razzik when they decided to clear the city's Mahalajat suburb, a stronghold that the insurgents controlled for years, using its square to hang suspected collaborators.

Moving ahead of the American force a few days later, Col. Razzik sent scouts in civilian clothes to Mahalajat, seeking information about Taliban improvised-explosive device emplacements. "He's got a lot of money to throw around, and so he just hired local boys to mark these IEDs," says Lt. Col. Hayes, who participated in the operation.

Mahalajat fell with little combat. The most notorious engagement was when Col. Razzik's men fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a stolen and booby-trapped police vehicle. The RPG missed and hit a nearby tree— from which a Taliban suicide bomber fell, exploding in a fireball as he hit the ground. American officers say they aren't aware of any abuses or looting by Col. Razzik's force in Mahalajat and that all the prisoners he had taken were handed over to Afghan authorities.

In following weeks, Col. Razzik's new role was formally recognized by the U.S. military, and he has been partnered with the U.S. Special Operations Task Force-South for missions outside Spin Boldak. He has since led his men on clearing operations to seize Taliban redoubts in Arghandab, Panjway and Maaruf districts.

In some instances in Arghandab, witnesses and one American official say, his men forced—rather than hired—local villagers to walk ahead of them on booby-trapped roads, in hopes of avoiding Taliban IEDs. Col. Razzik denied this: "I have never used civilians. All my men are from local villages. People turn out to give me information about the Taliban."

In Panjway, Col. Razzik's reputation for ruthlessness was so strong that both the Taliban and the local civilians fled ahead of his troops. "When we heard that Razzik is coming, everyone just escaped," says Tooryalai, a 39-year-old farmer in Zangabad village. "If he captures anyone, he says you're either Taliban or support the Taliban. Even members of his own tribe have fled."

American commanders compare Col. Razzik's recent successes to the Iraqi army's offensive in Basra in 2008—the turning point that for the first time gave fledgling Iraqi security forces the confidence that they can beat back the insurgents.

"He's become a folk hero," says U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey Martindale, commander of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, the American unit responsible for Kandahar city and Arghandab. "Afghans see him as the Afghan solution to their problems."

This reliance on local strongmen isn't limited to Kandahar. The U.S. military is now raising so-called local police forces, a network of anti-Taliban militias that are only loosely affiliated with the formal government structures and that have often been nurtured by Special Forces or the Central Intelligence Agency.

Col. Razzik, who says he has been working on some operations with the CIA but denies receiving the agency's money, is—alongside Ahmed Wali Karzai, the provincial council chief—a central actor in the crime-tainted political network that maintains a stranglehold over southern Afghanistan, allegedly rigging elections, collecting protection money and smuggling drugs.

Resentment over this network's behavior, U.S. officials have long said, is a key reason the Taliban have become so strong here. Yet, after a brief effort earlier this year to get President Karzai to remove his brother from Kandahar, and to curb Col. Razzik, coalition commanders say they have concluded that such men are their only significant allies in the south.

"What's the alternative?" wondered a senior military official in Kabul. "These powerbrokers will remain a fixture regardless of what we do. Whether they will modify their malignant activities over time remain to be seen—but you really have to work with them."

Lt. Col. Hayes, the Special Forces officer, says he has tried to make Col. Razzik change: "I told him—if you want to be on the national scene, you have to learn how to read and write, and you've got to cut all the bad things you've been doing in Spin Boldak."

In response, Lt. Col. Hayes recalls, Col. Razzik "kind of nodded, and didn't give an answer. "

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