Murphy's Law: The Scams Of Afghanistan


June 16, 2011: Afghan president Hamid Karzai is again demanding that NATO halt the use of smart bombs, and night raids on Afghan homes. Karzai has been making these demands for years, but never carries through on the threats to kick the foreign troops out. Some Afghans believe Karzai is going mad, but it's more likely he's just trying to protect members of his family. Many of them are getting rich from corruption and the drug trade. Making threats against NATO improves Karzai's popularity with many Afghans (although most see him as corrupt and ignore him), and sometimes the threats take NATO pressure off corrupt members of the Karzai clan.

Officially, Karzai wants the bombings stopped because sometimes civilians are killed. That's because the Taliban use civilians as human shields. In any event, about half the bombing attacks are called in by Afghan police or army units. Moreover, civilian deaths from smart bombs have been declining for years, partly because the Taliban often don't bother trying to keep civilians with them when cornered and not willing to surrender. They know the smart bombs will come anyway, and are under orders (often ignored) to ease up on mistreatment of civilians (which just creates more informers and recruits for the police). Nevertheless, Karzai would be a big hero to the Taliban if Afghan security forces could be given veto power over air strikes. That would mean the Taliban would always have the option of bribing their way out of an air strike. That is impossible as long as foreign troops have the final say on using smart bombs.

NATO will not stop conducting night raids, as these are the best way to catch Taliban at their most vulnerable, and take them alive (and capture useful documents). The value of these raids is constantly explained to Karzai, who ignores the explanations and makes a big deal of how embarrassing it is for the family that is raided.

Karzai also ignores cases where the Taliban attempts to fake atrocities. One example, in 2009, was typical. Several dozen Taliban were trapped in a western Afghanistan (Farah province) village by police and troops. The Afghan security forces called for an air strike and a U.S. bomber overhead complied (to the order of an American FAC, or Forward Air Controller working for the Afghan commander on the ground). About 25 Taliban were killed, but so were dozens of civilians the Taliban had forced to stay with them in a compound. The Afghan forces refused to let the Taliban get away by using human shields. It was also discovered that some of the civilians were killed and wounded by Taliban grenades.

This incident, after an intense investigation, revealed another form of corruption. The locals lied, to obtain more compensation money, and to avoid Taliban retribution. This scam is quite common and works like this. Often, when a smart bomb gets dropped in an isolated location (which describes most of Afghanistan), and there is any chance of civilian casualties, But the locals will often make a fuss about seeking to find who was hurt or killed. The village elders insist that outsiders stay away during this trying time. Even the foreign soldiers and Afghan police are put off (after the search for Taliban bodies, documents and equipment is completed). Being good Moslems, they bury the dead before sunset of the same day. The next day, the elders will claim as many civilian dead, killed by smart bombs, as they think they can get away with. Sometimes, additional graves get a dead goat or other animal, so the proper stench permeates the mound of earth. Digging up graves is also against Islamic law, so the elders know the foreign troops have to take their word for it. The elders also know that the foreign troops, depending on nationality, will pay $1,000-$5,000 compensation per dead civilian. Not only is there a big payday, but the Taliban appreciate the bad publicity directed at the foreigners, and usually show their appreciation by cutting this village or valley some slack in the future. The village encourage this by offering the local Taliban a cut of the compensation money.

This scam works because there aren't many public records in Afghanistan. The only ones who know exactly who lives in a village are the people there, and the elders speak for everyone. Investigators have a hard time interrogating individuals, because the elders, and everyone there, has a vested interest in not being found out. Sometimes of the elders get greedy. For example, despite an intensive investigation into a bombing three years ago in Azizabad (outside Heart), the villagers got paid for over 90 dead. Investigators, piecing together what information they could, were certain that there were only 15 dead civilians (plus Taliban). But you can't touch the graves, and even questioning the veracity of the claims gets you howls of indignation.

President Karzai goes along with these scams, while calling for U.S. air strikes to cease. Karzai knows that many of the civilian dead are bogus, and dares not take away air support for his own troops (who would suffer higher casualties as a result). Karzai is employing another Afghan tradition; saying one thing and doing another. This ploy is sometimes used in the West as well.




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