The CIA, The Brothers Karzai and Spinning our COIN Wheels

In what could be understated as a bombshell, Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen have reported a dubious connection between the CIA, the brother of the Afghan President and the illicit opium trade:

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country's booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.'s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai's home.

The whole article is really a fascinating read. My real question here is what impacts this has on the Afghan elections. Will Hamid Karzai be seen more as a U.S. puppet than he already is? If he wins the runoff anyway, will his government be seen as legitimate? Of course, locals tend to know more about our "covert" operations in their AO than we do, so there is a very likely possibility that this was already common knowledge west of the Durand Line.

But the electoral and legitimacy ramifications really just scratch the surface. The Center For a New American Security's Andrew Exum discusses what it means, if true, for the NATO counterinsurgency (COIN) effort at Abu Muqawama:

if this is true, and if the CIA is empowering Ahmed Wali Karzai at the same time in which NATO/ISAF is saying abusive local power-brokers are a threat to mission success, then this is yet another example of NATO/ISAF carrying out one campaign in Afghanistan while the CIA carries out another -- with both campaigns operating at cross purposes to one another. I should say here that I am in no position to confirm or deny this report. I can, however, say that numerous 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.

Additionally, Spencer Ackerman notes the implications of the money cycle at the Washington Independent:

CIA money funds a politically connected drug dealer. Opium funds the Taliban. We are in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. How much CIA money has indirectly funded the Taliban?

BLUF: This is a clusterfuck. If this is true, all of our COIN efforts thus far have been done wrong. Exum states, in more eloquent language than I have "you can be darn sure that if we think that AWK is the CIA's guy, the Afghans most certainly believe that to be the case." That's no way to win the trust of a population you are trying to protect.

We are paying a symbol of the illegitimate national government which hinders our need for a legitimate partner. We are partnering with a symbol of government corruption, which undermines any trust we might receive from the population. We are funding the insurgency we are attempting to counter. This is the definition of wheel spinning.

And is this just the tip of the iceberg? Is it really plausible that this is the only place in Afghanistan where we are doing this, where CIA activity is undermining counterinsurgency efforts? If the CIA is willing to do it in one area, I don't really think the agency would have qualms about doing it in any other place in the country. This raises the legitimate fear that in any AO in the conflict, we are fighting against ourselves, with American military personnel dying as a result.

If COIN, on any scale, is really our answer for Afghanistan we need to figure out (at the very least) who the good guys and the bad guys are so that we aren't aiding both. That seems like a ridiculous statement, and it is. But the reports about AWK's partnership with the CIA renders a ridiculous question legitimate, which is more than we can presently say for the ridiculous Karzai government.