Karzai’s Decree: Get Out!

Just yesterday, after accusing unnamed “armed individuals” of harassing, torturing, and murdering innocent villagers, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai ordered all U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak province, a defensive buffer against insurgents southwest of the capital. Reports on Karzai’s decision have focused on the implications of America’s withdrawal from the “strategically important” province. But U.S. policymakers should leverage the opportunity by rescinding their open-ended commitment to the country and transferring responsibility to the Afghans. 

To be sure, U.S. and coalition forces will face challenges as U.S. combat troops scale back to advisory roles and U.S. Special Forces assert ever greater authority. But as someone close to Karzai commented sourly, Afghan officials are tired of Americans “running roughshod all around our country.” 

For years, there have been reports that CIA-trained Afghan militias operating beyond the control of the Karzai administration have conducted so-called night raids and captured and killed a number of alleged Taliban commanders—“alleged” because information about those operations remains classified. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, Taliban-perpetrated violence in and around the province continues. 

Amid increasing Afghan public anger over foreign misconduct and civilian casualties, the mere suspicion that American commandos condoned such lawless activities (an allegation U.S. officials deny) proved enough to encourage Karzai to expel from Wardak the very foreigners he relies on for his country’s security. As Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said of Karzai’s decision, “local people are blaming the U.S. Special Forces for every incident that is taking place there.” 

That blame-shifting, however warranted, is particularly troublesome, given the reckless behavior of Afghan security forces under U.S. training. BBC reporter Ben Anderson recently documented that Afghan police are also rife with criminality, and show little compunction about firing at enemies when civilians are in the line of fire. Upending the fundamental premise of Washington’s “hearts and minds” strategy, one deputy police commander told Anderson he saw no difference between civilians and the Taliban. 

For these and other reasons far too numerous to mention here, the Afghan government, its police, and armed forces must take full responsibility for the security of their country. Rather than respond with indignation, Washington should take Kabul’s ruling as a blessing. 

Update: A previous version of this post did not include a source for the following passage: “But as someone close to Karzai commented sourly, Afghan officials are tired of Americans ‘running roughshod all around our country.’” The source is the New York Times and the link has been inserted above.