Monday, December 27, 2010

Two reports on the indispensible Abdul Raziq

U.S. Lt. Col. William Clark, second from left, talks with Gen. Abdul Razik, the border police commander for southern Afghanistan, during a joint patrol along the border with Pakistan, on the outskirts of Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

I'll start with the December 27, 2010 Canadian Press/AP report because it's a good introduction to Raziq (also spelled Razziq and Razik) and because it contains this declaration:

"What is little understood about the Afghan war is that the Taliban are largely supported by the powerful Noorzai tribe ..."

Darn tootin it's little understood. But golly gee isn't it nice someone got around to letting us know? After all these years?

NATO bullish, Canadians wary of Afghan warlord Raziq
by Murray Brewster
Associated Press/The Canadian Press via Nato World News
Monday December 27, 2010 12:22 PM ET

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — He reportedly makes no apologies for killing his "enemies" on sight and has been instrumental in NATO's attempt this fall to pacify Kandahar one brutal step at a time.

There are those in Afghanistan who have labelled Col. Abdul Raziq a "butcher" in the past, and some have accused him of profiting from the burgeoning illegal drug trade.

Yet others in the provincial government and western armies hail him as a hero who is helping to bring stability to a troubled land, with a series of lightning-style raids deep in Taliban enclaves.

There is no doubt the prominent Achakzai border police commander's influence has been significant in wrestling key pieces of the province away from insurgent influence.

It began with a raid in Mehlajat, on the outskirts of the provincial capital last summer, but Raziq's operations have taken on a life of their own.

He has been all over the war-wasted province this fall to the enthusiastic applause of American commanders who regard him as "tremendously respected among the Afghans" and "a great partner" for NATO.

Knowing his history, Canadian officers are more circumspect.

"He's been extremely effective," Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, the commander of Canadian troops, said in a recent interview. "I think you always have a few concerns because he's had some challenges in the past."

Over the last five weeks, The Canadian Press has conducted dozens of interviews with Afghan officials, ordinary citizens and military commanders about this shadowy proxy war within the war.

The raids conducted by Raziq and up to 400 hand-picked fighters, alongside U.S. Special Forces soldiers, are playing with ethnic fire, according to some Afghan officials, who -- despite giving the raids their approval -- worry about the potential fallout.

The attacks fuel suspicion and threaten to reignite the hatred that four years ago layered a bloody tribal war on top of an already violent insurgency in western Kandahar.

Since the raid into Mehjalat in late August, Raziq's militia has acted as a roving disruption force for NATO, striking at hardened Taliban redoubts such as Zangabad, Bandi Taimoor in far-flung Maiwand district and pockets of Arghandab district.

There is little warning, even for allies.

Canadian ground commanders in Panjwaii had no idea he was coming into their sector in October until his convoy of heavily armed fighters "tripped one of the spike belts" along a newly constructed east-west road in the district, according to a senior military source.

Raziq's mission was to hunt down and kill senior Taliban commanders as well as known bomb-making cells. He went in ahead of American and later Canadian troops in the Horn of Panjwaii.

A farm owner in Zangabad, Haji Noor Muhammad, said the militia force gunned down an insurgent who wasn't from the area.

"He was an Afghan from another province," Muhammad said in an interview, with the help of an interpreter. "As long as he doesn't kill anybody from Zangabad there is no problem."

Fear that Raziq's operations could rekindle a tribal war between Raziq's Achakzai militia and the Noorzai, the dominant tribe in southern Afghanistan, are never far from the surface.

"It depends on the activities (of) Mr. Raziq," said Haji Agha Lalai, who ran a re-integration for Taliban fighters in Kandahar city.

"If he acts positively then the war will not start between (tribes). If he uses harsh words and shows that he's targetting (Noorzai) instead of anti-government forces, then it will start again."

Canadians have watched the developments with an uneasy eye.

Many of them remember all too well the late summer of 2006, when frustrated provincial council members gave Raziq the green light to lead his Achakzai militia into Panjwaii to counter a growing buildup of Taliban fighters. That was before Operation Medusa routed up to 1,000 insurgent fighters.

What is little understood about the Afghan war is that the Taliban are largely supported by the powerful Noorzai tribe, rivals to the Achakzai.

The hatred runs deep because, during the reign of the Taliban, the Achakzai were slaughtered and many fled to Pakistan until the U.S. ousted the hard-line Islamist movement in 2001.

Raziq's father was killed, while his uncle was hanged from the barrel of a Taliban tank, according to a Kandahar provincial councillor.

As he led his militia into Panjwaii in 2006, the then 28-year-old was believed to have a score to settle and word spread among the rival tribesmen that Raziq was out for Noorzai blood. His raid turned in to a fiasco, with dozens killed, when the force was ambushed at the district centre outside of Bazaar-e-Panjwaii.

"This was a bad idea to bring in Abdul Raziq," Haji Qassum, a provincial council member, told the Globe and Mail in 2006. "One village had 10 or 20 fighters against the government, and the next day maybe 200."

Today, district officials like Panjwaii governor Haji Baran sing a different tune.

"Raziq is my brother," said Baran, an elder of Noorzai blood. "Concern about him is only what we see in the media."

After the 2006 gunfight in Bazaar-e-Panjwaii, the Canadians were happy to see Raziq retreat to the border region, where he was given the title of border police commander and largely left alone to grow wealthy, thanks to his control of the porous Spin Boldak crossing.

His rehabilitation as a military commander began in 2009 when the U.S. 5th Stryker Brigade took over the Canadian forward operating base in the district. American Lt.-Col. William Clark, commander of the brigade's 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, cultivated a friendship with Raziq.

But it wasn't until the murder of a police chief in Daman district last summer that Razik was fully unleashed on the Taliban.

The New York Times reported that a furious Ahmed Wali Karzai complained to his brother, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who in turned invested provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa with the powers of a commander-in-chief.

They turned to Raziq to lead a 1,700-man force in Mehlajat.

Milner said it's understood by everyone that the militia leader is a polarizing figure among Kandaharis.

"He understands, he can only do so much, but the bottom line is the people are very supportive of his actions," said Milner.

Milner said people have to be careful about how much they make use of Raziq. "I think Gov. Wesa understands that. You can lean on him only so much."

That may be an understatement.

When asked what sort of rules of engagement apply to Raziq, NATO officials responded that he fights the Afghan way. Even a generous interpretation of that means there are few restrictions on what he and his men can shoot at.

There is also a political embarrassment in the making.

Training competent Afghan security forces is supposed to be the alliance's primary goal, yet the provincial administration is compelled to turn to a militia leader to carry out its counter-terrorism operations.
Now on to The Washington Post; the following photo and maps are taken from their report. These quotes from the report reached out and grabbed me:

To reduce opportunities for graft, the U.S. and Canadian governments are spending $20 million to build a new customs facility that is separate from the border police station. They eventually hope to have truckers pay duties electronically, a tall order in a nation where inspections still are conducted by jabbing a wooden stick into the cargo compartment.

"How are you?" [Razziq] said to every shopkeeper as he reached over to hug them. "Do you need any help?"

Washington Post, October 4, 2010
Afghan colonel vital to U.S. despite graft allegations
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer

IN SPIN BOLDAK, AFGHANISTAN When Abdul Razziq, a colonel in the Afghan Border Police, walks through the chockablock bazaar in this sand-swept trading hub on the frontier with Pakistan, he is mobbed by a crowd that deferentially addresses him as General Razziq. Young boys want his photograph. Gray-bearded men offer him tea. Merchants refuse to sell him anything - if he wants a bottle of cologne, he gets it for free.

U.S. officials say Razziq, who is illiterate and just 32, presides over a vast corruption network that skims customs duties, facilitates drug trafficking and smuggles other contraband. But, he also has managed to achieve a degree of security here that has eluded U.S. troops elsewhere in the country: His force of 3,000 uniformed policemen and several thousand militiamen pursue the Taliban so relentlessly that Spin Boldak has become the safest and most prosperous district in southern Afghanistan.

Despite the allegations of graft, which he denies, Razziq represents the Obama administration's best hope for maintaining stability in this important part of Afghanistan. Keeping Spin Boldak quiet, which allows more U.S. and Afghan forces to be employed elsewhere, is critical to fulfilling the president's pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops next summer.

"Is it a long-term solution? That's for others to decide," said the top NATO commander in the south, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter. "But it is a pragmatic solution. . .He's Afghan good-enough."

Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO officials have begun an ambitious plan to reform Razziq, hoping they can turn him into a more savory strongman. They are attempting to chaperone him, to offer incentives aimed at improving his behavior, and to set down new rules to compel him to put less money in his own pocket and more in the national treasury.

"We're trying to promote integrity by watching his operations a whole lot more closely, but we don't want him to stop doing all of the good things that he's doing," said U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Robert Waltemeyer, who runs a border coordination center here with representatives of the Afghan and Pakistan security forces. "We want to capitalize on his leadership."

The question of what to do about Razziq has vexed U.S. and NATO officials. Some have advocated for his ouster to demonstrate a hard line against graft, while others have argued that he be left alone because his force, which is more than five times the size of the U.S. military presence here, provides vital security for NATO supply convoys heading into Kandahar.

"If we didn't have him, we'd be screwed," a U.S. Army officer said during a visit here in August. "It wouldn't be this quiet."

Razziq, a lanky man with a close-cropped beard, is the chief of the Achakzais, one of the two principal tribes in this part of southern Afghanistan. His position as local strongman could have sparked the kind of conflict over power and resources that has driven people in other places to ally themselves with the Taliban. But thus far, Razziq has managed to spread the spoils deftly to avoid an open rebellion by the rival Noorzai tribe.

"He's like this Robin Hood figure who appears from nowhere, takes money and uses it to meet [the people's] needs," said Lt. Col. Andrew Green, the commander of a U.S. Army infantry battalion in Spin Boldak. "He picks favorites, for sure, but he's smart enough not to make too many enemies, which isn't something you can say about every power broker in Afghanistan."

Razziq has begun to extend his influence west toward Kandahar, the country's second-largest city and the site of major U.S. military operations against the Taliban. Dozens of his men have participated in Afghan-led operations in recent weeks to flush the insurgents out of sanctuaries to the north and south of the city. One Afghan official said that Razziq's force is prized by the government because its well-paid members fight more ably than most Afghan soldiers.

Razziq and his men also are valued because he is fiercely loyal to President Hamid Karzai and his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the chairman of the Kandahar province council. Razziq owes his job and control over the border crossing to the president, and several U.S. officials said he repays that debt by funneling proceeds from corrupt activities to people linked to the Karzai brothers.

The officials also said they have credible reports that Razziq countenanced widespread fraud in support of the Karzais in last year's presidential election and last month's parliamentary election. Several boxes stuffed with identically marked ballots for President Karzai were stored in his house overnight for what he deemed "safekeeping."

"Razziq is the poster child for all that is wrong with Afghanistan's government," said a civilian adviser working for the U.S. government in Afghanistan who opposes working with him. "He's a militia leader who denies people the right to vote. What sort of message are we sending by keeping him in power?"

Stabilizing force

That concern prompted senior officials at the NATO military headquarters in Kabul to call for Razziq's removal late last year as the first step in the overall campaign to improve the quality of government in Kandahar and surrounding areas.

The commanders in Kandahar pushed back, citing Razziq's cooperation with international forces and his willingness to conduct independent operations against the Taliban, which few Afghan units are able or willing to do. "If we pulled him out of there, our control of the border would have collapsed," said a senior U.S. official who advocated for Razziq.

Ultimately, it was the need to ensure that trucks bearing military equipment could travel to Kandahar unimpeded that led then-Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, to decide that Razziq could stay. The general traveled to Spin Boldak twice to meet with the self-proclaimed general and deliver a mixed message: You need to help us, and you need to reform.

U.S. officials then told Razziq not to interfere in the customs process. Duties and other fees would have to be collected by authorized personnel, not his men. He also was warned to keep his force operating within the border police's mandate, which allows independent operations along the frontier but not into other parts of the country.

To reduce opportunities for graft, the U.S. and Canadian governments are spending $20 million to build a new customs facility that is separate from the border police station. They eventually hope to have truckers pay duties electronically, a tall order in a nation where inspections still are conducted by jabbing a wooden stick into the cargo compartment.

In an interview at the main U.S. base here, Razziq insisted he is not corrupt and denounced allegations of malfeasance as "just rumors."

"I don't need money," he said. "I have everything I need. Everyone likes me and respects me."

Confronting 'enigma'

The centerpiece of the new American approach has been an attempt to watch over him by assigning him a mentor. After concluding that the previous U.S. battalion commander in Spin Boldak had grown too close to Razziq, senior American officials sent in Waltemeyer. His goal, which he spelled out in a memo to his superiors, was to "redirect [Razziq's] energies from day-to-day influence at the. . .border crossing point" to more traditional law-enforcement activities.

As Razziq walked through the main market in Spin Boldak on a recent morning, there was little indication that his sway has been attenuated. A throng of well-wishers and supplicants gathered around him as he walked from stall to stall.

"How are you?" he said to every shopkeeper as he reached over to hug them. "Do you need any help?"

One man complained about the erratic supply of electricity. Another asked about the construction of a new school. Several merchants thrust business cards in his hand, imploring him to find jobs for their relatives.

"He is responsible for everything good here," said Mohammed Qasim, a television vendor.

As the merchants spilled out of their shops to greet Razziq, one asked another to keep watch on his wares. "Don't worry,'' Razziq said. "The thieves do not dare steal in front of me."

An aide followed behind with a phone glued to his ear. He said Razziq has seven mobile phones, one of which is a dedicated line for top officials from Kabul and Kandahar.

"You can see the enigma he presents," Waltemeyer said.

Razziq scoffed at U.S. attempts to confine him to security patrolling along the border. "My duties are universal," he said.

Some U.S. officials said Razziq has been emboldened by a lack of coordination among international troops. U.S. Special Operations Forces have encouraged him to conduct the very sorts of combat missions that other officers have told him to avoid, the officials said. "Our messages to him are not consistent," the U.S. Army officer here said.

Because Razziq's speed-dial includes everyone from Karzai to senior U.S. officers, he has not been timid about trying to change the terms of his relationship with his foreign partners. After repeated requests to work with someone other than Waltemeyer - Razziq wanted a "partner" with more forces at his disposal, not a "mentor" - commanders in southern Afghanistan recently assigned the task to a U.S. Army colonel who has more soldiers. But that colonel also has less time to watch over him than his previous minder.

With security a non-issue in Spin Boldak, U.S. and NATO officers seem willing to forgo some of the supervision they once envisioned. "As long as we don't catch him moving trucks full of opium through the desert, we'll let him slide," the Army officer said. "If his men are shaking people down on the highway, well, that's just the way it's done here. It's no different from toll booths on the highways back home."

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