Friday, February 16, 2007

Warlord or Druglord?

In his post "Escalations", a few below this one, Fixer talks about the intentional missing of opportunities and offers of help in Iraq and Afghanistan by Iran. It's like refusing an offer of a garden hose from a neighbor you don't like when your house is on fire. Stupid. In this case, more evil than stupid, but stupid nonetheless.

Here's another opportunity for major help in Afghanistan blown all to Hell, this time by the DEA. Time magazine's cover article for the week of 2/19:

For a week and a half in April 2005, one of the favorite warlords of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was sitting in a room at the Embassy Suites Hotel in lower Manhattan, not far from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood. But Haji Bashar Noorzai, the burly, bearded leader of one of Afghanistan's largest and most troublesome tribes, was not on a mission to case New York City for a terrorist attack. On the contrary, Noorzai, a confidant of the fugitive Taliban overlord, who is a well-known ally of Osama bin Laden's, says he had been invited to Manhattan to prove that he could be of value in America's war on terrorism. "I did not want to be considered an enemy of the United States," Noorzai told TIME. "I wanted to help the Americans and to help the new government in Afghanistan."

For several days he hunkered down in that hotel room and was bombarded with questions by U.S. government agents. What was going on in the war in Afghanistan? Where was Mullah Omar? Where was bin Laden? What was the state of opium and heroin production in the tribal lands Noorzai commanded--the very region of Afghanistan where support for the Taliban remains strongest? Noorzai believed he had answered everything to the agents' satisfaction, that he had convinced them that he could help counter the Taliban's resurgent influence in his home province and that he could be an asset to the U.S.

He was wrong.

As he got up to leave, ready to be escorted to the airport to catch a flight back to Pakistan, one of the agents in the room told him he wasn't going anywhere. That agent, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told him that a grand jury had issued a sealed indictment against Noorzai 3 1/2 months earlier and that he was now under arrest for conspiring to smuggle narcotics into the U.S. from Afghanistan. An awkward silence ensued as the words were translated into his native Pashtu. "I did not believe it," Noorzai later told TIME from his prison cell. "I thought they were joking." The previous August, an American agent he had met with said the trip to the U.S. would be "like a vacation."

So here's a guy, head honcho of a million Afghanis, with inside connections to the Taliban and the 9/11 terrorists, who thinks the U.S. is the one who can help his native land and decides to help us.

So what do we do? We lure the guy to New York, ostensibly to discuss what kind of assistance and intel he can offer, and then arrest him.

Valuable intelligence assets are seldom paragons, and the best are valuable precisely because they have traveled down the darker alleys and know where opportunities and danger lie. However unsavory the résumé, says Alexis Debat, senior fellow at the Nixon Center and an expert in counterterrorism in South Asia, "it is always a smarter move to leave someone in place as long as you are getting reliable information." Noorzai's story is both a symbol and an example of this critical debate over means and ends. [...]

So, half the time our bureacracies' right hands don't know what their left hands are doing, and the other half the time their right hands conspire with their left hands. Either way, all they ever accomplish, whether by omission or comission, is to royally screw the pooch.

Noorzai has a flair for the dramatic gesture. In January 2002, to convince the Americans that he wanted to work with them and demonstrate not only his worth but his influence over his tribe, he delivered 15 trucks loaded with weaponry, including about 400 antiaircraft missiles, that the Taliban had concealed in his tribal villages. The gesture apparently had the desired effect. Over the next few months, Noorzai said he met with U.S. military and intelligence officers five times. The purpose, he says: "To make the situation in Afghanistan stable and also to help the Americans negotiate with the moderate members of the Taliban to reconcile with the [new] government."

The trial can be seen as a test case for the costs and benefits of arresting and prosecuting a man like Noorzai. Does the potential cost to the battle against terrorism in Afghanistan outweigh the benefit to the war on drugs? These are the kind of wrenching questions that the U.S. must weigh in its new twilight struggle for stability both at home and abroad.

For his part, Noorzai insists that his offer to help stabilize Afghanistan was sincere. He is also certain that he offered his help to the right people: "I still believe American and NATO forces are the only ones who can help Afghanistan rebuild." They will just have to do it without him.

This is quite a long article, but well worth reading. A prime example of how the turf wars inside our government are helping to squander good will, valuable assets, and a vast potential for assistance we desperately need. The next Afghani local leader who thinks he ought to help us probably will think better of the idea and just not.

I think valuable aid in stabilizing Afghanistan would have been well worth leaving Mr. Noorzai in place and helping him in return, but noooooo, DEA's rocket scientists wanted a cheap ass drug bust to make their numbers look good and to Hell with our main effort in Afghanistan. Those idiots couldn't figure out how to throw a beer party in a brewery if you handed them a case of chips.

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