They defeated the Soviets with Washington’s help, but now they attack Americans as the new occupiers
KABUL – The war in Afghanistan reached a wrenching milestone this summer: For the second month in a row, U.S. and coalition troop deaths in the country surpassed casualties in Iraq. This is driven in large part, U.S. officials point out, by simple cause and effect. Marines flowed into southern Afghanistan earlier this year to rout firmly entrenched Taliban fighters, prompting a spike in combat in territory where NATO forces previously didn’t have the manpower to send troops. “We’re doing something we haven’t done in seven years, which is go after the Taliban where they’re living,” says a U.S. official.
But amid a well-coordinated assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai and large-scale bombings last week in the capitals of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. forces are keenly aware that they are facing an increasingly complex enemy here-what U.S. military officials now call a syndicate-composed not only of Taliban fighters but also powerful warlords who were once on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency. “You could almost describe the insurgency as having two branches,” says a senior U.S. military official here. “It’s the Taliban in the south and a ‘rainbow coalition’ in the east.”
Indeed, along with a smattering of Afghan tribal groups, Pakistani extremists, and drug kingpins, two of the most dangerous players are violent Afghan Islamists named Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, according to U.S. officials. In recent weeks, Hekmatyar has called upon Pakistani militants to attack U.S. targets, while the Haqqani network is blamed for three large vehicle bombings, along with the attempted assassination of Karzai in April.
Ironically, these two warlords-currently at the top of America’s list of most wanted men in Afghanistan-were once among America’s most valued allies. In the 1980s, the CIA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons and ammunition to help them battle the Soviet Army during its occupation of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar, then widely considered by Washington to be a reliable anti-Soviet rebel, was even flown to the United States by the CIA in 1985.
Read moreAfghan Warlords, Formerly Backed By the CIA, Now Turn Their Guns On U.S. Troops