America’s Monster – The New York Times

While Raziq’s tactics worked in some respects, beating back the Taliban in Kandahar and earning him the admiration of many who opposed them, the strategy came at a clear cost. It stirred such enmity in parts of the population that the Taliban turned his cruelty into a recruiting tool, broadcasting it to attract new fighters. Many Afghans came to revile the American-backed government and everything it represented.

“None of us supported the Taliban, at least not at first,” said Fazul Rahman, whose brother was abducted in front of witnesses during Raziq’s reign. “But when the government collapsed, I ran through the streets, rejoicing.”

Even some who cheered the ruthlessness Raziq wielded against his enemies lamented the broader corruption and criminality he helped enshrine, a key part of why the Afghan government collapsed in 2021. After his death, his commanders expanded their predation further, extorting ordinary people and stealing from their own men’s wages and supplies.

“What they brought under the name of democracy was a system in the hands of a few mafia groups,” said Qari Mohammad Mubarak, who ran a girls’ school in Kandahar and initially supported the government. “The people came to hate democracy.”

Many American commanders, diplomats and their allies in Afghanistan knew at the time they were bankrolling a war that strayed far outside international law.

“Sometimes we asked Raziq about incidents of alleged human rights abuses, and when we got answers we would be like, ‘Whoa, I hope we didn’t implicate ourselves in a war crime just by hearing about it,’” said Henry Ensher, a State Department official who held multiple posts on Afghanistan, including as the top civilian representative in Kandahar in 2010 and 2011, when he worked with Raziq.

“We knew what we were doing, but we didn’t think we had a choice,” Ensher said.

Most American leaders — including more than a dozen interviewed by The Times — said that Raziq had been seen as the only partner capable of beating back the Taliban in the heartland of the insurgency, where a pitched battle for dominance was underway.

“In the moment, we might have succeeded, but so what?” Ensher said. “The entire enterprise was flawed.”

Many Afghans say Raziq used the Americans and their military might to pursue a personal vendetta, taking vengeance against the rivals his tribe had been fighting for decades.

In interviews, many former senior American officials acknowledged that they never grasped that dynamic. It was a defining characteristic over a generation of combat — how little the United States understood about the war it was waging.

The United Nations, human rights groups and news outlets raised serious concerns about Raziq and his forces, but independent investigations were limited, especially with the region so impenetrable during the war.

To determine the extent of the abuses, The Times combed through more than 50,000 handwritten complaints that had been scrawled into the Kandahar governor’s ledgers from 2011 through the end of the war in 2021. In them, we found the rudimentary details of almost 2,200 cases of suspected disappearances.

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