When it comes to cosying up to alleged torturers in Afghanistan, the United States military has been a slow learner.
The US-led NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan just published a photo of Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, sharing a laugh with Kandahar strongman Gen. Abdul Raziq, long accused of forcibly disappearing detainees and having his henchman drill holes in the heads of some of them. Raziq runs secret prisons where torture is rife, and he’s also been implicated in corruption involving cross-border smuggling and unpaid custom duties. Both the United Nations and Afghan human rights activists have accused Raziq’s forces of extrajudicial killings going back at least a decade.
At the UN Committee Against Torture session in April, delegates repeatedly raised Raziq’s horrific record, citing in particular a UN report that month documenting that “a staggering 91 percent of detainees interviewed gave credible and reliable accounts of being subjected to the most brutal forms of torture and ill-treatment” in Kandahar that included “having water forcibly pumped into the stomach, having their testicles crushed with clamps, being suffocated to the point of losing consciousness and having electric current applied to their genitals.”
But the Resolute Support Mission, which “trains, advises and assists” Afghan national security forces, seems undeterred. This latest debacle comes just three years after US Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson found himself embroiled in controversy when he also posed for a photo op with Raziq. Since US taxpayers effectively pay Raziq’s salary and for the training of his men – including, ironically, human rights education – you would think the US government would care a bit more about what Raziq does with that money.
But the US has treated Raziq as its man in Kandahar, credited with keeping the Taliban at bay – though for how long is a pertinent question. Raziq’s forces’ killing spree has alienated tribal rivals and nurtured grievances against the government throughout the province. For years, the US sought to justify Raziq’s murderous actions as necessary for stability in Kandahar. By now the US and the Afghan government should know that backing corrupt and abusive security forces inflame insecurity. The Taliban certainly do.