Wednesday, March 7, 2012

148 Pakistan lets CIA use airbase; Karzai's brother gets CIA pay

(1) Pakistan lets CIA use airbase
(2) The battle for Pakistan
(3) Karzai's brother gets CIA pay
(4) Brother of Afghan Leader said to be paid by C.I.A.
(5) John Burns on Ahmed Wali Karzai and the C.I.A.

(1) Pakistan lets CIA use airbase

From: WVNS <ummyakoub@yahoo.com>  Date: 06.11.2009 05:41 AM

Secrecy and denial as Pakistan lets CIA use airbase to strike militants

Tom Coghlan in Kabul, Zahid Hussain in Islamabad and Jeremy Page in Delhi

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5755490.ece

The CIA is secretly using an airbase in southern Pakistan to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan, a Times investigation has found.

The Pakistani and US governments have repeatedly denied that Washington is running military operations, covert or otherwise, on Pakistani territory — a hugely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim country.

The Pakistani Government has also repeatedly demanded that the US halt drone attacks on northern tribal areas that it says have caused hundreds of civilian casualties and fuelled anti-American sentiment.
But The Times has discovered that the CIA has been using the Shamsi airfield — originally built by Arab sheikhs for falconry expeditions in the southwestern province of Baluchistan — for at least a year. The strip, which is about 30 miles from the Afghan border, allows US forces to launch a Drone within minutes of receiving actionable intelligence as well as allowing them to attack targets further afield.

It was known that US special forces used Shamsi during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but the Pakistani Government declared publicly in 2006 that the Americans had left it and two other airbases.

Key to the Times investigation is the unexplained delivery of 730,000 gallons of F34 aviation fuel to Shamsi. Details were found on the website of the Pentagon's fuel procurement agency.

The Defence Energy Support Centre site shows that a civilian company, Nordic Camp Supply (NCS), was contracted to deliver the fuel, worth $3.2 million, from Pakistan Refineries near Karachi.

It also shows the fuel was delivered last year, when the United States escalated drone attacks on Pakistan's lawless tribal areas, allegedly killing several top Taleban and al-Qaeda targets, but also many civilians.

A source at NCS, which is based in Denmark, confirmed that the company had been awarded the contract and had supplied the fuel to Shamsi, but declined to give further details.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Pakistan told The Times: "Shamsi is not the final destination." However, he declined to elaborate and denied that the US was using it as a base.

"No. No. No. No. No. We unequivocally and emphatically can tell you that there is no basing of US troops in Pakistan," he said. "There is no basing of US Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army, none, on the record and emphatically. I want that to be very clear. And that is the answer any way you want to put it. There is no base here, no troops billeted. We do not operate here."

He said that he could not comment on CIA operations.

The CIA declined to comment, as did the Pentagon. But one senior Western source familiar with US operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan told The Times that the CIA "runs Predator flights routinely" from Shamsi.

"We can see the planes flying from the base," said Safar Khan, a local journalist. "The area around the base is a high-security zone and no one is allowed there."

He said that the outer perimeter of Shamsi was guarded by Pakistani military, but the airfield itself was under the control of American forces.

Shamsi lies in a sparsely populated area about 190 miles southwest of the city of Quetta, which US intelligence officials believe is used as a staging post by senior Taleban leaders, including Mullah Omar. It is also 100 miles south of the border with Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand and about 100 miles east of the border with Iran.

That would put the Predators, which have a range of more than 2,000 miles and can fly for 29 hours, within reach of militants in Baluchistan, southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan's northern tribal areas.

Paul Smyth, head of operational studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said that 730,000 gallons of F34, also known as JP8, was not enough to supply regular Hercules tanker flights but was sufficient to sustain drones or helicopters.

Other experts said that Shamsi's airstrip was too short for most aircraft, but was big enough for Predators and ideally located as there were few civilians in the surrounding area to witness the drones coming and going.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, said that he did not know anything about the airfield. However, Major General Athar Abbas, the chief military spokesman, confirmed that US forces were using Shamsi. "The airfield is being used only for logistics," he said, without elaborating.

He added that the Americans were also using another airbase near Jacobabad, 300 miles northeast of Karachi, for logistics and military operations.

Pakistan gave America permission to use Shamsi, Jacobabad and two other bases — Pasni and Dalbadin — for the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. US Marine Special Forces were based at Shamsi and, in January 2002, a US Marine KC130 tanker aircraft crashed close to its runway, killing seven Marines on board.

Jacobabad became the main US airbase until Bagram, near Kabul, was repaired, while Pasni, on the coast, was used for helicopters and Dalbadin as a refueling post for special forces' helicopters.

However, in December 2001, Pakistan began sharing Jacobabad and Pasni with US forces as India and Pakistan began massing troops on their border. In July 2006 the Pakistani Government declared that America was no longer using Shamsi, Pasni and Jacobabad, although they were at its disposal in an emergency.

The subject has become particularly sensitive in the past few weeks as President Obama has made it clear that he will continue the strikes while reviewing overall US strategy in the region.

The latest strike on Monday — the fourth since Mr Obama took office — killed 31 people in the tribal agency of Kurram, and another on Saturday killed 25 people in South Waziristan, according to Pakistani officials.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, responded on Sunday by categorically denying that Pakistani bases were used for US drone attacks.

Aerial assault

— Armed predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in use since 1999
— The aircraft is controlled from the ground using satellite systems and onboard cameras
— The MQ9 craft, which is used in Afghanistan, is 11m long, has a 20m wing span and a cruise speed of up to 230mph. Each can carry four Hellfire missiles and two bombs
— Three systems were bought by the RAF last year for £500m
Sources: Jane's Information, US Airforce, RAF, Times archives

(2) The battle for Pakistan

From: Sadanand, Nanjundiah (Physics Earth Sciences) <sadanand@mail.ccsu.edu> Date: 05.11.2009 12:00 PM

As Pakistan pours troops and armour into the al-Qaeda safe haven of South Waziristan, Dean Nelson assesses the timing and significance of the onslaught, and asks whether it could spark a national conflagration.

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/6371430/The-battle-for-terror-central-in-Pakistan.html

By Dean Nelson The Daily Telegraph

Pity poor Pakistan. As I write, 30,000 of its troops are advancing ever further into one of its fiercely independent tribal areas to kill thousands of their own countrymen many of them don't want to fight, in a war they cannot win.

But their preferences or prospects no longer matter: the Taliban and their allies in the al-Qaeda and Kashmiri jihadist groups throughout the country have taken the war to them. A battle is being waged over the future of Pakistan in which the government and army's only hope is to take the fight into the heart of "Terror Central" – the remote South Waziristan tribal agency which has served as al-Qaeda's safest haven since its leadership was driven out of Afghanistan in 2001.

Although Pakistan's military chiefs have been talking about an "imminent" assault since last June, all the evidence has pointed to deep reluctance to launch a massive ground offensive they believe will provoke an overwhelming backlash with suicide bombings and fidayeen commando attacks throughout the country.

It was the Taliban's new leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who finally forced a decision upon the army when his militants launched a daring commando raid into the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi. Just 10 fidayeen gunmen shot their way into the GHQ, seized 42 hostages, and killed 14 soldiers and civilians in a 22-hour siege.

It was the centrepiece of a 12-day rampage in which Hakimullah demonstrated he could reach into the heart of Pakistan's military establishment and kill at will. More than 160 people died in the attacks, which targeted elite police commando training colleges in Lahore and a police intelligence HQ in Peshawar.

The real humiliation for the army is that most of these raids were shown, shot by shot, on live television news channels. Hakimullah's challenge could not have been more forceful or more public. His question: who calls the shots in Pakistan? The answer has traditionally been a no-brainer – the army, with occasional incursions by elected governments. But Hakimullah's onslaught questioned the military's invincibility, and its chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, could not let that challenge pass.

The wonder for many is that it has taken the army so long. Almost eight years have passed since al-Qaeda's leadership fled the American bombardment of their caves at Tora Bora, over the border in Afghanistan, and took refuge in the Taliban's South Waziristan safe haven.

Since then, Arab fighters and commanders from Libya and Egypt, thousands of militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Chechens, Kashmiris and Punjabis have flocked to the "emirate", as it's known, to train as suicide bombers, wage jihad against British and American troops in Afghanistan or plot international terror attacks. Gordon Brown has said that 75 per cent of all terrorist plots against Britain originate in Pakistan, and most intelligence agencies believe the heart of al-Qaeda's terrorist infrastructure is in South Waziristan.

To put it bluntly, part of Pakistan has been Islamised as a result of American action. And now it is Pakistan that has to deal with the consequences, fighting battles in the way America wants against some of its own people.

Pakistan's reluctance to attack the Taliban in its heartland has, until now, been based on a fear of a backlash in its biggest city, Karachi, where several million ethnic Pashtuns from its tribal areas live, and important strategic considerations: Pakistan raised the Taliban to bring order and an end to civil war between mujahideen factions in Afghanistan. Its political leaders were nurtured by Benazir Bhutto's interior minister, General Naseerullah Babar, and many of its commanders were trained by Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency.

After the American-led offensive in Afghanistan that ousted Mullah Omar's Taliban regime in 2001, several key Taliban figures were protected by the Pakistan army, which still regards them as "strategic assets". Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin, are among them. They continue to organise attacks on Nato forces from Waziristan, unmolested or challenged by the Pakistan army.

The Pakistan military believes the Americans and the British will withdraw from Afghanistan – and when they do they will need old Taliban friends such as Haqqani once again to minimise the influence of its Indian enemy in its Afghan back yard. It is for this reason too that Islamabad has turned a blind eye to the presence of Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura, the ruling council that co-ordinates the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan from a hideout close to the Balochistan state capital.

These leaders are what the Pakistan military have in mind when they talk of "good" and "bad" Taliban – those who pose a threat to Pakistan and those who do not. Those who pose a mortal threat to British and American troops over the border can still be "good Taliban" in Pakistan.

It is the rise of the "very bad Taliban", such as Hakimullah Mehsud's pro-al-Qaeda Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – which threatens both Pakistan and Nato forces in Afghanistan – that has brought the largest deployment of Pakistani troops to the tribal areas since the British Indian Army arrived in the Thirties to crush the Faqir of Ipi's jihad against the Raj.

The current Taliban jihadis use the same attacks and pose the same dangers – ambushing convoys by overpowering hilltop pickets as they withdraw – with one significant difference.

While the Faqir wanted an end to unjust British rule and autonomy for Waziristan, he could not export his jihad beyond Waziristan's arid mountain landscape. When Hakimullah's 10 commandos stormed the Pakistan army HQ on October 10, five of them were "Punjabi Taliban" – members of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, one of a number of militant, army-trained lashkars originally formed to fight Indian rule in Kashmir but now part of the bad Taliban/al-Qaeda network.

The group's spokesman, Azam Tariq, said their attack was just the start and would be repeated in Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Just before the Taliban offensive, their new commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, gave an interview at a secret location in Waziristan where he was "determined to take severe revenge for Baitullah Mehsud's killing and the continued drone strikes... both America and Pakistan will have to face the consequences. We have respect for al-Qaeda and the jihadist organisations – we are with them."

Baitullah Mehsud, his predecessor, who was killed by an American Predator drone attack in South Waziristan in August, had fought Pakistan's army to an effective surrender in 2006 when the government was forced to sign a "peace deal" that undermined pro-government tribal areas and pulled the rug from under the feet of local army and Frontier Constabulary officers who suddenly realised they were on their own.

A series of such "peace deals" were signed under former military ruler General Musharraf, who argued that Pakistan had lost hundreds of troops in Waziristan, but that these agreements could be a model for ending the broader conflict. According to American officials, what actually happened is that al-Qaeda used the "peace" as a breathing space in which to rebuild its global terror infrastructure and replenish its coffers. Under one deal, $500,000 was paid to the Taliban, which was in turn given to al-Qaeda as a loan repayment.

From 2006 until 2008, much of Waziristan was effectively ceded to the Taliban as a territory beyond the Pakistan government's writ. American officials, including then vice-president Dick Cheney, were so incensed that they visited General Musharraf to show him evidence of how al-Qaeda was rebuilding its terror HQ under the protection of his "peace deals". The American response was to increase its Predator drone attacks on "high-value" Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. But although they killed a number of militant commanders, they undermined the Pakistan government even further among its tribesmen close to the border: either it had collaborated or it was too weak to resist the breach of its sovereignty.

The problem for Pakistan is that until now it has not been able to enforce its writ or defend its sovereignty in Waziristan, which has become an "ungoverned space" of the sort that the new post-9/11 world can no longer abide.

Pity poor Pakistan, because the space it gave the Taliban in Waziristan allowed them to train new groups in their own image from all over the country. Today, there are little bits of Waziristan throughout Pakistan's major towns and cities, and the army's belated ground offensive will light the touchpaper for a national explosion.

(3) Karzai's brother gets CIA pay

From: WVNS <ummyakoub@yahoo.com> Date: 01.11.2009 07:57 PM

NYT story says Afghanistan president's brother, long a suspect in opium trade, gets regular CIA payments

Report: Karzai's brother gets CIA pay
Afghanistan
Wednesday, Oct 28, 2009
http://www.salon.com/news/afghanistan/index.html?story=/news/2009/10/28/us_karzai_cia

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the president of Afghanistan, gets regular payments from the CIA and has for much of the past eight years, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The newspaper said that according to current and former American officials, the CIA pays Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the CIA's direction in and around Kandahar.

The CIA's ties to Karzai, who is a suspected player in the country's illegal opium trade, have created deep divisions within the Obama administration, the Times said.

Allegations that Karzai is involved in the drug trade have circulated in Kabul for months. He denies them.

Critics say the ties with Karzai complicate the United States' increasingly tense relationship with his older brother, President Hamid Karzai. The CIA's practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

Some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, a central figure in the south of the country where the Taliban is dominant, undermines the U.S. push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

"If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves," Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan, was quoted by the Times in an article published on its Web site.

Ahmed Wali Karzai told the Times that he cooperates with American civilian and military officials but does not engage in the drug trade and does not receive payments from the CIA.

Karzai helps the CIA operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists, according to several American officials. Karzai also is paid for allowing the CIA and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city, which also is the base of the Kandahar Strike Force, the Times said.

Karzai also helps the CIA communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban, the newspaper reported.

CIA spokesman George Little declined to comment on the report.

(4) Brother of Afghan Leader said to be paid by C.I.A.

By DEXTER FILKINS, MARK MAZZETTI and JAMES RISEN

Published: October 27, 2009

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/world/asia/28intel.html?_r=1

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ahmed Wali Karzai, right, the brother of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, at a campaign event in Kandahar in August.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the C.I.A.

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Some American officials said that the allegations of Mr. Karzai’s role in the drug trade were not conclusive.

“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence. “And you can’t ignore what the Afghan government has done for American counterterrorism efforts.”

At the start of the Afghan war, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, American officials paid warlords with questionable backgrounds to help topple the Taliban and maintain order with relatively few American troops committed to fight in the country. But as the Taliban has become resurgent and the war has intensified, Americans have increasingly viewed a strong and credible central government as crucial to turning back the Taliban’s advances.

Now, with more American lives on the line, the relationship with Mr. Karzai is setting off anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials in the Obama administration. They say that Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafialike way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.

These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” a senior American military officer in Kabul said. Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.

Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti and James Risen from Washington. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington

(5) John Burns on Ahmed Wali Karzai and the C.I.A.

By JOHN F. BURNS

John Burns, the chief foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is answering questions about an article in Wednesday’s paper about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is accused of having ties to the nation’s opium trade, has been on the C.I.A. payroll since 2001, according to the article.

Banaras Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ahmed Wali Karzai, right, the brother of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, at a campaign event in Kandahar in August.

http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/30/john-burns-on-ahmed-wali-karzai-and-the-cia/?hp

For those charged with finding a path for America through the political and military minefield of Afghanistan, it has been a tough week –- and the Times’ front-page story of Oct. 28 on the C.I.A. links of Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother and a man long linked to the country’s opium trade, has been only part of it. The burden of the momentous decisions on war strategy that will have to be made in the next few weeks was powerfully transmitted by President Obama’s visit in the early hours of Thursday to Dover Air Force Base in Maryland, and by the photographs of the president saluting at the cargo bay door of a C-17 cargo plane as a military honor party carried the flag-draped casket of Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind., to a waiting hearse.

The aircraft brought home the bodies of 15 servicemen and three Drug Enforcement Agency officials who were killed on operations in southwest Afghanistan within the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday -– a toll that contributed to making October, with at least 56 Americans killed, the war’s worst month yet, in terms of Americans lost. Casualties on that scale have brought the Afghan conflict, for the United States, ever closer to the terrible price paid in Iraq. And whatever political calculations there may have been in the White House in having the president at Dover to talk to the families of the fallen and join prayers over the caskets in the aircraft’s cargo bay –- and it was as graphic a demonstration as there could be of the weight of the decisions he has to make –- nobody who has seen any part of the mournful journey America’s fallen make on their way home from distant battlefields can doubt that it will have made a profound impression on the president. There is nothing to compare with that experience, in terms of appreciating the full cost of America’s wars, and it is surely right that Mr. Obama would want to take the full measure of the price American servicemen and women are being asked to pay as he weighs the country’s forward course in Afghanistan.

That, readers may think, is a long way from the topic we’ve posed on this blog this week, the Times’ article about the C.I.A. links of Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has spent much of the past eight years on the agency’s payroll, according to the reporting of Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, and that at a time when he has been insistently accused of using his position as the most powerful government official in southern Afghanistan to profit from narcotics trafficking (an allegation he and his brother, the president, have just as insistently denied). But as the responses on this blog in the past 48 hours have shown, the nature of the allies America has made in Afghanistan, the brothers Karzai principal among them, factors crucially into the question of how much deeper, if at all, the United States should become vested in the Afghan conflict.

If there is one theme that emerges stronger than any other from readers’ comments, it is the belief — the fear — that America has made allies of men so deeply corrupted, and so far beyond hope of gaining the trust and support of their 30 million fellow citizens, that no new troop increases, and no new military strategy on the part of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has any prospect of success as long as we are caught in this morbid embrace. “This would be comical if it were not so tragic,” writes Norman Markowitz, in one of many similar comments. “This is further evidence that we should be preparing to pull ourselves out of the ‘Afghan trap’ before it is too late.” Eric, in another contribution, expresses a similar view. “If we had to do it all over again, wouldn’t we be better off if we never invaded Afghanistan or Iraq?”

Implicit in Eric’s comment is the heart of the problem facing those now wrestling in Washington with the choices to be made on military and political strategy. Whatever differences of view there may be retrospectively about the decision President Bush made in 2001 to use military force to rid Afghanistan of the country’s Taliban rulers and their Al Qaeda allies (and there were few in either major party in the wake of 9/11 who dissented, at least then), the people now gathered around the table in the White House are faced with “facts on the ground,” after eight years of war, that impel them, I think many Americans would agree, to find solutions that do not simply involve a peremptory abandonment of the country to the chaos that would ensue if western military support were withdrawn. Almost certainly, that would lead, and rapidly, to a new takeover by the Taliban; and it would stretch credulity to believe Mullah Mohammed Omar’s assurances that the Taliban rulers would not again allow America’s Al Qaeda enemies to use the country as a sanctuary for new attacks on the West. For one thing, there is little reason to believe that the diehards associated with the Taliban leader in the Quetta Shura would stick by his promises; for another, there is scant prospect that they could enforce a policy that denied sanctuary to Al Qaeda, even if they chose.

For all that, few can believe that there can be any good outcome for America in Afghanistan unless ways are found to give the country a government, and leaders, with some prospect of rallying the kind of popular support President Karzai currently lacks. It is virtually certain that Mr. Karzai will be re-elected in next week’s run-off election, and just about as certain that the run-off will attract the same widespread allegations of ballot fraud as the first round in August. That will mean that the western allies will have to deal with Mr. Karzai for another four years, like it or not, barring unforeseen events, such as an enforced end to Mr. Karzai’s new tenure. Several of our readers posted comments that reach back to Vietnam for an example of another war in which America was wedded to a corrupt and incompetent president, but one element in that analogy that does not carry over is the way in which the dilemma was solved. A few weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, a C.I.A.-backed coup in Saigon , running to an extreme that the C.I.A. claimed not to have intended, ended with the then-president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, being assassinated with his brother in the rear of an armored personnel carrier outside the presidential palace. Options of that kind, thankfully, have long been off the table. More likely, the best that can be hoped — and recent Times reports from Washington indicate that the White House will make this a pillar of its new policy — is that Mr. Karzai will be held by the western allies, henceforth, to far stricter performance standards; and that part of that will entail ridding his government of the most egregious practitioners of corruption and incompetence. Ahmed Wali Karzai, surely, will be high on that list.

Another point that emerges from the comments that have flowed in on this subject is that America has a bleak record, going back to the Soviet invasion in 1979, of choosing dubious allies in Afghanistan. Norman Markowitz writes that the C.I.A, under President Reagan in the 1980’s, adopted in Afghanistan the approach it had followed for many years in other poor countries, funding “all kinds of military and political leaders who would do its bidding with no interest in what their policies meant to the people in those countries.” Wahed, an Afghan from Kandahar, says in another comment, again referring to the mujahideen allies backed by the C.I.A. during the years when it was funneling billions of dollars into the insurgent struggle to rid Afghanistan of its Soviet occupiers — backing the men who rose to power in Kabul after the collapse of the Najibullah government the Soviets left behind when they withdrew in 1989 — that “we allied ourselves with such notorious thugs that their atrocities and misrule helped Taliban to come to power in the first place.” Another contributor, David, writing as I guess from the United States, recalls attending a recent speech by a young Afghan woman named Zoya, in which she spoke of the U.S. military’s “preference for working with the warlords, whom she rightly identified as mass-murderers, torturers, and equal to the Taliban from the perspective of citizens like her.”

It is an indictment that carries a good measure of weight with anybody who has had personal experience of Afghanistan in the past 30 years. The story of the 1980s and 1990s is too well rehearsed to bear repeating, but you did not have to be communist fellow-traveler — and I was not, having reported for the Times from Moscow in the Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko years, the period of the Soviet military build-up in Afghanistan — to conclude that the mujahideen leaders we chose to arm and finance were in many ways as reprehensible as the puppet leaders installed in Kabul by the Kremlin, in some ways more so. The mujahideen leader who stood head and shoulders above the others, by his moral disposition as well as his military prowess, was the Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, “the Lion of the Panjshir,” who was largely overlooked by the C.I.A. and its Pakistani agent, the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which channelled most of the $10-bllion in aid that flowed to the insurgents. The most favored of the ISI’s clients was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a murderous thug who cut his political teeth in the pre-Soviet period, so many Afghans said, by throwing acid in the face of women on the Kabul university campus who left their heads uncovered. Later, in the early 1990s, Mr. Hekmatyar served briefly as prime minister in Kabul, before quitting the government and ordering his forces, using weapons originally supplied to them by the ISI, to reduce much of Kabul to rubble. At a news conference in Kabul one day, I asked him if the acid-throwing stories were true. He stopped me afterward as I headed for the door. “You want to know if I am a murderer,” he said, inviting me for a cup of green tea. I did, and recall with a chill, even now, how he sat across the table from me, jocular, as he assured me of his uncompromised civility. Now, he is back in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, an ally of the extremist Taliban, and still sowing terror. It would be instructive to learn from the Americans who thought him a worthy ally in the 1980s what they make of him now.

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