U.S. Special Forces A-team captain
Hamid Karzai himself didn't want to be known as a warrior. He wanted to be
known as somebody who was leading the people in an uprising against an
unpopular government. Not only was it an unpopular government, but it was an
illegitimate government supported by non-Afghanis, taking horrible actions
against the people. So his focus was more of, "Let's assist the people in
rising up," as opposed to, "Let's form an army and move through Oruzgan
province, seizing ground." So the challenge that we had was ... [that] we want
people to rise up, but we also need to have a good-sized force that could
defend against the Taliban, because the people simply rising up ran the risk of
being crushed by a well-organized force. ...
Karzai had an incredibly good intelligence network through the Pashtun tribal
belt. If anything was going on, all the Pashtun tribesmen knew about it and got
word to Karzai right away. The biggest tool in his intelligence network was the
[satellite] telephone. He had them spread all over the province with key
trusted leaders. So he was able to get word right away of anything going on.
... He worked the phones constantly. I think one of the biggest concerns that
we had was just keeping the batteries powered up for him to use that telephone.
Whenever the phone rang, all of us were kind of wondering who's calling next.
Maybe it's the BBC or maybe it was another senior Taliban leader trying to
surrender. The satellite telephone was his greatest weapon. Arguably, it was
our greatest weapon in the war, especially in the Pashtun tribal belt.
At the same time he's doing that, you're also asking him for what -- extra trucks, horses?
One of Hamid Karzai's greatest challenges was he didn't have a second in
command. Part of that was by design. He was trying to gather a coalition of
Pashtun tribes. For him to designate any one of them as his second in command
would have caused a great deal of rivalry through all the relations. If he'd
picked this tribal leader, "You're my second in command," then his cousins and
brothers and so on would have all suddenly become a favored group of tribes,
which would have made these other tribes angry. So he really couldn't afford to
designate a second in command.
As a result, it was often amusing to have to watch the level of detail that
he'd be having a focus on in his daily life. He might be speaking to U.N.
representatives in one conversation on the phone. Then he'd hang up and deal
with a man from Tarin Kowt that showed up saying that he'd lost a mule and he
needed a new one. Hamid would direct, "OK, get this man a mule." ...
Was it apparent to you that that might be his future role?
As soon as we heard that we were going to be working with him, we had some
pretty good indicators of how important he was going to be. In the course of a
lot of these sat phone conversations, sitting in, him briefing me on different
things going on, both at the lower level and at the geo-political level, it was
clear that he was going to be a part of the interim government. His whole dream
was the loya jirga. That was the whole point of it all. Put down the
Taliban, have a loya jirga, and get a popular government, by the people, for
the people; democracy really. ...
Because you knew that he was an important guy for Afghanistan, for the U.S.,
did that make you more cautious? Did it change your calculation?
We [could not] operate without Hamid Karzai being in the middle of things. As
far as giving commands, he couldn't be very far removed. He had to be out
constantly, giving guidance to people. We'd be out on the street, trying to
organize a convoy to go carry out an operation, when things would get all
fouled up through a language barrier problem. I'd have to grab him, and he'd
have to come out on the street himself and start giving directions. That was a
very dangerous place for him. ... It was really an ugly situation to be in,
because on the one hand, he was so vitally important. But on the other hand, he
couldn't carry out his cause without actually being up front, doing his job of
leading his people. So I sort of had to [allay] my fears of his assassination a
lot of times, and realize that we're going to have to assume some risk here in
order to carry out our mission. We did what we could to safeguard him. ...
He had a number of bodyguards that were Pashtun fighters. We did what we could
to make sure that they were staying on task. I'd frequently walk in some
mornings, and a lot of the bodyguards would be asleep. We'd have to wake them
up. I'd have to talk to Karzai: "Look, we need to keep you alive here. We can't
make it easy for them to get you." We received very credible reports a number
of times that there were assassins sent by Taliban that were coming up to try
to get to us. ...
How did the battle [at Tarin Kowt] change Karzai's stature?
From what I could see, Karzai was always taken seriously. Before the battle, he
was speaking to the Northern Alliance. He was talking to them specifically
about, "Make sure you treat the prisoners well," and things like that. There
was a great deal of dialogue going on. So politically, he had a great deal of
In order to be a well-respected leader in that area, you need to be a good
leader, have them respect your character and your affiliations to your tribes.
They respect how you deal with people.
You also need to have some teeth to back that up. That fight in Tarin
Kowt showed that we had teeth, because we didn't do it with many guys. So
it was a huge victory with 30 Pashtuns. It really was a very big victory for
Hamid, both militarily, and also in terms of just establishing his credibility
with all the other leaders in the area that had been fighting, for decades, in
some cases. You know, Hamid Karzai was a leader to be reckoned with.
home + on the ground + assessing the campaign + with us or against us? + fighting on two fronts: a chronology
epilogue + discussion + interviews + links & readings + introduction + video + reporter's notebook
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