The CIA appears to have played a key role in the rise to power of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, according to a new publication in the Netherlands. After the events of 9/11, Hamid Karzai entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in the first week of October on a motorcycle and headed for Uruzgan province, where many of his supporters of the Popolzai tribe lived. Dutch journalist Bette Dam reveals in her book ‘Expedition Uruzgan’* that Karzai’s ‘luggage’ included a satellite phone and a large sum of money provided by the CIA. Karzai and a small group of armed supporters moved to the hamlet of Durji, to the Northwest of the provincial capital Tarin Kowt. Karzai had described Uruzgan province as a pivotal stronghold. But so it was for the Taliban.
The ruling Taliban soon got word of Hamid Karzai’s whereabouts. According to Ms. Dam, the CIA subsequently organised an emergency evacuation operation by helicopter and flew the future president to the safety of Jacobabad Airbase in Pakistan.
A second infiltration by Karzai was, however, more successful, Bette Dam writes. Returning to Durji, he this time had the support of a 12-men team (ODA-574) of US Special Forces and a CIA team of some six men, presumably of the covert ‘Special Activities Division‘. The book identifies the leader of the team as ‘Graig’, includes a picture of ‘Graig’ and Karzai, and describes in detail the contacts between Hamid Karzai, Washington, and the CIA station in Islamabad (Pakistan) prior and during the uprising.
Tarin Kowt itself revolted against the Taliban; a large counter-offensive by the Taliban was stopped dead in its tracks by air support called in by ODA-574, led by (then) Captain Jason Amerine. The uprising then quickly spread throughout southern Afghanistan, leading to the fall of Kandahar City, the last remaining stronghold of the Taliban.
By late November, key leaders of Afghanistan met near Bonn (Germany) and decided, according to Ms. Dam “under strong pressure from the US”, to appoint Hamid Karzai as interim president of the country. He participated in the meeting via his satellite telephone while still in Uruzgan province. But the president’s career was almost and prematurely finished on December 5th, when a US bomber erroneously dropped a 2,000lbs guided bomb on ‘friendly’ positions north of Kandahar, killing three Green Berets (including two members of ODA-574) and numerous Afghan fighters. Karzai escaped death and was only slightly injured.
The publication of the book comes as Afghanistan is preparing for the August 20th presidential and provincial elections, but Bette Dam says the timing of publication is unrelated to that event. “I wanted to publish it much earlier, but in order to really understand the complexity of Afghanistan, it took much more time”, Ms. Dam says. She also rejects the view that Hamid Karzai is a ‘puppet of America’ who was ‘appointed by the CIA’.
“After 9/11 there were many unknowns for the US in Afghanistan. I am convinced that Hamid Karzai had good contacts with the CIA, he himself admitted that. But when he began his uprising in Uruzgan, the CIA wasn’t sure yet about his political future. It wasn’t clear until early November, when Kabul fell, that the Americans wanted him to be the future president” , Bette Dam says.
‘Expedition Uruzgan’ is based on 145 interviews conducted in Afghanistan and elsewhere with President Karzai, his key supporters and opponents, Taliban and former Taliban officials, powerful tribal leaders, the commanding officer of ODA-574, and other Western sources who were involved at the time .
Bette Dam is a freelance journalist and political analyst. Before Afghanistan, she worked in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. She currently is employed by Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the Dutch international broadcasting station.
* ‘Expeditie Uruzgan – de weg van Hamid Karzai naar het paleis‘. Author: Bette Dam. 204 pages, ‘De Arbeiderspers’, Amsterdam, August 2009. ISBN/ISBN13: 9789029567213. Voor een Nederlandstalige recensie klik hier.
(picture: Hamid Karzai amidst the soldiers of ODA-574. Courtesy Major Jason Amerine)
(The hamlet of Durji, located between Tarin Kowt and Deh Rawod. Map: UN)
PBS Frontline: interviews with President Karzai and Major Jason Amerine, 2002
The Battle of Tarin Kowt, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 2006
Behind the Walls of Tarin Kowt, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 2008
Shouting matches in the palace, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 2009