It looks like the lid is about to blow in Afghanistan. The riots over the latest episode of Koran burning–stoked, not banked by Obama’s obsequious apology–are getting all the coverage. But the most important–by far–development is the murder of two American officers, a major and lieutenant colonel inside a secure area of the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The media coverage is portraying this as just a part of the explosion of medieval rage in Afghanistan, but the details suggest something more planned-and sinister:
An Afghan security source said the American officers killed on Saturday had been found dead with gunshot wounds deep inside the heavily fortified Interior Ministry.
“There is CCTV (closed-circuit television) there and special locks. The killer would have had to have the highest security (clearance) to get to the room where they were killed,” the source told Reuters.
Afghan authorities said on Sunday they believe an Afghan police intelligence officer may have been involved in the shooting deaths of two U.S. officers inside the interior ministry a day earlier, prompting NATO to recall all its staff from ministries.
Abdul Saboor, 25, is the main suspect in the killing, which took place at close range well inside the heavily fortified ministry in the centre of the capital, Kabul, senior security sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“Abdul Saboor is at large right now. He is the main suspect for us but we can not draw any conclusions over whether or not he is the killer,” one of the sources said, adding that CCTV footage shows that Saboor had access to the Command and Control Centre where the slain Americans were found.
That last connection seems extremely weak: CCTV shows he had access, but when? Does CCTV show him entering or leaving at the time of the slayings?
He had served in several Afghan ministries and had worked at the interior ministry for some time, with responsibilities for security arrangements and access to top level intelligence briefings and secure radio communication channels.
Yes, this may be a case of autojihad syndrome, detonated by the Koran burnings, but the targets, the location, and the background of the possible perpetrator suggest something more. This guy was not an ignorant hothead from the sticks. Or at least one should hope that such types are not given responsibilities for security arrangements, etc.
The jobs of the killed Americans has not been disclosed, which is interesting in itself. One reasonable possibility is that they were counterintelligence specialists. Afghan security forces are riddled with Taliban sympathizers/operatives-and Pakistani ISI agents, and Americans responsible for identifying them and rooting them out would be prime targets. The riots would provide background noise that would be quite useful in obscuring the motive for the murder.
And even the riots themselves cannot be viewed as purely spontaneous reactions to an outrage against local religious sensibilities. There is a war in the shadows in Afghanistan. Karzai and his family are corrupt to the core, and deeply enmeshed with Pakistan, and in particular Pakistani intelligence. Karzai resents US/NATO anti-corruption and anti-drug efforts, which strike very close to home. The ISI is hell-bent–as it has been for decades–in securing control over Pakistan and getting the Americans out. The Taliban are its creation and its creature. The US/NATO commitment to Afghanistan is equivocal at best. Obama has made it clear that he has no stomach for the conflict, and is looking for a way out. The Koran burnings provide a perfect pretext for unleashing violent protests that will push a wavering Obama and NATO closer to the exits. Killing Americans in a secure location-even if these individuals were not targeted specifically based on their jobs and expertise-would only intensify the push.
NATO is responding in a way that probably delights Karzai and the ISI: they are withdrawing all personnel from Afghan ministries.
The whole way this is being handled in the media is extremely annoying. The entire herd is running with the outraged Islamic sensibilities theme, and refusing to entertain the very real possibility-certainty, in my mind-that these sensitivities are being manipulated and stirred up by Karzai and the ISI as part of a war against NATO and the US. In so doing, they are obscuring the real issues and choices facing the US and NATO.
The administration response, notably the aforementioned obsequious apology delivered by the president personally, only helps cement that narrative. (Which could well suit Obama just fine, given his evident preference to bug out.)
The contrast between Obama’s personal apology for the burnings, and the more diffident and muted response to the murder of two people he commands is quite stunning. The most stern criticism of the killings was delivered by the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen. The Pentagon was highly critical. But Obama’s response was limited to expressing condolences to Allen, and his flack Jay Carney praised Karzai for his efforts to maintain calm in Afghanistan. (Gag me.)
Two things about this. The first is the signal it sends to Karzai, the ISI, etc. It signals weakness. That Obama is definitely not of the better to be feared than loved school. Which is only an invitation to further, more bold actions.
The second is the signal it sends to the US military. He hung them out to dry in his rush to make a public apology and to promise that those responsible would be held accountable, an apology that ignored key facts in what led up to the burnings-which if anything only validated the motives of the rioters. The complete lack of any presidential outrage at the assassination of two men under his command, and the buttering up of the already slippery Karzai, hardly sends the message “I’ve got your backs and I’ll stand up for you.” Loyalty has to run both ways, and I am sure that there is considerable dismay and disgust within the military at the perfunctory, almost blasé, presidential reaction to the murder of two men doing their duty under his command. Maybe we just have to wait until he has another opportunity to give a shout out to Dr. Joe Medicine Crow.
The end game is approaching in Afghanistan. It may not end with helicopters taking out personnel from the American embassy in Kabul, but an ignominious end is looking more likely by the day.