Conspiracy theories abound over US role in Kandahar police chief’s killing
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2018
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A popular police chief’s killing last week by the Taliban has led some Kandahari citizens to direct their grief and anger in an odd direction: toward the United States.
Although the Taliban claimed responsibility for last week’s attack that killed both police chief Gen. Abdul Raziq and the provincial intelligence chief, while wounding a top U.S. general, multiple Kandaharis who spoke with Stars and Stripes in the provincial capital believe the U.S. military was the mastermind.
Local security officials blame the Taliban and neighboring Pakistan for pushing the rumor, adding to the security challenges caused by Raziq’s killing in one of the most strategically important provinces in the country.
Conspiracy theories are common in Afghanistan, which has been at war since the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s and where reliable media is unavailable in much of the country. The U.S. often bears the brunt of those theories, which center around what some Afghans say is an intentional failure to deal with the insurgency.
“I think (the attack) was done by Miller and the U.S.,” said Kandahar resident Bakhtawar Khan, 24, referring to Gen. Scott Miller, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Shooting broke out after a meeting on Oct. 18 attended by Miller, Raziq and other top officials at the Kandahar governor’s compound. Miller was uninjured, but Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley, commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, was wounded.
“Why was Gen. Raziq killed, but Miller was saved and not even injured? It’s a big question,” Khan said at Raziq’s grave, which was adorned with red Persian carpets and Afghan flags.
Women in burqas with their heads lowered and men reading Islamic texts have been a constant presence around the grave in the municipal cemetery, since the chief’s burial Oct. 19.
Sabir Safri, 21, who visited on Thursday evening, said most of his friends and family were convinced the Americans rather than the Taliban was responsible for Raziq’s murder.
“Raziq was so important for us,” he said. “Other provinces always see violence, but here we had peace because of him. Now, people want to keep their distance from the U.S. military.”
NATO’s Resolute Support mission has branded the accusations of U.S. involvement “baseless.”
Kandahar residents say they have seen inflammatory calls for anti-U.S. protests on social media and that these may happen after the official mourning period ends and parliamentary elections begin Saturday.
Although he often clashed with the government in Kabul and was accused of various human rights violations, Raziq was popular among many Afghans for his harsh opposition to the Taliban.
The New York Times reported this week that a suspected insider attack in western Herat province Monday that left a Czech servicemember dead may have been caused by an Afghan soldier who was angered by rumors linking Raziq’s killing to international forces.
U.S. and international forces suspended most face-to-face contacts with their Afghan counterparts following the incident, describing the adjustment as “standard practice” following such an attack.
“We have not stopped operations but conduct them from a distance, in particular through phone and email,” said Col. Knut Peters, spokesman for the NATO-led mission.
Analysts who spoke to Stars and Stripes after Raziq’s death said insurgents would likely start attacking districts the chief’s forces had previously secured and that warlords and other local strongmen could become more active in the province. They also said neighboring Pakistan would likely try to meddle.
Kandahar police spokesman Zia Durrani believes the rumors that the U.S. military organized Raziq’s killing are just that.
“In this situation the enemy is working on the peoples’ minds, they want to convince them that the U.S. did this, but, of course the U.S. did not,” Durrani said. “This is the Taliban and the ISI playing games,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s intelligence service.
The first major disruption caused by last week’s attack that killed Raziq was the postponement of parliamentary elections in Kandahar. Officials said the one-week postponement was to allow Kandaharis time to mourn and was not due to security concerns.
“The people now are ready to vote,” Nematullah Habib, the head of the Independent Election Commission in Kandahar, said on Friday. Outside his office, boys were loading polling supplies on to large trucks that would deliver them to polling centers.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the ballot and there has been a strong police and military presence in the city in recent days.
“We have adjusted security plans because of intelligence reports,” Durrani said, without providing any details. “They want to attack elections sites and we will be ready for that.”
At a junkyard in eastern Kandahar, Zabihullah, 22, who like many Afghans only goes by one name, said he wasn’t concerned about Kandahar’s security situation.
What was really important to him was confirming who killed Raziq. It’s possible the U.S. was responsible, he said, and if so, they should be brought to justice. His group of friends nodded in agreement.
“The death of Gen. Raziq made us all unhappy,” Zabihullah said. “I don’t know who exactly carried out the attack, but it was definitely an enemy of Afghanistan.”