Thursday Briefing: How ‘America’s Monster’ Operated in Afghanistan (2024)

America’s monster

General Abdul Raziq was one of America’s fiercest allies in the fight against the Taliban. He was young and charismatic — a courageous warrior who commanded the loyalty and respect of his men. He helped beat back the Taliban in the crucial battlefield of Kandahar, even as the insurgents advanced across Afghanistan.

But his success, until his 2018 assassination, was built on torture, extrajudicial killing and abduction. In the name of security, he transformed the Kandahar police into a combat force without constraints. His officers, who were trained, armed and paid by the U.S., took no note of human rights or due process, according to a Times investigation into thousands of cases. Most of his victims were never seen again.

Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan aimed to beat the Taliban by winning the hearts and minds of the people it was supposedly fighting for. But Raziq embodied a flaw in that plan. The Americans empowered warlords, corrupt politicians and outright criminals in the name of military expediency. It picked proxies for whom the ends often justified the means.

I’ll explain in today’s newsletter how using men like Raziq drove many Afghans toward the Taliban. And it persuaded others, including those who might have been sympathetic to U.S. goals, that the U.S.-backed central government could not be trusted to fix Afghanistan. If there was ever any chance that the U.S. could uproot the Taliban, the war strategy made it much harder.

A savage campaign

My colleague Matthieu Aikins and I have covered Afghanistan for years. After America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, we were suddenly able to visit people and places that were off-limits during the fighting. We traveled there, hoping to learn what really happened during America’s longest war.

Alongside a team of Afghan researchers, we combed through more than 50,000 handwritten complaints kept in ledgers by the former U.S.-backed government of Kandahar. In them, we found the details of almost 2,200 cases of suspected disappearances. From there, we went to hundreds of homes across Kandahar.

We tracked down nearly 1,000 people who said their loved ones had been taken or killed by government security forces. We corroborated nearly 400 cases, often with eyewitnesses to the abductions. We also substantiated their claims with Afghan police reports, affidavits and other government records they had filed. In each of the forced disappearances, the person is still missing.

Even at the time, U.S. officials grasped Raziq’s malevolence. “Sometimes we asked Raziq about incidents of alleged human rights abuses, and when we got answers we would be like, ‘Whoa, I hope we didn’t implicate ourselves in a war crime just by hearing about it,’” recalled Henry Ensher, a State Department official who held multiple posts on Afghanistan. “We knew what we were doing, but we didn’t think we had a choice,” Ensher said.

The cost

It would be too simple to say that Raziq’s tactics were entirely in vain. They worked in some respects, reasserting government control in Kandahar and pushing insurgents into the hinterlands. Raziq earned the admiration of many who opposed the Taliban. More than a dozen U.S. officials said that without him the Taliban would have advanced much faster.

But Raziq’s methods took a toll. They stirred such enmity among his victims that the Taliban turned his cruelty into a recruiting tool. Taliban officials posted videos about him on WhatsApp to attract new fighters.

Many Afghans came to revile the U.S.-backed government and everything it represented. “None of us supported the Taliban, at least not at first,” said Fazul Rahman, whose brother was abducted in front of witnesses during Raziq’s reign. “But when the government collapsed, I ran through the streets, rejoicing.”

Even some who cheered Raziq’s ruthlessness lamented the corruption and criminality he engendered — a key part of why the Afghan government collapsed in 2021. After Raziq’s death, his commanders went further. They extorted ordinary people and stole from their own men’s wages and supplies. “What they brought under the name of democracy was a system in the hands of a few mafia groups,” said one resident of Kandahar who initially supported the government. “The people came to hate democracy.”

Historians and scholars will spend years arguing whether the U.S. could have ever succeeded. The world’s wealthiest nation had invaded one of its poorest and attempted to remake it by installing a new government. Such efforts elsewhere have failed.

But U.S. mistakes — empowering ruthless killers, turning allies into enemies, enabling rampant corruption — made the loss of its longest war at least partly self-inflicted. This is a story Matthieu and I will spend the coming months telling, from across Afghanistan.

Read Azam’s investigation, and watch him explain how it came together.



The photographer Emile Ducke took this picture of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv region. One woman, looking out the window, left without her husband. “He didn’t want to leave,” she said.

Others had stuffed belongings into whatever bags they could. There was no time. Read the stories behind this image.


  • Proud “sellouts”: U.S. campuses may seem as if they’re full of idealistic activists. But many students are focused on securing a high-paying corporate job — not on protesting the war in Gaza.


How to become a vegetarian

If you’re looking to make the switch to vegetarianism or to just a more plant-forward diet, you may have questions, even concerns. We can help you get started.

Veg-ify your favorite meals: Giving up meat doesn’t mean leaving behind beloved flavors. If you love chicken Parm, opt for one made with mushroom or eggplant instead.

Don’t worry about protein. We spoke to a nutrition expert who recommended including at least one serving of a high-protein food with every meal, such as beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, seeds, tofu, eggs and dairy products.

Check out the full list of tips in our guide on how to eat vegetarian.


Cook: Broccoli doesn’t need to be boring. Read our guide to the vegetable, and make this hearty spoon salad for dinner.

Read: There’s something for everyone in Don DeLillo’s work. Here’s where to start.

Prepare: These are the first aid basics that everyone should know.

Play: Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku. Find all our games here.

P.S. New York Times Cooking will publish a cookbook, “Easy Weeknight Dinners,” this fall.

That’s it for today. See you tomorrow. — Amelia

Email us at [emailprotected].

The post Thursday Briefing: How ‘America’s Monster’ Operated in Afghanistan appeared first on New York Times.

Thursday Briefing: How ‘America’s Monster’ Operated in Afghanistan (2024)


Why did the US invade Afghanistan? ›

In 2001 an international coalition led by the USA invaded Afghanistan to destroy terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda when the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. British forces went in alongside US troops.

How many Taliban are there in 2024? ›

SizeCore strength 45,000 (2001 est.) 11,000 (2008 est.) 36,000 (2010 est.) 60,000 (2014 est.) 60,000 (2017 est. excluding 90,000 local militia and 50,000 support elements) 75,000 (2021 est.) 168,000 soldiers and 210,121 police forces and pro-Taliban militia (2024 self-claim)
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What was the outcome of the military conflict war in Afghanistan? ›

The conflict officially ended with the 2021 Taliban offensive, which overthrew the Islamic Republic, and re-established the Islamic Emirate. It was the longest war in the military history of the United States, surpassing the length of the Vietnam War (1955–1975) by approximately six months.

Who is Abdul Razik? ›

Thanks to American patronage, Raziq was promoted to police chief of Kandahar and would eventually rise to the rank of three-star general. Famous across Afghanistan, he became the country's most polarizing figure.

What is the bloodiest war? ›

World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China.

What is the longest war in the history of the US? ›

Lengths of U.S. combat forces' participation in wars
1War in Afghanistan19.9 years (19 years, 10 months)
2Vietnam War19.4 years (19 years, 5 months)
3Occupation of Haiti19 years
4Philippine–American War and Moro Rebellion14 years
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Is Afghanistan safe to visit? ›

Do not travel to Afghanistan due to terrorism, risk of wrongful detention, kidnapping and crime. Country Summary: In 2021, the Taliban took over Afghanistan and announced an “interim government” based in the capital, Kabul.

What do the Taliban believe? ›

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have a history together. Both believe that Islamic principles and religion should be spread throughout the world and that secular influences, such as those from the west, should be destroyed.

What is written on the Taliban flag? ›

The current flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is a plain white flag with the black words of the shahada in the centre. The white stands for "the (Islamic Movement of Taliban's) purity of faith and government"; the flag incorporated the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, after 1997.

How many Taliban died? ›

Map of the 2021 Taliban offensive. Taliban: Dead: 52,893+ killed (estimate, no official data).

Who defeated Afghanistan in history? ›

Afghanistan was an important crossroads, dominated by other civilizations throughout its history. By 522 BC Darius the Great extended the boundaries of the Persian Empire into most of the region that is now Afghanistan. By 330 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Persia and Afghanistan.

What happened to Afghanistan after the US left? ›

By the end of July 2021, the United States had completed nearly 95 percent of its withdrawal, leaving just 650 troops to protect the U.S. embassy in Kabul. In the summer of 2021, the Taliban continued its offensive, threatening government-controlled urban areas and seizing several border crossings.

How did Abdu Rozik become rich? ›

After failing to earn enough money from his singing skills, he decided to try his luck in wrestling. He used to wrestle with young wrestlers and gain money from there.

Who is Abdu Rozik and why is he famous? ›

Abdu Rozik Savriqul Muhammadroziqi (Tajik: Абдурахман Савриқул Муҳаммадрозиқӣ; born 3 September 2003), known professionally as Abdu Rozik is a Tajikistani singer and social media influencer.

How tall is Abdul Rozik? ›

Abdu Rozik
Occupation(s)Singer Television personality
Years active2019–present
Known forBigg Boss 16
Height94 cm (3 ft 1 in)
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Why did the US enter the war in Afghanistan? ›

To our Gold Star families: We hold your loved ones in our hearts - and we pledge to you the unwavering commitment of a grateful Nation. The United States went to Afghanistan in 2001 to wage a necessary war of self-defense. On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists attacked our country.

Why did America invade Afghanistan in 1979? ›

The dominant historical narrative surrounding US policy and actions during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) maintains that the US government launched its extensive covert operation in support of the Mujahedin (Arabic for those who wage jihad, or holy war) against the Soviet army in response to the Soviet Union's ...

Why did the US invade Iraq and Afghanistan? ›

Allegations of Iraqi support to terrorist organizations. Along with Iraq's alleged development of weapons of mass destructions, another justification for invasion was the purported link between Saddam Hussein's government and terrorist organizations, in particular al-Qaeda.

Why did the Taliban take over Afghanistan? ›

The Taliban first became prominent in 1994 and took over the Afghan capital, Kabul, in 1996. The takeover followed over 20 years of civil war and political instability. Initially, some hoped that the Taliban would provide stability to the country.

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