Provincial Reconstruction Teams
On the morning of December 31, I listened in disbelief as an NPR “terrorism” expert disingenuously explained how the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan the day before was especially hideous, because the CIA victims were spreading economic development and democracy through a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). CIA Director Lou Panetta issued a statement saying, “Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism.” President Obama likewise glorified the CIA officers, calling them “part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life.”
On New Year’s Day, Washington Post staff writers Joby Warrick and Pamela Constable began to fill in some of the blanks that the initial propaganda had ignored. Warrick and Constable reported that the seven CIA officers were “at the heart of a covert program overseeing strikes by the agency’s remote-controlled aircraft along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”
In the past year, those strikes have killed more than 300 people (perhaps as many as 700) who are invariably described by the U.S. news media as suspected insurgents, or militants, or terrorists, or jihadists—or as collateral damage, people killed by accident. There is never any distinction made between Afghan nationalists fighting the U.S. occupation of their country and real terrorists who have inflicted intentional violence against civilians to achieve a political objective (the classic definition of terrorism).
Likewise, the U.S. news media describes the Dec. 30 attack on the CIA officers as “terrorism,” although it doesn’t fit the definition since the CIA officers were engaged in military operations and thus represented a legitimate target under the law of war, certainly as much so as Taliban commanders far from the front lines.
One such commander, Jalaluddin Haggani, was said to have ordered the suicide attack from his base in North Waziristan in retaliation for drone strikes on his forces. Haggani, a former CIA ally during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, also has close ties to Pakistani intelligence. Curiously, the bomb used in the suicide attack has been linked to the Pakistani intelligence service. It is unclear, however, if Haggani arranged for the bomb to be delivered to suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian agent whom the CIA summoned in the belief that he had information as to the whereabouts of a top Al Qaeda official.
What is clear is that Al-Balawi sacrificed his life to help drive Americans from Islamic nations like Afghanistan, where they cause so much death and misery. The mainstream media describes people like Al-Balawi as irrational “jihadists” with no appreciation for the fact that Americans are merely “defending” their “interests” in the region. In the broadest sense, Al-Balawi’s suicide attack could be seen as retaliation for the murder of thousands of innocent Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, including ten civilians in Ghazi Khan Village in Narang district of the eastern Afghan province of Kunar. The ten civilians were executed during a midnight raid just days before, on December 27, by what NATO called “non-military” (meaning CIA) commandos.
CIA commandos, often Green Berets and Navy SEALs hired into the CIA’s Special Activities Division, do not wear uniforms, in violation of international rules of land warfare. Instead they grow long beards and wear traditional Afghan garb and appear to be civilians. During the post-9/11 “global war on terror,” these teams have engaged in widespread kidnappings and executions. Such CIA commandos are like a U.S. version of Einsatzgruppen, the notorious Nazi death squads that hunted and terrorized partisans in the Russian countryside in World War Two. Other CIA commandos function like the Gestapo, terrorizing the resistance cells in urban areas. In both cases, their mission is to terrorize the civilian population into submission.
NATO spokespeople initially labeled the ten victims in Ghazi Khan as “insurgents” belonging to a “terrorist” cell that manufactured improvised explosive devices used to kill occupation troops and civilians. But later reports from Afghan government investigators and townspeople identified the dead as civilians, including eight students, aged 11 to 17, enrolled in local schools. All but one of the dead came from the same family.
According to a December 31 article published by the Times of London, the commandos flew by helicopter from Kabul, landing about two kilometers from the village. The assassins snuck up to the residence, taking the inhabitants by surprise as they slept. They entered the first room and shot two of their victims—a guest and a student—then entered the second room and handcuffed seven other students, whom they executed in cold blood. When the farmer with whom the students were staying heard the shooting and came outside, the commandos killed him too.
Protests over the killings erupted throughout Kunar Province, where the deaths occurred, as well as in Kabul. Hundreds of protesters demanded that American occupation forces leave the country, and that the murderers be brought to justice. A NATO spokesperson claimed there was “no direct evidence to substantiate” the claims of premeditated murder. And yet, the record of American forces engaging the first degree murder of unarmed people in Afghanistan and Iraq is a long one, with testimony about premeditated executions even emerging in U.S. military disciplinary hearings.
As noted, dressing like the enemy is a war crime, as is murdering innocent civilians. But for these types of psychological warfare operations the CIA relies on its assets in the mainstream media to maintain its plausible deniability in “counter-terror” operations where civilians, even children, are deliberately targeted as a mean of terrorizing the locals into submission. Nevertheless the UN has stated that its investigation of the murder of the eight children continues, and it has invited the input of the Afghan government and occupation forces.
For their part, Afghan patriots are planning to avenge the first degree murder of their children by CIA terrorists. The CIA, in turn, has publicly vowed to avenge the murder of its colleagues—including the base chief, a mother of three young children. This ratcheting up of the cycle of violence serves the CIA’s imperial interests, insofar as it can now increase the scope of its unilateral operations. Indeed, in response to the hostile public and official reaction by Afghans, the CIA barricaded itself inside its compound at Forward Operating Base (AKA Firebase) Chapman. For days after the suicide attack, all Afghan employees were locked inside the base and questioned. Those who worked with the CIA on the outside were locked out.
Afghan officials in the U.S.-backed government knew little about CIA operations at FOB Chapman to begin with, but now, as mutual mistrust reaches unprecedented levels, the war has entered a new, bloodier phase reminiscent of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams
Recent events are instructive in explaining how CIA covert operations, including psywar and terrorism, are conducted in concert with the mainstream media. Few Americans were, or are, aware that FOB Chapman was officially a base camp for “civilians” involved in reconstruction. Americans, however, thanks to the efforts of the mainstream media, were the only ones in the dark. Local Afghans knew full well that Chapman was a CIA base and that “reconstruction” was a cover for coordinating drone attacks. But insofar as it is a forward base, Chapman focuses on paramilitary terror operations, using the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) as cover.
The PRT is one of the primary means of gathering intelligence for these drone strikes and terror operations, collecting data from informants, secret agents, and field interrogations. Complicating the CIA’s mission is the fact that its presence is well known, unwanted, and that the resistance has successfully infiltrated the ranks of the various entities the CIA has created, funded, and staffed with collaborators. Given their elevated status and class prerogatives, CIA officers do not perform menial tasks, which allows Afghan-resistance “double-agents” to pose as chauffeurs, cleaning staff, and security guards outside CIA installations.
Agents of the resistance are certainly present also in the CIA’s Provincial Reconstruction Team, which are composed of both U.S. and Afghan soldiers and civilians. The PRTs have been a unilateral CIA operation since they were instituted in Afghanistan in 2002 under the imprimatur of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. They are a foundation stone of the CIA’s secret government in Afghanistan, though the suicide bombing has cast doubt on the integrity of the intelligence the CIA uses to mount it psywar and paramilitary terror operations.
The PRTs provide CIA “agents”—often Afghans working in the PRTs—with a covert way to gather intelligence from their sub-agents in the field. CIA officers run “agents” in the field and these Afghan agents in turn run “sub-agents”—people in villages like Ghazi who spy on other people in the villages. Sometimes the CIA members of the PRT can handle this “sub-agent” contact function, if they speak the language, but they most often rely on interpreters. They also rely on Afghans to determine if the intelligence given about “suspects” in a particular village is reliable. If a “sub-agent” or “agent” is a double, the PRTs assassination unit can easily be misdirected.
The main focus of the intelligence gathering is to identify members of the Taliban “infrastructure.” The sub-agent tells the agent where the suspect lives in the village, how many people are in his house, where they sleep, and when they enter and leave. He also provides a picture, so the PRT’s hit team can go out and snatch or snuff the guy. Other times an agent will attempt to blackmail the suspect into becoming an agent, if there is reason to believe that is possible.
The Taliban are well aware of this and try to infiltrate the PRTs. That’s the spy game that goes on in the villages of Afghanistan—a game the CIA is not very good at playing. As noted, the CIA officers killed at FOB Chapman were involved with the local PRT, ostensibly, as broadcast by NPR, in spreading economic development and democracy. But the CIA is not a social welfare program. Its job is gathering intelligence and using it to capture, kill, or turn the enemy into agents. Provincial Reconstruction Teams are one means the CIA uses to achieve these goals—but only as long as it can plausibly deny that it does so. Thus, the two main purposes of PRTs are (1) maintaining the fiction that the U.S. is a force for positive change and (2) providing the CIA with cover for its deadly and dirty business.
As even the Afghan army turns against the U.S., recruiting reliable collaborators into unilateral CIA entities like the PRTs (and “community defense forces” formed by PRTs) becomes an urgent necessity. And, as the CIA abandons its efforts to recruit patriotic Afghans or religiously devout Muslims, the PRTs are increasingly staffed by criminals and sociopaths who have no compunctions about pursing unilateral CIA policies and goals that are antithetical to Afghanistan’s national interests.
The Origins of PRTs in Vietnam
In the early 1960s in South Vietnam, the CIA developed the programs that would eventually, in 1965, be grouped within its Revolutionary Development Teams, as part of the Revolutionary Development Program. The standard Revolutionary Development Team was composed of North Vietnamese defectors and South Vietnamese collaborators advised by U.S. military and civilian personnel, under the management of the CIA.
From left to right: Buzz Johnson, Val Vahovich, Frank Scotton, and Joe Vaccaro
The original model, known as a Political Action Team (PAT), was developed by CIA officer Frank Scotton and an Australian military officer, Ian Tiege, on contract to the CIA. The original PAT consisted of 40 men. As Scotton told me, “That’s three teams of twelve men each, strictly armed. The control element was four men: a commander and his deputy, a morale officer, and a radioman. These are commando teams,” Scotton stressed, “displacement teams. The idea was to go into contested areas and spend a few nights. But it was a local responsibility so they had to do it on their own.” Scotton named his special PAT unit the Trung-doi biet kich Nham dou (people’s commando teams). “Two functions split out of this,” Scotton said. “First was pacification. Second was counter-terror.” As Scotton noted, “The PRU thing directly evolves from this.”
The PRU, for Provincial Reconnaissance Unit, was the name given in 1966 to the CIA’s counter-terror teams, which had generated a lot of negative publicity in 1965 when Ohio Senator Stephen Young charged that they disguised themselves as Vietcong and discredited the Communists by committing atrocities. “It was alleged to me that several of them executed two village leaders and raped some women,” the Herald Tribune reported Young as saying. Notably, propagandists like Mark Moyar advocate today for the expansion of PRU counter-terror teams in Afghanistan. (See Consortium News, September 17, 2009, “A Bad Lesson For Afghanistan.”)
Staffing unilateral CIA programs is a crucial element, and to this end Scotton developed a “motivational indoctrination” program, which is certainly used today in some form in Afghanistan and Iraq. Scotton’s motivational indoctrination program was modeled on Communist techniques, and the process began on a confessional basis. “On the first day,” according to Scotton, “everyone would fill out a form and write an essay on why they had joined.” The team’s morale officer “would study their answers and explain the next day why they were involved in a special unit. The instructors would lead them to stand up and talk about themselves.” The morale officer’s job, he said, “was to keep people honest and have them admit mistakes.”
Not only did Scotton co-opt Communist organizational and motivational techniques, but he also relied on Communist defectors as his cadre. “We felt ex-Vietminh had unique communication skills. They could communicate doctrine, and they were people who would shoot,” he explained, adding, “It wasn’t necessary for everyone in the unit to be ex-Vietminh, just the leadership.”
The Vietnamese officer in charge of Scotton’s PAT program, Major Nguyen Be, had been party secretary for the Ninth NLF Battalion before switching sides. In copying the Communists, Scotton was selective. “People from the other side knew the value of motivation, but they confessed too much. So we refined the technique based on what the Vietminh disliked the most: that the party set itself up as the sole authority. We didn’t have the party as number one. We had the group as the major motivational factor.”
By mid-1965 the CIA was using Be’s 59-person model as its standard team, at which point the Rural Construction Cadre program was renamed the Revolutionary Development Cadre program. With larger teams and standardization came the need for more advisers, so Thomas Donohue, the CIA officer in charge of covert action in South Vietnam, began recruiting military men. Most came from U.S. Special Forces, though the regular Army, Navy and Marines also provide support personnel as “detailees” to the CIA.
“We got to the point,” Donohue told me, “where the CIA was running a political program in a sovereign country where they didn’t know what the hell we were teaching. So I had Thieu and Ky down to Vung Tau, and I did all the right things. But what kind of program could it be that had only one sponsor, the CIA, that says it was doing good? It had to be sinister. Any red-blooded American could understand that. What the hell is the CIA doing running a program on political action? So I went out to try to get some cosponsors for the record. They weren’t easy to come by. I went to [USIS chief] Barry Zorthian. I said, ‘Barry, how about giving us someone?’ I talked to MACV about getting an officer assigned. I had AID give me a guy.” But all of it, Donohue said, “was window dressing. We [the CIA] had the funds; we had the logistics; we had the transportation.” The same can be said for the PRTs in Afghanistan and Iraq.
PRTs in Iraq
The CIA’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams started in Afghanistan in 2002 and migrated to Iraq in 2004. PRTs consist of anywhere between 50-100 civilian and military specialists. A typical PRT has a military police unit, a psychological operations unit, an explosive ordinance/ de-mining unit, an intelligence team, medics, a force protection unit, and administrative and support personnel. Like Scotton’s teams in South Vietnam, they conduct terror, as well as political and psychological operations, under cover of fostering economic development and democracy.
Few people in Iraq are fooled by the “war as economic development” shell game or by the deceitful standards the U.S. government uses to measure the success of its PRT program. In his correspondence with reporter Dahr Jamail, one Iraqi political analyst from Fallujah (a city that was destroyed in order to save it) put it succinctly: “In a country that used to feed much of Arab world, starvation is the norm” (Dahr Jamail, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq).
According to another of Jamail’s correspondents, Iraqis “are largely mute witnesses. Americans may argue among themselves about just how much ‘success’ or ‘progress’ there really is in post-surge Iraq, but it is almost invariably an argument in which Iraqis are but stick figures—or dead bodies.”
The PRTs were initiated first in Afghanistan by Ambassador Khalilzad 2002, where the CIA was in charge and the military was secondary. When Khalilzad brought the practice with him to Iraq in 2005, the U.S. military played a bigger role than the CIA and, naturally, wanted control. Khalilzad preferred fielding fewer, larger teams that remained under the CIA, and maintained their own arrangements for basing and support. President Bush touted the PRTs on January 10, 2007, concurrent with the announcement of his “surge.” In a nationally televised speech, he said 20,000 troops were being deployed, not to fight but, amazingly, to reduce violence.
The surge in troops (and violence) was coupled with a humanitarian program (the PRTs) of neighborhood reconstruction. Smaller “ePRTs” were placed inside combat brigades while more of the larger “traditional” PRTs were sent into the country. Bush had 700 reconstruction advisors in Iraq in 2008. Obama has likely increased that number, as main force units are withdrawn.
Protecting People from Knowledge of CIA Terrorism
Despite the propaganda issued by mainstream media correspondents, the CIA has long had a policy of targeting civilians not in the resistance for recruitment as agents and informants. Such civilians are, as part of U.S. policy, detained without charge and interrogated as a means of coercing information from them about the resistance. Civilians are also knowingly killed and maimed in drone attacks and intentionally killed in clandestine raids by CIA commandoes as a means of terrorizing the people from associating in any way with the resistance. Mainstream propagandists usually characterize innocent civilians as members of the enemy infrastructure and thus legitimate military targets. This big lie makes the unwitting reporters complicit in the terror they conceal.
Afghans dig graves for the victims of U.S. death squads in late December—photo from www.rawa.org
Another aspect of the dirty war you will not read about in the mainstream press is that the Afghan resistance and U.S.-Karzai puppet regime have an accommodation in which high ranking officials are off limits. The reason is simple—as soon as CIA hit teams start torturing and killing top resistance leaders, they will do the same to the Karzai people. As the suicide bombing at FOB Chapman makes clear, the resistance is upping the ante by targeting CIA officers who occupy the pinnacle of prestige and power. This escalation of the conflict follows, not coincidentally, on the heels of Obama’s announcement of a new “surge” in Afghanistan, which includes increased drone attacks as well as CIA commando operations targeting innocent women and children. As a result, the accommodation is teetering on the brink of collapse.
The exchange of British journalist Peter Moore for an Iraqi “insurgent” in CIA custody was an example of how the accommodation works in Iraq. Moore was held by a Shia group allegedly allied to Iran, and his freedom depended entirely on reaching an accommodation with the captors. The details of such prisoner exchanges are never revealed, but involve secret negotiations by the CIA and the resistance over issues of strategic importance to both sides. Realistically, it is the accommodation which paves the path for reconciliation.
Obama’s dirty war in Afghanistan relies largely on such clandestine CIA operations. Often wives and children are used as bait to trap husbands or are killed as a way of punishing men in the resistance. Its unstated object is to rip families and, beyond that, the whole fabric of Afghan society apart, until the people accept American domination. However, as a result of the accommodation among political elites, the CIA’s dirty war necessarily targets middle and lower level people—which, given the poor quality of intelligence available to counterinsurgents, is itself no easy task.
This is typical of all attempts to conquer and pacify an occupied nation, be it the Gestapo terrorizing communist resistance fighters in Paris in WWII, or the Einsatzgruppen suppressing Russians partisans outside Leningrad. Robert Slater, the head of the CIA’s Province Interrogation Center Program in Vietnam from 1967-1969, knew of no Province level VCI cadre ever being captured. District level people were sometimes captured, but were more likely killed in ambushes or raids. Mid-level cadres are rarely caught at their safe houses (because the locations are unknown), so secret agents always try to lure them to their homes. Because they are almost always caught at home (or while attending weddings or other public events), their families and friends are usually killed along with them. This makes the CIA happy, on the premise that terror will make the people submit.
All of these factors push the counter-insurgent lower and lower down the hierarchy, until largely working class, innocent civilians alone are being targeted. In Vietnam the saying was, “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
Just as the CIA hides under PRTs, it lurks behind the Karzai government, which for nearly eight years has been the public face of the CIA’s parallel political apparatus in Afghanistan. President Obama is struggling to present the Karzai government in the best terms possible, though in reality it is no different than the corrupt political apparatus the CIA built in South Vietnam, where, in 1965, General Nguyen Cao Ky sold the CIA the right to institute its Revolutionary Development Program in exchange for a lucrative drug trafficking franchise.
Likewise, the authors of a recent article for the McClatchy Newspapers noted that after U.S. militarists prevented any diplomatic solution in Afghanistan, Karzai was relieved at not having to make reforms. He even refused to send his drug dealing brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the political power in southern Kandahar province (where he sold the CIA the right to form and operate a CIA hit team), into honorable exile. This is symptomatic of secret government CIA-style. Fostering corruption is how the CIA convinces powerful figures to sell out their country. It doesn’t matter that the corruption prevents the reforms that salespeople like Obama herald as our “mission.” All that is necessary is that the façade be maintained.
In 2000 the Taliban successfully banned opium production, but since the advent of the U.S. and its Northern Alliance of warlords, opium cultivation has increased in the southern provinces “liberated from the Taliban control.” Only the Western occupiers have the planes to fly the opium and heroin to the mob that sells it on the open market, but a steady stream of American and Afghan officials, through useful idiots in the mainstream media, claim that the Taliban alone is behind the trade and profiting from it. Corruption, upon which Obama’s dirty war depends, has been guaranteed, along with the CIA’s secret government and political assassins.
The army of informants, interrogators, hit teams, and corrupt politicians allied to the U.S. understands the inherent stupidity of this strategy, but their prosperity and lives depend on U.S. patronage. So they implement policies they know are wrecking their country. As a result, the definition of “insurgent” gets skewed to mean anyone who is not allied to the U.S., and “counter-insurgency” becomes a shotgun method of population control.
Douglas Valentine is the author of five books including his latest, The Strength of the Pack: The Personalities, Politics and Espionage Intrigues That Shaped The DEA. A version of this article first appeared at www.consortiumnews.com.