Tribal conflicts, made in America, by Adam Baczko & Gilles Dorronsoro (Le Monde diplomatique


The US military’s inability to verify the intelligence it received gave many Afghans a convenient way of getting rid of a troublesome cousin in an inheritance case, a neighbour in a land dispute, or a political rival. Many of those arrested or killed had nothing to do with the insurgency, which fuelled individual, family and community rivalries.

After a Taliban attack on a base in the Ganjgal valley in Kunar province, for example, the US military received a tip-off incriminating a Shinwari tribal leader, Abdul Wali. In June 2003, on the advice of provincial governor Faizal Akbar, Abdul Wali turned himself in at the US base, where he was arrested. Days later the governor discovered he had died from injuries sustained during interrogation by a CIA contractor, David Passaro. The official cause of death was a heart attack. The victim’s relatives soon found out that Abdul Wali had been denounced by Mahmoud Miran, a Salarzai commander and his personal enemy. The blood debt changed the nature of the conflict: Shinwari leaders sought revenge by denouncing Salarzai with Taliban links to the US military, and they in turn were arrested.

In 2007 a US federal court found Passaro guilty of assault and sentenced him to eight years in prison. But it was too late to transform the local dynamic. The rivalry between Wali and Miran had turned into a conflict between networks of Shinwari and Salarzai commanders, further worsening the insecurity situation in the province.

Adam Baczko &

Gilles Dorronsoro

Adam Baczko is a researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique – Centre de Recherches Internationales (CNRS-CERI), and author of La Guerre par le droit: Les tribunaux Taliban en Afghanistan (War by law: Afghanistan’s Taliban courts), CNRS Éditions, Paris, 2021; Gilles Dorronsoro is a researcher at the Centre Européen de Sociologie et de Science Politique (CESSP), Paris 1 University, and author of Le Gouvernement transnational de l’Afghanistan: Une si prévisible défaite (Afghanistan’s transnational government: such a predictable defeat), Karthala, Paris, 2021.

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