The outlook for the Afghan War took a blow today with revelations that the CIA has been paying Ahmed Wali Karzai for intelligence, introductions, and the use of his land. Karzai is the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and purported to be a major player in the Afghan drug trade that funds the Taliban insurgency. Afghan commentators and experts today bemoaned the CIA's funding of Ahmed Wali Karzai, which would seem to indirectly fund the Taliban and put the intelligence agency at cross-purposes with the U.S. military. Due to the Taliban's resurgence, the United States has experienced its deadliest month of fighting since the war began with 54 casualties this month and 906 overall. It would be easy, then, to react with shock and rage at the CIA's actions. But Spencer Ackerman, an indispensable source of analysis on the war, explains why we shouldn't be so surprised:

Remember how the United States entered Afghanistan in 2001. It wasn’t with infantry and air strikes. It was with CIA operatives meeting with Northern Alliance commanders and warlords, bearing briefcases and duffel bags full of cash to rent their allegiance for a strike down into Kabul and Kandahar to dislodge the Taliban. And, at the time, it was viewed as a fantastic success: the Taliban essentially had its back broken at Mazar-e-Sharif in November, and by December, the U.S. and its allies had installed Hamid Karzai as interim president.

But once you start paying warlords with dubious human rights records, it can be very difficult to cut off or phase out the payments, particularly when the political structure necessary to keep the Afghan governance enterprise that supports the U.S. presence in business is essentially held together with baling wire.

As Ackerman notes, this reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai is the result of Bush-era policy, which called for limited counterterrorism in Afghanistan and a big military commitment in Iraq. But now that President Obama has adopted a heavier counterinsurgency role in Afghanistan, the legacy of President Bush's policies are causing trouble. "When the Obama administration says that it inherited an absolute mess from its predecessor, perhaps this might be an element of what it means," Ackerman writes.