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Killing of 'Teflon Don' creates intelligence void

Wednesday - 7/13/2011, 7:35am  ET

AP: dccf09c1-5b9e-440c-bf28-2730d93cc79d
In this Wednesday, April 14, 2010 file photo Ahmad Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, gestures during an interview with The Associated Press in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

J.J. Green,

WASHINGTON - Ahmad Wali Karzai sat down for a private discussion with a close aide who needed his counsel. Shortly thereafter several shots rang out from behind closed doors. The aide, a trusted bodyguard who was well known in the Karzai family, had pulled the trigger.

Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was dead.

Wali Karzai lived and worked at one time in the shadow of Chicago's Wrigley Field and could purportedly charm anyone with his cosmopolitan savvy and language skills. But the same man, said to have authorized the execution of his rivals in Afghanistan, died by the same sword by which he was alleged to have lived.

"He was very charismatic and smart, had a very good personality and exerted a tremendous amount of control. He was also believed to be a guy that engages in some of the roughest tactics that a 'Teflon Don' or a John Gotti would do," says Doug Wankle, managing partner and Afghanistan country manager for the Spectre Group, a specialized security services firm.

Although he was a reputed drug trafficker, Wali Karzai was a recognized player on the Afghan stage.

"Karzai was a stalwart defender of the nation he was trying to rebuild and fought hard to root out terrorists in Afghanistan. He wasn't perfect, but in a place like Afghanistan you're not going to find too many Boy Scouts. His death is a stark reminder of the serious dangers his country faces," says a U.S. official.

Reached at his residence in Kabul, Wankle says Wali Karzai was very important to the U.S.

"It's pretty well acknowledged he was for some period of time on the CIA payroll and who knows who else is and what else he was doing. He was someone who was courted by many," Wankle says.

"Regardless of whether people liked him or trusted or didn't trust him, everybody recognized he was the guy. He was the guy that you had to get favor curried from if you were going to do anything in Kandahar. In some ways he held it together."

"In the last six months I met with him two or three times to discuss a project in support of the U.S. military in the area of Kandahar," says Wankle, who knew Wali Karzai relatively well.

"We needed his support and blessing, or at least to make sure the he didn't disapprove or get in the way."

And that is what some believe happened with the Taliban. Wali Karzai got in their way.

"I think it shows that those who have sided with the U.S. and with coalition forces now are going to be confronted with greater dangers simply for sticking their necks out on the line, for cooperating with the U.S. and coalition forces. Now all these people have targets on their heads," says Malou Innocent, foreign policy analyst with the Cato Institute.

But Wankle is not convinced the Taliban did it. He believes Wali Karzai's perceived duplicitous nature may have led to the assassination to settle an old grudge.

"I don't necessarily think they're really behind it. Certainly they have to say that (they did it), because he was the biggest thorn in their side. He was the biggest proponent of efforts against them down in the area. But the way that it happened, I doubt that the Taliban were behind it," he says.

Wankle and other experts think tribal politics may have played a role. "He was always in the midst of working with a group of elders or business men and he was always at the head of that."

In short, it was difficult to get anything done that Wali Karzai had not approved of. Wankle found him to be complex but accommodating.

"He was a little bit of everything. He was a guy that I enjoyed meeting and talking with frankly and he would take time to escort me and whoever else was there to see him into a separate room to give us some advice -- often about things you weren't looking for," Wankle says.

Innocent is not as sure that Wali Karzai's killing was not a message from the Taliban.

"It's not a coincidence that this attack took place in Kandahar, which is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban," she says.

"This is definitely meant to send a message to those people who have allied with the coalition that they might be next, no matter how high up on the totem pole they might be," she says.

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