Afghan police chief Sarwar Jan was accused of sexually abusing teen boys on U.S. bases in Afghanistan when U.S. Marines pressed to have him removed from power in a violent district in 2010. Turns out that might only be the beginning of his crimes, though. According to new documents obtained by Foreign Policy, coalition forces also believe he extorted money from civilians, operated illegal security checkpoints and was working with the Taliban, selling the insurgent group weapons and police uniforms for cash.
The accusations are outlined in a witness statement submitted in support of Marine Maj. Jason Brezler, who faces an administrative hearing in which Marine Corps officials could toss him out of the service for warning fellow Marines about Sarwar Jan through an email on an unclassified network.
One month after Brezler sent that message to Afghanistan, Sarwar Jan's teenage servant, Aynoddin, allegedly opened fire on Marines working out in a dusty gym at Forward Operating Base Delhi in Helmand province. Staff Sgt. Scott Dickinson, Cpl. Richard Rivera and Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley - all members of a police adviser team attached to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. -- were killed in that Aug. 10, 2012 insider attack. A fourth Marine, Staff Sgt. Cody Rhode survived, but sustained five gunshot wounds.
The incident underscores the mixed allegiances and hostilities of some Afghan commanders, 12 years into the war in Afghanistan. Commanders like Sarwar Jan frequently resurface in new assignments after being drummed out of their old ones. The practice frustrates military forces advising them and jeopardizes the coalition's mission, according to a new witness statement submitted on Brezler's behalf by Paul Davies, a British civilian who worked alongside the Marines and Sarwar Jan last year in Afghanistan.
"The re-cycling of corrupt, predatory and untrustworthy (in terms of the insurgency) senior police officers is one of the most disturbing and mission-defeating aspects of the current intervention," Davies wrote in a statement dated Oct. 23 and obtained by Foreign Policy.
Sarwar Jan took command in Garmser in 2012, shocking Marines who were aware of the police commander's alleged misdeeds in another district in Helmand, Musa Qala. Sarwar Jan's alleged sales of police uniforms to the Taliban were of particular concern in light of the rash of insider attacks that killed coalition forces last year, Davies wrote. In some of those cases, insurgents dressed as Afghan forces opened fire on coalition troops.
Sarwar Jan's unsavory background is getting new attention now as Brezler, a reservist, faces an administrative hearing in November that could end his military career. A board of officers in New Orleans, the home of Marine Corps Forces Reserve, will determine whether he is guilty of "substandard performance of duty and misconduct, or moral or professional dereliction" for his unclassified email warning about Sarwar Jan, according to an Aug. 30 memo sent to Brezler by Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who leads the reserve command.
Brezler, a New York City firefighter in his civilian life, learned about Sarwar Jan while deployed as a civilian affairs officer to Musa Qala, Afghanistan, in 2009 and 2010 (They're seen together in the photograph above). Brezler and other Marines successfully forced Sarwar Jan out as the police chief there after receiving complaints about him. When Marines deployed last year sent Brezler an email asking about the police chief, he responded with a quick warning, and then realized some of the information he shared might have been classified.
Brezler has advocates both in the Marine Corps and on Capitol Hill. Several Marine generals have written letters in support of the administrative board going easy on him, and both U.S. Rep. Peter King and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have written to the Corps on his behalf. Gillibrand urged leniency for the major in an Oct. 21 letter to Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock in the Marine Corps' Senate liaison office.
"I understand that Maj. Brezler received an urgent request for information from Marines in Afghanistan," she wrote. "Maj. Brezler immediately responded with the information, which could have been used to save the lives of fellow Marines. Maj. Brezler's location in Oklahoma precluded him from access and using classified military networks for the transmission of this information in an expeditious manner. When Maj. Brezler was informed that the information he forwarded might be classified, he immediately reported the potential security breach."
The high-powered D.C. law firm Quinn Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan has taken Brezler's case on pro bono. His lawyer, Kevin Carroll, said it was well known that Sarwar Jan sexually abused the alleged shooter, and that the police chief was allowed access to the Marine base.
"There is no evidence or allegation that anyone other than security-cleared Marine officers read Brezler's email, and no sources or methods were jeopardized," Carroll said. "I have reviewed the email, and requested that the Marine Corps declassify it, because there is no information in it which, if publicly disclosed, would harm U.S national security."
A Marine Corps spokesman, Col. Francis Piccoli, said service officials will not comment further on Brezler's case because they do not want to influence administrative panel, known as a board of inquiry, or jeopardize the major's due-process rights. Mills, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Reserve, will review the board's recommendation, and then forward it to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Carroll