Category Archives: Commentary

Shock & Awe: Afghan literacy program fails

Hundreds of billions were spent on an Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police that will disintegrate without U.S. support.  Renewable energy was another money pit.  And still there were all those wasted driving lessons.  Yet someone thought that spending hundreds of millions on literacy would teach grown men to read in a country that doesn’t have a unified language or culture.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported the failure of the literacy program in their most recent report.  Since 2008, SIGAR has been swooping in like a vulture to investigate the use of “relief funding” in Afghanistan and recording their findings in reports that had less readership than the Dari version of Bill Press’s last book.

For anyone with half a brain, it is no surprise that After $200 Million, Afghan Soldiers Still Can’t Read.  Given that success in Afghanistan has been linked to literacy (see pp. 54-55 of DoD’s 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan) this does not bode well.

But there is hope.  On the eve of our surrender, SIGAR recommends:

  1. Establishing program goals that are reasonable given the time frames involved and ensure that progress toward achieving these goals is measurable.
  2. Revising the acquisition approach to include requirements for verification of students’ language capabilities and tracking of literacy levels.
  3. Limiting, to the extent practicable, the number of classes offered at training locations that cannot be inspected.
  4. Enhancing oversight of the new quality assurance contractor’s performance.
  5. Modifying the contracts to better define requirements for classes.
  6. Developing and implementing—by April 30, 2014—a formal transition and sustainment strategy for the literacy training program.

What couldn’t be done in several years will surely be completed now that SIGAR has identified the problem.  If only someone  would (or could) read the report.

Hat tip: Bob Roughsedge

We have met the enemy and he is insensitive

The U.S. Army believes that the U.S. military’s insensitivity is a reason why terrorists are killing us in Afghanistan.  More specifically, the Breitbart story “New Army Handbook: ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Lack of Empathy’ cause of U.S. Deaths” says a draft army handbook attributes the rise in Green-on-Blue deaths to our ignorance and/or lack of empathy for Afghans.

Confused yet?

Hello?  We’re spending BILLIONS in Afghanistan and giving THOUSANDS of lives and our own military thinks we are insensitive? 

This clearly reflects the intrusion of politics into our modern military–a shame and disgrace but a harbinger of things to come for new recruits.  Fortunately, the Breitbart article implies that the handbook should never see the light of day. 

But with kooks in Congress like Senator “we’ve got to eliminate the rich” Frank Lautenberg saying things like “[Republicans in Congress] don’t deserve the freedoms that are in the Constitution,” our military will be even more politicized and the “blame us first” mentality is not the last we’ll see of politics in uniform.

On a positive note, more homosexuals in the military should improve our sensitivity.

Picture of Afghanistan post-2014 not pretty

In August 2012, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the liberal Brookings Institution gave testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, documented in Afghan National Security Forces: Afghan Corruption and the Development of an Effective Fighting Force

Even though this may be the current regime’s think-tank, Felbab-Brown gives quite an indictment of the Obama policy and her expert opinion painted a bleak picture for the future.  Some excerpts follow:

Despite the substantial improvements of Afghan security forces, few Afghans believe that a better future is on the horizon after 2014.

[Afghans] are profoundly dissatisfied with Kabul’s inability and unwillingness to provide basic public services and with the widespread corruption of the power elites. Afghan citizens intensely resent the abuse of power, impunity, and lack of justice that have become entrenched over the past decade. During that period of the initial post-Taliban hope and promise, governance in Afghanistan became defined by weakly functioning state institutions unable and unwilling to uniformly enforce laws and policies. Official and unofficial powerbrokers have issued exceptions from law enforcement to their networks of clients, who have thus been able to reap high economic benefits, and can get away even with major crimes. Murder, extortion, and land theft have gone unpunished, often perpetrated by those in the government. At the same time, access to jobs, promotions, and economic rents has depended on being on good terms with the local strongman, instead of merit and hard work.

Yet as the decade comes to a close, the political patronage networks too have been shrinking and becoming more exclusionary. Local government officials have had only a limited capacity and motivation to redress the broader governance deficiencies. The level of inter-elite infighting, much of it along ethnic and regional lines, is at a peak. The result is pervasive hedging on the part of key powerbrokers, including their resurrection of semi-clandestine or officially-sanctioned militias. Hedging against a precariously uncertain future is equally pervasive on the part of ordinary Afghans. Especially in the Pashtun areas that constitute the Taliban heartland, they will often send one son to join the ANA, and another to join the Taliban, and possibly a third son to join the local strongman’s militia, to maximize the chances of being on the winning side, whoever will control the area where they live after 2014.

The ANA appears to be increasingly weakened by corruption. This development is not new, but it may be intensifying. In some of the best kandaks, excellent soldiers are not being promoted because they do not have influential friends. Conversely, many extra positions, at the level of colonel, for example, are being created so that commanders can give payoffs to their loyal supporters. Soldiers from marginalized groups, without powerful patrons, or simply those who cannot afford to pay a bribe, are being repeatedly posted to tough environments whereas their better-positioned compatriots get cushier postings. Clamping down on such corruption is as important as increasing the ANA numbers.

The ANP has of course been notorious both for such intense ethnic factionalization, as well as for corruption. It is important that the international community continue to demand credible progress against both vices and carefully assesses whether personnel shifts are indeed motivated by efforts to reduce corruption or mask further ethnic rifts and the firing of one’s ethnic rivals.

But the ANP critically continues to lack an anti-crime capacity, and the anti-crime training it receives is minimal. Instead, the ANP is being configured as a light counterinsurgency and SWAT-like counterterrorism force. Yet, crime — murders, robberies, and extortion — are the bane of many Afghans’ daily existence. The inability of the Afghan government to respond to such crimes allows the Taliban to impose its own brutal forms of order and justice and to develop a foothold in Afghan communities. Worse yet, the ANP remains notorious for being the perpetrator of many crimes. 

The political and governance system in Afghanistan is, in fact, so pervasively corrupt and so deeply and intricately linked to key structures of power and networks of influence, that some prioritization of anti-corruption focus is required.

This all appears to be very much in line with the military thinking and there are no real surprises.  That it is public

Corruption, corruption, corruption. . .  In 2014 after 6 years of President Obama fighting the “right war,” it will still be George W. Bush’s fault.

Over 20 killed in Pakistan’s violent demonstrations

Ok, so this is mostly about Pakistan, but it illustrates the absurdity of the entire region:  Over 20 killed in Pakistan’s violent demonstrations | The AfPak Channel.

Jay Leno couldn’t put together a better gem than this. . .

Pakistan’s official “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad” turned into a day of deadly protests on Friday. . .

Doesn’t that say it all?  Yet there is more.  From the “say it ain’t so” stack. . .

A senior Chinese official, domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, made China’s first high-level visit to Afghanistan in almost 50 years on Saturday, speaking with President Hamid Karzai on a range of economic and security issues (Reuters, AJE, CNN, Tel, BBC). While in Kabul, Zhou signed a security agreement that includes a pledge to “train, fund, and equip Afghan police” among other things, as analysts say China is looking to increase its presence in Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014.

Imagine that, we borrow billions of Yen to spend billions of Dollars so the Chinese can come in and take over.  Sounds about right.

Afghan Right Data Storage

Maybe this is Ali Mohd Kamil’s* idea of a filing system.  Since sinks are the prefered bathing venue (on the rare occasion when a bath is desired), the shower is a huge waste of space. . . until now.

Plenty of surplus space. . .

According to a U.S. official that may or may not desire to remain anonymous, this is “[Afghan] Government records storage at the Ministry of Interior.”  Continuing, he says:

Yes, these are showers;
No, the water has not been turned off; and
Yes, water drips from the shower heads.

Perhaps the record of U.S. involvement can be washed from the Afghan records if not the collective memory of the residents and our economy. 

. . . but it may be tough to find that “one” document.

The U.S. has thought of other document storage options.  But for $12 Billion, you would think someone would have thought of buying a file cabinet.

*Ali Mohd Kamil is an apparent Afghan entrepreneur that has posted a couple of shameless requests for work on other pages of this site.

Breaking news: Afghan plan incoherent!

Our entire policy in Afghanistan has been inconsistent since the first troops were relieved.  Each replacement unit has attempted to recreate established plans and objectives to satisfy what they thought was the “right” way.  For starters, sample here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, herehereherehere, and here.  

“The last guy’s great idea wasn’t as good as my new great idea.”  That’s been the only consistent policy every year for the past 11 years.  As other’s have said, “We haven’t been in Afghanistan for 11 years, we’ve just completed 11 one-year deployments.”

So, over the coming years, expect to see a plethora of news articles, like the Wall Street Journal’s “Parting Gift for Afghans: A Military McMansion,” exposing waste in the wasteland of Afghanistan (check-out Firewood grows on trees if you think the “Afghan-right” solution is a panacea).

Whenever the killing of terrorists in Afghanistan was abandoned as the primary (and only objective), the waste began.  Make no mistake, any so-called “investment” in Afghanistan is a waste.  Building any modern security force, government, or infrastructure is doomed to failure for all of the reasons stated in the WSJ article–and then some.

But the ignorance of those commenting on the article is disarming.  While the overall total spent on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is significantly higher, thinking the +/-$12 Billion spent on facilities would somehow alleviate our domestic spending problem is insane. 

REALITY  CHECK:  If we never spent a dime on infrastructure for the ANSF, it would pay-off 25.9 HOURS’ worth of the 2012 year-to-date U.S. budget deficit ($845 Billion as reported by The Hill)!

While we should leave Afghanistan lock, stock, and barrel (except for perhaps some special forces), leaving is hardly a panacea for our spending problem and it will hardly be a cure for the politically-driven agenda that has become the United States’ Afghanistan policy.

Well, at least we’ll get an “A” for effort.  That and another $16 Trillion will pay-off our spending problem.

Truth, lies and Afghanistan

Armed Forces Journal publishes another reality-check for the war (or whatever we are doing) in Afghanistan.  LTC Daniel L. Davis writes the latest feature, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down.”

There are plenty of good news stories in Afghanistan but even the PAO’s best efforts can’t keep up with the bad-news stories.  LTC Davis sobers up the most optimistic American by reviewing conditions on the ground 10 years after our war in Afghanistan started.  First hand accounts demonstrate that the Afghans are far from taking over security in any meaningful way but one wouldn’t know any better from the open-source reporting.

Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies is quoted by Davis with the following: 

Since June 2010, the unclassified reporting the U.S. does provide has steadily shrunk in content, effectively ‘spinning’ the road to victory by eliminating content that illustrates the full-scale of the challenges ahead. They also, however, were driven by political decisions to ignore or understate Taliban and insurgent gains from 2002 to 2009, to ignore the problems caused by weak and corrupt Afghan governance, to understate the risks posed by sanctuaries in Pakistan, and to ‘spin’ the value of tactical ISAF victories while ignoring the steady growth of Taliban influence and control.

Politics theoretically stop at the water’s edge.  Clearly politics is driving how and why we continue in Afghanistan.  Certainly there are other factors at play such as our ability to keep Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan long after we “leave.”  But, as asked by Davis, at what price?  Is the full price even recognized?  Put yourself in the shoes of this officer’s shoes:  “How do I look [my soldier’s] wife in the eye when I get back and tell her that her husband died for something meaningful? How do I do that?”

The Afghans recognize the price that will be paid and are taking action.  From one advisor, “Already all across this region [many elements of] the security forces have made deals with the Taliban.  [The ANSF] won’t shoot at the Taliban, and the Taliban won’t shoot them.”  For those that can’t flee the country, survival takes on many different forms.  Is anyone surprised by the self-preservation? 

Davis completes his essay with the following:

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be.  U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose.  That is the very essence of civilian control of the military.  The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years.  Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

Generals will be quick to point out, “Hope is not a plan.”  If so, why is it the only logical thing that explains the current conditions?