Tag Archives: Projects

Lactation and world peace linked?

This crazy headline from www.foreignpolicy.com caught my eye:  Clinton:  State drawing down in Afghanistan, building more lactation rooms in Washington.  The caption says it all regarding the State Department priorities. 

The headline wasn’t given a second thought at the time except to thing “more excess government spending.”   However, a very interesting thing caught my eye a couple of weeks later.  Perhaps these lactation rooms have some mystical power that we should have harnessed long ago–the Special Operators are apparently interested in them and planning for them at their facilities too:

Notice the label in the upper right of the site plan

Maybe the reason the Taliban is still mad at us is that we are only building for temporary lactation.  A little obtuse fun at the expense of our Afghan translators–the intended word is “location.”

But seriously–forget lasers, smart bombs, special tactics, and non-lethal weapons–maybe the Secretary of State is really on to something.  Lactation (and literacy centers) may bring the enemy to their knees.

ANDU, ADU, NMAA, ANSU. . . Let’s call the whole thing off

The following is an NTM-A version of a “snuff film” since the British Advisors prohibited its filming due to security concerns surrounding the upcoming grand opening of the “West Point” of Afghanistan (don’t worry, the film is completely G-Rated although the millions spent on British pet-projects is unfit for any audience).

Keeping a $200 million dollar project on the “down-low” is tough enough with the neighbors stealing building supplies (allah providentially providing, of course), but for the Engineers to publicly proclaim the project via YouTube is over-the-top.

Western building materials are in great supply near ANSU (or pink EIFS buildings and double-pane windows have become de rigueur)

Since the Brits refer to the site as the Afghan National Defense University (ANDU), others refer to it as Afghan Defense University (ADU), the Engineers refer to it as Afghan National Security University (ANSU), and the site will be the home of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan (NMAA), Religious and Cultural Affairs (RCA) Branch School, Legal School, and numerous other schools, the operational deception is sure to confuse anyone looking to cause trouble. . .

. . . Until now.

Life is cheap–labor is cheaper

Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”

The ant may be a good model for working hard and doing what we should be doing without needing to be told, but that doesn’t mean that the ant’s methods are the best.

No one will accuse the Afghans of being efficient.  But they do know how to get the job done (even if not to western standards).  Consider the following video recorded at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan:

These Afghan construction workers refuse to let a second floor keep them from accomplishing the mission.    The solution isn’t always the easiest but it just may be the most expedient.

Innovative?  Efficient?  Safe?  Back breaking?  You decide. 

Since it seems that one of our goals here in Afghanistan is to pump as much money into the economy, this is a most efficient way of doing it.  Unfortunately, it does little to modernize a country stuck in the Stone Age.

Maybe these guys should audition for “Afghanistan’s Got Talent.”

Renewable Energy ≠ Afghan Right

With the reconstruction of Afghanistan in progress, there are countless Good Idea Fairies circulating renewable energy as the solution to peace and harmony for Afghanistan and the Middle East at large.

Unlike the satellites that support the video phones NTM-A is buying, at least Afghans can feel the wind and see the sun, so solar and wind power would seem logical possibilities to the enthusiastic do-gooder.  Enter the solution:  a combination windmill and solar panel built within the past year.

Set against the idyllic Little Ghar, the energy farm looks like a picture of environmentally responsible modernity.  Closer inspection reveals that the solar panel is caked with dust preventing even a small amount of electrical generation.  What you cannot see is that, in spite of the breezy day, the windmill was frozen.

But someone was able to get a generator installed and running!  Afghans practice the time-honored method of break-down maintenance.  With U.S. funding, that usually means repair-by-replacement.  The one renewable energy solution the Afghans implemented themselves–other than the U.S. dollar–was working quite effectively (a formerly common American fixture–the clothes line).  In a dusty environment with equipment that requires regular attention, renewable energy is not a great solution for the technologically dearth Afghanistan.  Ultimately, Afghans resort to what they know and trust–clothes lines and generators.

Assuming a 30kw generator, the nearly $1,000,000 ‘renewable energy farm’ could have purchased enough fuel to power the generator at full load for 4 years. . . and pay for the generator!

The reality is that,  if/when Afghanistan becomes self-sufficient, their growing affluence will be able to afford and sustain advanced technologies that are better for the environment.  While academics may discount Kuznets curves (because of the belief that ‘dirty’ industries are just exported by richer countries to the poorer), as society at-large has progressed it has moved to cleaner forms of energy; free markets incentivize the reduction of waste in delivering any product, including power (at least in free-market societies), as it makes that product more affordable and attractive over a dirty, wasteful option. 

On the bright side, renewable energy does make us feel good about ourselves while enhancing a great corporate welfare program.

It ain’t easy being green.

Afghan right ceiling fans

There is a simplicity about Afghanistan that is sublime.  Ask for a ceiling fan and you get a ceiling fan:

The advanced safety features will keep the Afghans (and manatees) from hurting themselves when they try to turn it on an off.  I see an update to the MIL-SPEC coming.  Until then, there are will always be plenty of “Redneck Right” solutions.

One last problem the Rednecks can’t provide a solution for;  Someone needs to request doors f0r the shower stalls so the men can have privacy with each other.

In a sense, it’s what we do

ISAF has huge challenge building the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) while fighting a war, a COIN operation, navigating corruption, and a drug trade.  Complicating matters is that this is being done with a coalition of about 40 countries.  To quote an NTM-A alum:

An American Air Force Officer designs an Army unit that is trained by a British Armor Officer, validated with Canadian and Jordanian Officers, and later mentored in the field by Turkish Officers.

It could also be added that each of the people listed above change-out every six months so forget anyone knowing what the previous people were thinking!

This EDS commercial pretty much summarizes the task IJC and NTM-A have undertaken:

There are a few improvements that will make this commercial a truly authentic metaphor for NTM-A:

  1. The pilot continuously asks the workers to leave.
  2. The airline keeps requesting a different fleet of planes.
  3. The passengers extort money from the workers.
  4. The flight attendants steal tools and materials.
  5. The workers change-out every few weeks.
  6. The workers union requires the workers to come from different countries.
  7.  The designer changes the style aircraft every year in the following order:  Jet, Turboprop, Helicopter, Glider.
  8. The flight school insists on changing the aircraft from a Cessna 182T to an Airbus 380.
  9. The investors dump bags of money out the back of the plane.
  10. The only fuel available is nitrous oxide and a chase plane is constantly telling them to buy ethanol.
  11. The plane is taking anti-aircraft fire.
  12. Air Traffic Control redirects the plane every few hours to a different destination.
  13. No one knows what the final airplane will look like until 2014.
  14. The plane will be complete in 2014 whether or not it lands.
  15. In the final scene, the place crashes.

 In a sense, that’s EXACTLY what we do.

Can’t teach Afghans to fish without a fishery

There you go again.” –Ronald Reagan

Volumes will be written in the coming years documenting the waste in Afghanistan.  The examples continue in the Wall Street Journal report, At U.S. Base, Afghan Endgame Begins

On a recent trip outside the wire, I saw fish hanging in a Kabul shopkeeper’s window and wondered where the fish could have come from.  In a previous post, I wrongly assumed that there was no place to fish.  I simply underestimated our desire to teach them to fish!

The [172nd Infantry] brigade command has axed those [projects] deemed too complicated and time-consuming, such as building a fish hatchery.  Instead, it is trying to get some roads paved.

A fish hatchery?  In a desert?  How long did it take the brigade to determine a fishery was too complicated and time-consuming?  Maybe saner minds will prevail over slaughterhouses, media centers, and countless other good ideas.

When you are hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it feels so good when you stop. 

The fate of U.S.-provided power generators at FOB Sharana encapsulates U.S. concerns about whether Afghan forces will be able to hold their ground after the foreigners leave.

The generators often break because the Afghan operators haven’t learned to turn them on properly and keep overloading them, said engineers of the 172nd brigade. The engineers figured they have replaced at least 25 generators given to the Afghan forces since July, at a cost of $400,000 each.

“We’ve taught them the steps to turn it on, but it hasn’t stuck, and the generators, air conditioners, all of that will break,” said Capt. Mike Merseburg.

“The answer for them has always been,’Well, give me a new one,'” said another engineer, Capt. Adrian Sanchez. “But what’s the point if they can’t sustain it?”

Not sure what is worse, replacing generator after generator and expecting the Afghans to start taking care of them or supplying firewood by helicopter.  Maybe we aren’t so interested in teaching them to fish–but we should at least try to stop hitting ourselves with the hammer.

Build a man a fire and he’ll be warm for the night.  Set a man on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”  –Terry Prachett