nation building

  1. Report: U.S. spent $6.8 million on nonexistent equipment

    Published: January 22nd, 2013

    The U.S. has provided some 30,000 vehicles to the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since the ANP cannot afford maintenance costs, and likely will not be able to do so for several years, the U.S. has been picking up the tab. But we may not be getting what we think we’re paying for.

    According to a new audit by the U.S. Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. spent $6.8 million on maintenance for vehicles that had not been seen in over a year, had never been seen, or had been destroyed.

    The problem, the report concludes, was that the U.S. command that awarded the contract did not adjust the terms to reflect the number of police vehicles requiring maintenance.

    $6.8 million is small fraction of the billions the U.S. has spent in Afghanistan. Since 2002, Congress has allocated over $50 billion to train and equip the Afghan security forces.

    Still, $6.8 million is not an insignificant amount, especially when the U.S. is looking for ways to cut back on unnecessary spending. Across the country budget cuts are hitting local police forces hard. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to spend billions on Afghanistan aid projects — $28 million per day, according to the Inspector General.

    Some policymakers are starting to call for more transparency and oversight in Afghanistan aid. And we are making some progress. For example, the U.S. agency that oversaw this particular boondoggle has already made changes, updating its tracking system and removing over 7,000 vehicles that should not have been on the maintenance list. The Inspector General estimates that this improvement will save U.S. taxpayers $5.5 million per year.

    It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Eliminating a few unnecessary and unsustainable programs will yield some savings, but the problems will continue until the U.S. develops a new strategy for Afghanistan that links long-term strategic goals with smart budget choices.

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  2. Costs of Nation Building

    Published: November 13th, 2012

    U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Brandy Bates stops to talk with Afghan children during a foot patrol through Tughay village in the Sangin district of Afghanistan's Helmand province on Dec. 6, 2011

    The resignation of CIA Director General David Petraeus as head of the CIA last Friday led many to reflect on the legacy of the man who led U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.

    Bing West, assistant Secretary of Defense for President Reagan, had this to say about Gen. Petraeus and Afghanistan:

    “Gen. Petraeus’s concept of nation building as a military mission probably will not endure. Our military can train the armed forces of others (if they are willing) and, in Afghanistan, we can leave behind a cadre to destroy nascent terrorist havens. But American soldiers don’t know how to build Minneapolis or Memphis, let alone Muslim nations.”

    West pinpointed one of the fundamental flaws of nation-building. U.S. troops are most capable in the world, but they are trained for combat, not building roads and distributing food aid.

    There’s another big problem with nation-building in Afghanistan: it is very expensive. And with the a national debt of over $16 trillion, the U.S. cannot afford to spend billions more on the war in Afghanistan.

    War costs ramped up significantly as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan expanded. From 2001 to 2006, spending on the war did not exceed $20 billion per year. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, war costs were over $100 billion per year.

    As U.S. combat troops leave Afghanistan, war funding will decline, but not as much as you might expect. The Pentagon’s request for operations in Afghanistan in 2013 is $85.6 billion, or $1.6 billion per week.

    The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 is still unclear. But if 20,000 troops remain, a plan that some members of Congress support, war costs could top $25 billion per year for years to come.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing a fierce budget debate at home. With a national debt of over $16 trillion, finding ways to cut back government spending is critical. The Pentagon is already facing significant budget reductions of $487 billion over the next ten years, plus another $500 billion in automatic, across-the-board cuts if Congress fails to agree on a budget deal before January.

    The war has already cost over $580 billion. Spending billions more on nation-building in Afghanistan, while the U.S. economy is still recovering, doesn’t make sense.

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  3. Pentagon Lowers the Standard for Afghan Forces

    Published: August 7th, 2012

    The spotlight was on the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) last week as experts testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on corruption in Afghanistan and the implications for developing effective army and police forces.

    No surprises came out of the hearing. The Congressional Research Service’s Kenneth Katzman detailed examples of corruption in the ANSF, from demanding bribes to revenue embezzlement to selling U.S. and other donor-provided equipment.

    Afghanistan’s corruption problem isn’t new. The real story here is the failed U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. After ten years and more than $50 billion in security aid the U.S. is no closer to success in combating corruption and developing stable local security forces. Worse, the Pentagon may be trying to cover up the failure.

    U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have been inconsistent and ineffective. As Brookings scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown explained it at the recent hearing, “I see U.S. policy over the decade oscillating between ignoring corruption because of its sheer size, because focus has been far more on the military side than on the political aspect of the effort, and then embracing goals that are unrealistic, [saying] ‘we’re going to wipe out corruption.’”

    Lack of an effective plan for combating corruption hasn’t stopped the U.S. from spending billions to train and equip the Afghan security force. The running total is $52 billion, including over $11 billion in 2012.

    The cost of maintaining the Afghan security forces is expected to drop sharply over the coming years, but not enough for Afghanistan to be able to pay for it. The IMF estimates that Afghanistan will not be able to finance its own security spending until at least 2023. Till then, international donors will be picking up the tab.

    $50 billion is a lot of money for a program that might not even be working. Of course, it’s hard to judge how effective U.S. efforts to train Afghan forces have been because the Pentagon keeps changing the tools used to assess the performance of ANSF units.

    The Government Accountability Office notes that within the last year the Department of Defense eliminated the highest ANSF capability rating. Instead of “independent”—meaning local forces can operate without assistance from coalition forces—the highest rating is now “independent with advisors,” meaning a unit can execute its mission and call for coalition forces when necessary.

    In 2011, no Afghan units were rated independent. In 2012, 7% of army units and 9% of police units were rated “independent with advisors,” the new highest level of capability.

    In other words, even by at lower standards, less than 10% of the force that has cost $50 billion U.S taxpayer dollars can operate semi-independently.

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  4. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Agreement Allows 10-Year Extension of US Presence in Afghanistan

    Published: May 4th, 2012

    President Obama made headlines this week with a surprise trip to Kabul to sign the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. The agreement made explicit what has been understood all along: the US commitment to Afghanistan will continue after 2014. What the agreement fails to do, however, is define what that commitment will look like. In particular, while restating that the US does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan, the agreement does not specify how many US troops will stay to advise and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. The US has already accomplished its strategic goals in Afghanistan. Leaving troops there is unnecessary, a waste of taxpayer dollars. The US public knows this; some members of Congress do too. Other policymakers should take note.

    From ASG
    USAID Spent $400 Million In Afghanistan “Despite Uncertain Results”
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski
    When a boondoggle like this is allowed to continue unchecked, it makes us wonder about other Afghanistan reconstruction projects. The Local Governance and Community Development program accounted for about one-third of total amount – $1.1 billion – that USAID has spent on Afghanistan reconstruction. What happened to the other $700 million? Were other aid projects just as ineffective as this one?

    US-Afghanistan 10-year security compact has loopholes for both nations
    Fox News
    The 10-year security agreement signed this week by President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is filled with fuzzy language and loopholes — and stands as more of a guide than a contract for the U.S.-Afghan relationship in the post-war years.

    In Afghanistan, Obama says wars of 9/11 nearing an end
    McClatchy Newspapers
    President Barack Obama told Americans Tuesday that after a decade of post-September 11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we can see the light of a new day” – hours after signing an agreement that extended the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.

    Rebuild America, not Afghanistan
    USA Today by Sen. Jeff Merkley

    There is no question that al-Qaeda is dangerous and that we need to stay on the offensive. That, after all, was the mission that brought us to Afghanistan in the first place. But trying to craft a modern nation-state in Afghanistan does not further that mission. It’s time to bring our troops home.

    Finish Off Al Qaeda. Stop Trying to Fix Afghanistan
    The New York Time by Eric Greitens

    Because many Qaeda fighters were based and sheltered in Afghanistan in 2001, some Americans argued that to make victory permanent we had to not just oust the Taliban government, but also build a democracy, a modern economy and an effective national security apparatus for Afghanistan. It was like arguing that to put out a forest fire, we had to pave the forest.

    Get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan
    CNN by Rep. Keith Ellison

    But with our core mission of decimating al Qaeda in Afghanistan accomplished, is the continuing military presence until 2014 worth the cost? More than 1,900 Americans have died in Afghanistan, and more than 15,000 have been wounded…Instead of spending billions on a war that is not making us safer, we could better advance U.S. national security by providing greater support to people in Middle Eastern countries fighting for freedom and democracy.

    Obama Visits Afghanistan, Perpetuates Misguided Policy
    The Cato Institute by Chris Preble

    A majority of Americans want all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within a year, and a large-scale military presence isn’t needed to continue to hunt al Qaeda. The organization is a shadow of its former self, and has shifted its operations and tactics to many other places. We are still spending tens of billions of dollars in a desperate nation-building mission; this money could be spent much more effectively elsewhere, including here in the United States.

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  5. $300 Million Taxpayer Dollars for a Broken Power Plant

    Published: April 10th, 2012

    The deaths of 16 Afghan civilians at the hands of a US soldier raised a number of questions about the psychological effects of war on the men and women of our armed forces, and whether the military is doing enough to care for them. The tragedy also points to a more fundamental problem: after more than ten years of war, the US forces are worn out.

    It didn’t have to be this way. We could have employed a smarter, more efficient strategy, relying on intelligence assets and special operations forces, like Seal Team Six.  Instead, the US pursued a strategy of dedicated nation-building. The burden for executing that strategy fell on a small percentage of deployable troops. According to the Defense Business Board, 30% of active duty troops have deployed two or more times, while 40% have never deployed.

    Nation-building requires significant investments. It eats up decades, dollars, and lives, and gives little in return.

    The nation-building experiment in Afghanistan has been a disaster for armed forces, and a fiscal disaster as well. Military spending has grown out of control. For Afghanistan alone, war costs total more than $550 billion since 2001. In that same time frame the base defense budget grew almost $700 billion over the pre-war plan.

    The decade of war was an excuse to pour money into the Department of Defense. But there was no incentive to spend wisely. Overhead costs ballooned, totaling at least $200 billion in 2010, according to the Defense Business Board. While costs for new programs like the F-35 soared, funds for vital programs like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, designed to protects troops from IEDs, were delayed.  Billions of dollars were invested in unsustainable Afghanistan reconstruction projects—like the $300 million Kabul Power Plant that is seldom used because the government cannot afford to operate and maintain it.

    Boondoggles like the Kabul Power Plant are a sign of where the U.S. strategy Afghanistan went wrong. Surely we could have used those funds for United States infrastructure projects.

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  6. The Black Hole of Afghanistan Infrastructure Projects

    Published: December 9th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    U.S. Navy sailors attached to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 move K-Span panels to an assembly area at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, on July 25, 2010. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 deployed to Afghanistan to execute general engineering, infrastructure construction and project management in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Two foreign invasions for a total of three decades of war have largely taken their toll on Afghanistan infrastructure – there isn’t much left.  And what remains is only partially usable, according to a 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Building Afghanistan’s infrastructure has been a centerpiece of US efforts, for both security reasons and to encourage economic development.  However, what was there before the U.S. stepped in?

    The GAO estimates that in late 2001 about 16% of Afghanistan’s roads were paved, compared to 80% in neighboring countries.  Approximately 31%, or $16 billion, in US aid to Afghanistan since 2001 has gone towards economic, social, and political development efforts, according to the Congressional Research Service.  As much as 25% of USAID’s Afghanistan budget goes specifically to road construction, to which the DOD has also contributed over $500 million through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a flexible fund for small reconstruction projects.

    There are some positive indications in the quest to improve Afghanistan’s infrastructure – for example, as of September 2008, USAID had built or repaired over 1,600 miles of road. However, the challenges are far more numerous.  Lack of transparency and insufficient interagency cooperation have plagued US efforts. Questions have been raised in particular about poor of oversight for the CERP program, which was originally intended for small projects, but has been increasingly used to fund large-scale projects.

    Some construction projects are even counterproductive. For example, the Great Wall of Kandahar.  This infrastructure project may alleniate the local population more than protect it, thus ultimately setting back the war effort and wasting taxpayer dollars.

    The waste will continue after construction is completed, because many of these projects are unsustainable. GAO estimates that 90% of Afghanistan’s budget comes from foreign aid, meaning that the US and other countries will be picking up the tab for building and maintaining Afghanistan’s infrastructure for quite some time.

    Afghanistan estimates they will continue to need outside aid until 2025.  The U.S. taxpayers have already contributed significant funds to Afghanistan infrastructure.  Monies that could have been utilized to help our own lagging economy and crumbling infrastructure.  In this time of necessary austerity how much more can we contribute to Afghanistan without negative consequences here at home?

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  7. The Mendacity of Hope: Why We Need to Leave Afghanistan

    Published: June 9th, 2011
    Author: Will Keola Thomas

    Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

    From “Col. YYY,” described by former Air Force officer and Dept. of Defense military analyst Chuck Spinney as, “an active duty colonel who travels all over Afghanistan…This colonel, unlike many of his peers, actually goes on foot patrols with troops to see things for himself.” The anonymous colonel’s letter is a must read:

    “The mendacity is getting so egregious that I am fast losing the ability to remain quiet; these yarns of ‘significant progress’ are being covered up by the blood and limbs of hundreds – HUNDREDS – of American uniformed service members each and every month, and you know the rest of this summer is going to see the peak of that bloodshed.

    It’s sheer madness…”

    Simon Klingert, a German freelance journalist in Afghanistan, responds to Col. YYY’s letter via twitter:

    “I can confirm this. 2 months in Kandahar, Helmand, almost no one I talked to below the rank of LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) thinks we’re winning”

    “#Afghanistan spin Rule 1: ‘Progress’ is ALWAYS to be referred to as ‘fragile and reversible’. Rule applies to ISAF, policymakers and media.

    “#Afghanistan spin Rule 2: Refer to anticipated and/or imaginative progress as being ‘around the corner’. The corner is always 6 months ahead

    “#Afghanistan spin Rule 3: To prove doubters wrong, tell about planned clearing operation that will deliver ‘decisive blow’ to enemy.”

    Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates plays according to the aforementioned rules. In a speech to coalition officers on his farewell tour of Afghanistan he almost managed to squeeze them all into a single sentence:

    “I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict.”

    Lots of momentum, decisive blows, and corner-turning. But neither Secretary Gates, nor General Petraeus, would tell ABC’s Diane Sawyer that the U.S. is winning in Afghanistan:

    “We’re really loathed to use this very loaded term of winning or losing.”

    And CIA Director Leon Panetta hasn’t been confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense, but on Thursday he showed the Senate’s Armed Service Committee that he’s as well-versed in the rules as Gates:

    “Important gains have been made over the past 18 months, establishing security and Afghan government authority in former Taliban strongholds such as Helmand and Kandahar, as well as building the capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces. Although the gains are fragile and reversible, momentum has shifted to the Afghan government, and they are on track to begin the transition process by assuming lead security responsibilities in several areas of the country this summer.”

    Panetta felt confident in declaring all those successes, but he wasn’t about to go out on a limb and say when, and in what numbers, our troops will be able to leave Afghanistan. That will be determined by “conditions on the ground.”

    And, of course, hope:

    “…I think if we stick with it, if we continue to provide help and assistance to them then I think there is going to be a point where Afghanistan can control its own future. We have to operate on that hope.”

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  8. Afghanistan’s Road to Ruin: Paved with Good Intentions, Soldiers’ Lives, and Taxpayer Dollars

    Published: May 20th, 2011
    Author: Will Keola Thomas

    Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group

    On May 1st, the New York Times published an article describing the construction of a 64-mile-long highway through two of the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan. The story, “Costly Afghanistan Road Project Is Marred by Unsavory Alliances,” had almost no chance to register in the national consciousness before it was lost in the news cycle wake of Osama bin Laden’s death the following day. But the tale it told, one of organized crime, political violence, corruption, and waste, all underwritten by the American taxpayer, reveals much more about the war in Afghanistan as it is fought today than anything that will be found in bin Laden’s diary.

    The Gardez-Khost Highway was presented as a counterinsurgency panacea. Construction of a paved road across the Paktia and Khost provinces of southeastern Afghanistan would facilitate the movement of U.S. forces in a mountainous region that had long been a key supply route for insurgents bringing weapons and fighters over the border from Pakistan. Planners believed the highway would strengthen the central government’s links with the border region and encourage commerce that would promote local buy-in, increase government legitimacy, and improve stability as markets flourished. All for the (low?) price of $69 million dollars.

    But things didn’t work out that way.

    First, the law of contracting entropy kicked in. Americans paid their taxes and financed the project. On behalf of those taxpayers, the U.S. Agency for International Development drew up the proposal and then gave the contract to a joint venture of the Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey consulting and construction services firm, and Black & Veatch a construction company based in Kansas.

    (Sidenote: In November, the Louis Berger Group was ordered to pay $69 million in fines for overbillling the federal government. This is one of the highest wartime contracting fraud penalties in history. Yet the Group’s grip on the federal teat remains firm. Louis Berger currently oversees $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.)

    The Berger Group and Black and Veatch then hired Indian construction subcontractors and a South African private security firm who, in turn, hired a variety of Afghan subcontractors for security and construction services, who hired still more subcontractors…and so on, and so forth…until, according to a civilian interviewed by the NY Times who worked with the U.S. military on the project, “…we had a problem that with the final subcontractors, they didn’t have enough money to get the work done.”

    Four years later the highway still isn’t complete. The final bill for the project is expected to come in at $176 million with cost overruns of more than 100%. The NY Times reports that a section of the road finished six months ago is already falling apart.

    Unfortunately, the story gets worse.

    It has cost $43.5 million so far to provide security for the construction of the highway that was meant to bring stability to the region. Among those receiving funds for protecting the road project was one Mr. Arafat, a local strongman who was paid at least $1 million a  year for his security services. But, as the NY Times reports:

    “Some American officials and contractors involved in the project suspect that at least some of the money funneled through Mr. Arafat made its way to the Haqqani group, a particularly brutal offshoot of the Taliban.”

    And if you think that Khost and Paktia are the only provinces where this is happening there’s a bank in Kabul I’d like to sell you:

    “Critics say that payoffs to insurgent groups, either directly or indirectly, by contractors working on highways and other large projects in Afghanistan are routine. Some officials say they are widely accepted in the field  as a cost of doing business…As a result, contracting companies and the American officials who supervise them often look the other way.

    ‘Does it keep the peace?’ asked one United States military officer with experience in volatile eastern Afghanistan. ‘Definitely. If the bad guys have a stake in the project, attacks go way down.’”

    If the United States is putting soldiers in harm’s way to defeat the Taliban while at the same time filling the Taliban’s coffers with protection money it more than begs the question of what we are doing in “volatile eastern Afghanistan” in the first place.

    Especially when one considers the extraordinary price paid in blood and treasure to implement infrastructure projects in areas where, according to a former U.S.A.I.D. worker interviewed by the Times, “…the local population is as likely to sabotage a project as to protect it.”

    And particularly when one ponders the desperate need for infrastructure investment in the United States.

    Hundreds of miles of paved roads are being removed and returned to gravel in states where officials can’t find the money to maintain them. As the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune reports:

    “The paved roads that finally brought rural America in to the 20th century are starting to disappear across the Midwest in the 21st. Local officials, facing rising pavement prices, shrinking budgets and fewer residents, are making tough decisions to regress. In some places, they have even eliminated small stretches of gravel road altogether.”

    And then there’s the crumbling bridges and levees across the country whose decrepit state puts thousands of lives at risk. Increasingly, building highways at the point of a gun in Afghanistan means playing budget roulette at home.

    (Update: The BBC reports that the Taliban ambushed construction workers camped by the Gardez-Khost Highway on Wednesday night. At least 35 workers were killed making this the deadliest single attack in Afghanistan since February. According to the New York Times, “there have been 364 attacks on the Gardez-Khost Highway, including 108 roadside bombs, resulting in the deaths of 19 people, almost all of them local Afghan workers.”)

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  9. 11/29/10 Afghanistan Study Group Update

    Published: November 29th, 2010
    Author: Edward Kenny

    Edward Kenney
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    What Went Down In Lisbon?

    The President has just returned home from a relatively successful trip to Lisbon for the the NATO summit.  For Afghanistan junkies there are really two take-home messages.

    1.       Obama still has strong support for his Afghanistan strategy from European leaders.

    2.       Differences between the administration and Karzai are sharpening.

    One of Obama’s main goals was to shore up support among NATO member countries for a sustained commitment in Afghanistan.  Inside Europe there have been rumblings about NATO commitments decreasing in Afghanistan.  The French were hoping to transfer from Sarobi District next year.  In England, where support for the war is at 32%, the defense minister has called for a speedy drawdown.

    Perhaps in an effort to gain support from these NATO allies, President Obama set a date of 2014 to end major combat activities.  Although the President’s statements are fuzzy enough to allow flexibility and most news reports acknowledge that there will still be a large troop presence in Afghanistan in three years, 2014 nonetheless represents the closest thing to an established end date to the war.  All in all, the new deadline was a small price to pay in order to achieve support among crucial NATO allies.

    In Latest Dispute with Washington, Karzai has the Right Idea

    The Lisbon conference also highlighted the growing public feud between Washington DC and Kabul.  At Lisbon, Obama responded sharply to Karzai for his recent comments criticizing U.S. special operations and night raids.  Karzai had also banned private security contractors, which are often hired to protect development projects.  On the surface, Obama is entirely justified in his critique:

    He’s got to understand that I’ve got a bunch of young men and women… who are in a foreign country being shot at and having to traverse terrain filled with IEDs, and they need to protect themselves. So if we’re setting things up where they’re just sitting ducks for the Taliban, that’s not an acceptable answer either.”

    However, Karzai’s main beef with Obama is on the current U.S. strategy; it is not on the tactical level.  A recent column by Ahmed Rashid highlights the essence of the dispute:

    “In a suggestion that alarms and infuriates western officials, [Karzai] says there is a political alternative to Nato—to depend more on regional countries, especially Iran and Pakistan, to end the war and find a settlement with the Taliban”

    Both Iran and Pakistan are moving to maximize their bargaining positions in the event of a settlement.  This explains Iran’s recent surge in support for elements in the Taliban, when in the past Iran had always supported the Taliban’s enemies the Northern Alliance.  It also explains why Pakistan is reluctant to free Taliban leaders prematurely.   The main obstacle to a negotiated settlement continues to be the Americans themselves, for as long as the U.S. clings to the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Doctrine, there is no incentive for the critical players—the Quetta Shura, the ISI, the Haqqani Network, and Iran—to come to the table and negotiate.  Instead of embracing Karzai’s attempts at diplomacy, the U.S. criticizes his efforts to end the conflict.   This is what should “alarm” and “infuriate” anyone who favors a sensible policy in Afghanistan.

    START and Afghanistan

    In Lisbon, Obama also had success gaining the support of NATO members for a strategic arms treaty with Russia.  The main reason to sign a nuclear deal with Russia is that it will foster greater cooperation between the two countries on other issues.  Last year, Russia stepped up big for the U.S. when it agreed to establish economic sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council.  Further, Russia has also been playing a bigger role in Afghanistan.  Last month they even conducted a joint drug raid—the first military operation for Russia in Afghanistan since the Russian army retreated in 1989.  If the START Treaty facilitates greater cooperation with Russia in Afghanistan, this could assist with a U.S. drawdown, a factor which the anti-war libertarians should consider in deciding whether to back the treaty.

    The Refugees in Afghanistan and Pakistan

    Two interesting articles appeared in the Washington Post on the refugee problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Although the articles focused on the same theme—locals who have been forced from their homes because of war—they highlighted two different problems.

    The article on Afghan refugees focused on a group of Pashtuns from Helmand province who have moved to Kabul as a result of the war.  In many cases these refugees favored neither the U.S. nor the Taliban, but were nonetheless caught in the middle of the fighting.  As one Afghan put it:

    “If we grew our beards, the Americans arrested us.  If we shaved the Taliban gave us a hard time,” he said.  “What are we supposed to do, shave half our beard?”

    In a country where kinship and family ties are very important, the Taliban had one crucial advantage; they were local.  As one refugee illustrated:

    Who are the Taliban?  They are our brothers, our cousins, our relatives.  The problem is the Americans

    The U.S. strategy, which is based on winning the hearts and minds of local Afghans, needs to confront this reality.  Afghans caught in the middle of a conflict will surely back their family and tribesmen over a foreign force from a distant land.

    The second article looked at a policy to repopulate regions of South Waziristan that have been cleared of insurgents.  So far the program, which pays refugees $300 to move back to Waziristan, has garnered only mixed results.  A major problem continues to be a lack of governance and an inability to consolidate military gains.  As a White House report noted:

    “Congress noted that an absence of government authority has resulted “in short lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas”

    As a result, the resettlement program has been “repeatedly postponed” with many prospective families voicing concern over a “Taliban resurgence”.  Many of the same lessons the Pakistanis are learning in Waziristan are also true in Afghanistan.  The military success in Kandahar is terrific, but without a return to governance, these gains will almost certainly be temporary.

    Budget Issues

    Last post, discussed the importance of the wars in Afghanistan with respect to the long-range fiscal outlook of the United States.  Several Afghanistan Study Group Members, as well as other foreign policy experts, signed a letter address to Deficit Reduction Commission Co-Chairs Bowles and Simpson arguing along similar lines.  The letter emphasizes the source of the U.S.’s power is our massive and dynamic economy.  Unless the U.S. moves away from ill-advised military adventurism, the necessary military cuts will not be made and American power will erode.

    “ The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operations globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.”

    Afghan Confidence Game

    This blog and the members of the Afghanistan Study Group advocate a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan in the way that saves face and protects U.S. interests, while bringing stability to Afghanistan and the region.  There are many challenges to a policy of negotiation:  How much power should Karzai cede to Islamic militants? What roles should Pakistan and Iran play?  One unanticipated obstacle, however, was figuring out whom to talk to.  After all in a policy of reconciliation, talks must take place with high-level political leaders in the Quetta Shura and Haqqani Networks.  Surely you would think that the U.S. has the intelligence capabilities to identify the leaders of the Taliban.  Well, think again.  Last Tuesday’s Washington Post has a story that can only be described as a monumental intelligence screw-up.  Apparently some “lowly shopkeeper” claiming to be Akthar Mohammad Mansour, the second ranking Taliban leader in Quetta Shura, was flown to Kabul and possibly managed to con NATO out of “large sums of money”.  For months the Taliban has denied reports floating around the western press that they were engaged in negotiations.  Now the Taliban’s denials seem more credible.

    This story obviously paints a very troubling picture of the U.S.’s intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan.  As Jeremy Scahil points out, how can anyone trust the Pentagon’s assurances that civilians aren’t being killed in the secret drone attacks and night raids after reading this?

    The Taliban impostor incident also calls into question scores of deadly night raids that have resulted in the deaths of innocent Afghans. Several survivors of night raids recently told The Nation that they believed they were victims of bad intelligence provided by other Afghans for money or to settle personal grudges.

    When it comes to night raids and drone attacks the stakes are much higher.  As Afghanistan Study Group Director Matt Hoh illustrates, the death of one civilian can lead to ten more insurgents.

    “We might get that one guy we’re looking for or we might kill a bunch of innocent people and now make ten more Taliban out of them.”

    Since we can’t seem to differentiate between the Taliban and the locals, this observation should cast doubt on the current war strategy, which presumably relies on solid intelligence.   Guess we can thank the intelligence community for giving us yet another reason to rethink Afghanistan.

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  10. Bottom-up Nation Building

    Published: January 1st, 2010
    Author: Amitai Etzioni

    Amitai Etzioni discusses nation building.

    Bottom-up Nation Building

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