• Did You Know We Won in Afghanistan?

    April 14, 2014 // 10 Comments »

    You’ll be forgiven if you somehow had come to the conclusion that the U.S. has not won the 13 year war in Afghanistan.

    You might have been mislead by the constant “Blue on Green” attacks, where people in “Afghan Army Uniforms” kill their American comrades. Or that the Taliban still controls whole provinces. Or that drug exports are up since the war started. Or that Kabul is regularly attacked. Or that Afghanistan’s leaders, led by Hamid “Da’ Fresh Prince” Karzai have funneled billions of U.S. dollars into their own accounts in Dubai while flipping off ol’ Uncle Sam. Or whatever is on in Pakistan. Or that after 13 years, trillions of dollars and uncountable loss of life Afghanistan is pretty much still a dangerous, awful place unlikely to host a Spring Break parteeeee anytime prior to the Sun imploding into a black hole (namecheck: Neil Freakin’ Degrassee Tyson!)

    Why We Fight

    Anyway, forget all that because the ever-reliable Fiscal Times says we won. OK, that’s sorted. Here are some highlights from their recent victory lap article (emphasis and laugh-track added).

    First, some Fiscal Times background on the war. Forget 9/11, or bin Laden, or bases. The real reason we have been at war in Afghanistan is revealed to be:

    We are fighting an insurgency based in the Pashtuns, a majority ethnic group that has always ruled modern Afghanistan. If the Taliban regained enough support among that base, their overthrow of the Kabul would be very possible.

    Not sure how much of that insurgency was there before we arrived, or how much was born because we arrived, but at least it is not 9/11 again.

    Afghanistan Doesn’t Really Need a Strong Government

    But don’t worry, because we have an ace in the hole:

    The saving grace for us is that Afghanistan doesn’t have to have a strong central government.

    Good. Despite another recent round of “purple fingers” photos that mean Democracy! the State Department has been right all along. Their total failure to build a strong central government has been part of the plan. Crazy yes, but like a fox.

    The Afghan Local Police will Save the Day

    It gets better. Fiscal Times:

    There are recent reasons for optimism, however. One is the growth of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), which began in 2010 as a program that recruited rural Afghans to protect their own villages. The ALP has been so strategically successful that their authorization has expanded from 10,000 to 30,000 fighters (My Note: That authorization takes the form of the U.S. Congress agreeing to pay for more.) The most recent Pentagon report on the war said that the ALP was “one of the most resilient institutions in the ANSF,” or Afghan National Security Forces, with the ANSF’s highest casualty rate.

    I got nothing. If anyone believes a high casualty rate means winning, I can’t top that. Also, here’s a neat argument that the police are just another brand of lawless militia plaguing Afghanistan. Another on when the U.S. suspended training for the ALP because of too many insider attacks. Here’s one about how the ALP engages in human rights abuses such as “rape, arbitrary detentions, forcible land grabs, and other criminal acts” and how the ALP favors warlordism. Anyway, that’s all in the past now.

    Key to Victory: Use U.S. Money to Pay Off Warlords. Or Kill Them

    Moving on:

    The second necessity for victory is a responsible-looking central government with which foreign countries can interact. To be a sustainable recipient of Western aid, Afghanistan simply must have a more sympathetic government than Hamid Karzai or somewhat thuggish local power brokers. Only with a regular supply of Western aid will the Kabul government be able to bribe the regional powerbrokers to tilt towards it, and stay within our commandments. And if they don’t – if they really don’t, and flaunt it – then eventually they may have to die. An American high-end special operations capability in Afghanistan is critical not for Al-Qaeda and other transnational terrorists, but also to drop the hammer if local warlords step too far out of line.

    Leaving aside the obvious contradiction that Afghanistan doesn’t need a strong central government and Afghanistan does need a strong central government only a few paragraphs apart, Fiscal Times does get a gold star for turning the use of U.S. money to bribe warlords into paid-for cooperation into a positive thing. In most instances paying protection money to thugs is sort a dead end street (they usually keep demanding more and more money.)

    The kill them all idea is just rich. Hasn’t that sort of been the failed policy for the past 13 years? What kind of unmedicated mind can even write that stuff? I’m sure our elite special forces community is also now proud of their role as Mafia enforcers.

    Time to Declare Victory and Leave

    It is time. Thirteen years of a war that no one can even agree anymore what it is about is enough. If it helps you sleep better, sure, we won. Is that enough? Can we just stick a U.S.-funded knife into this and slink away? Syria is calling.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Police Blindside Woman with Nightstick, Pepper Ball Man at Basketball Celebration

    April 3, 2014 // 9 Comments »

    What happens when the militarization of our police grows too strong? This happens:

    March Madness

    In the final minutes of a March Madness basketball game, University of Arizona students gathered on University Boulevard as they had after previous NCAA Tournament games prepared to celebrate a win, or commiserate a loss. A local bar owner noted that the students didn’t cause any trouble or property damage, and there was no violence until police began trying to clear the streets. “The kids,” said the owner, “I want to say they weren’t unruly, it was drunk college kids partying after a loss. I think more were hanging out in the street rather than trying to cause problems.”

    None the less, Tucson police showed up in Darth Vader-style riot gear, armed with nightstick and non-lethal bullets, pepper spray and gas masks. They quickly declared that the students were now an “unlawful assembly,” ordered them to disperse and when they did not immediately do so, attacked the crowd.

    The Attack

    One student said “It seemed like cops were asking for trouble. Wearing gas masks and lining University Boulevard before the game even ended seemed excessive.”

    What happened next is shocking. A video showed a cop blindsiding a young woman with his nightstick. Another video showed police firing non-lethal rounds into a male student and then roughly tackling him to the ground when he did not go down.

    Us and Them

    Police are empowered to use appropriate force, primarily when needed to protect themselves or others. The inappropriate use of escalating violence is more akin to what happens in war zone, not among partying college students. Tuscon on a spring evening shouldn’t look like Kiev, Istanbul or Caracas, but it did. One is left to wonder if the cops see these students as “their people,” the ones they are sworn to protect and serve. Watching the videos, more and more one feels cops have the same Us and Them attitudes soldiers adopt in war zones.

    The actions of an increasingly militarized police are reinforced by billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment available to local police departments through grant programs administered by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) warns:

    The police officers on our streets and in our neighborhoods are not soldiers fighting a war. Yet many have been armed with tactics and weapons designed for battle overseas. The result: people – disproportionately those in poor communities and communities of color – have become targets for violent SWAT raids, often because the police suspect they have small amounts of drugs in their homes.

    In his book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, author Radley Balko shows how politicians’ relentless declarations of war against vague enemies like crime, drugs, and terror have blurred the distinction between cop and soldier. He shows how over a generation, a creeping battlefield mentality has isolated and alienated American police officers and put them on a collision course with the values of a free society.

    The evidence accumulates. Have we have become the enemy? We have become the enemy.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Sad SIGAR Saga in Afghanistan

    February 22, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Northern Portion of Imam SahibAs the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) shuts down in what can only be thought of as a mercy killing, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) continues its dreary work. They send out regular press releases that all look like this most recent one:


    Today, SIGAR released an inspection of the Imam Sahib Border Police company headquarters in Kunduz province, Afghanistan. The $7.3 million facility was built to hold 175 people, yet only 12 were on site and no one was aware of any plans to move additional personnel to the facility. The personnel did not have keys to many of the buildings and most the facility appeared to be unused. Additionally, there is no contract or plan to train personnel in the operations and maintenance of the facility raising questions about its sustainability.

    Full Report

    Photo of Facility (shown above)

    Should you have any questions or need any additional information please do not hesitate to contact our Director of Public Affairs, Phil LaVelle at (703) 545-5974 or philip.j.lavelle.civ@mail.mil.



    Friends, do a little search and replace exercise and that SIGAR report could have been right out of Iraq circa 2006. It strongly suggests we have learned nothing, that the reconstruction of Afghanistan is simply another foreign policy feel-good farce. It means no… one… cares.

    After all I went through personally to bring the abuses, waste and fraud of Iraq reconstruction to light, well, that makes me sad.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Obama to Create Thousands of Jobs: In Iraq

    October 22, 2011 // Comments Off

    (Originally published on the Huffington Post)

    The US is prepared to spend up to five billion dollars to create more jobs for police officers, paying $100-$150k a year. The Government can’t find enough people to take the jobs, and is looking for recruits, no experience necessary, all training provided, right in your hometown.

    One catch: the jobs are for Iraqis, in Iraq. No Americans need apply.

    The secret mantra of the Iraq war has always been “training,” specifically the always-just-out-of-reach goal of training the Iraq security forces to take over from the US. The cry has been heard for years: George W. Bush even made “we’ll stand down as they stand up” a campaign slogan in 2008.

    Now, as the war in Iraq proceeds through its eighth year, the State Department was on Capitol Hill October 12 in front of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations begging a skeptical Congress for more money. “Training” is again being cited as the cure-all for America’s apparently insatiable desire to throw money away in Mesopotamia. The latest tranche of taxpayer cash is for one billion dollars a year, every year for five years, to pay police instructors and cop salaries in Iraq.

    A Long Train

    The US has been training Iraqi cops for years, under the auspices of Army and State contractors. In fact, the US government has spent $7.3 billion for Iraqi police training since 2003. Now, with the Army shifting to teaching Iraqis how to operate the hi-tech weapons they will be buying from the US, the State Department is picking up the cop training gig full-time. A job announcement last year hired contract police instructors to go to Iraq, where, under the watchful eye of State’s own internal Stasi, Diplomatic Security, they are preparing to start teaching at thirty locations around the country.

    Given that the Army and State have been teaching police work in Iraq now for several years, the student cops must either be the world’s slowest learners, or have the world’s highest job turnover. Sadly, it looks like the latter. Iraqi cops tend to have very short life expectancies and that is why, even with the healthy salary offer of $150,000 a year (the average per capita income in Iraq is only $3800; cops in the US make concededly less than what State is willing to pay in Iraq. Starting salaries run $40-65k a year), State can’t find enough, um, bodies, to fill up the recruit classes.

    The Hard, Short Life of an Iraqi Cop

    As an example of how life is for an Iraqi law officer, this week alone attacks included two suicide car bombs minutes apart at Baghdad police stations, killing at least 25 people in the capital’s deadliest day in a month. More than 70 people were wounded. In one instance, the street in front of a police station had been closed from 2004, but was reopened about four weeks ago, sadly allowing the suicide bomber to get close to the station house. In other attacks the same day, a bomb wounded a police brigadier general in north Baghdad, while two police were shot in south Baghdad.

    These attacks took place in an Iraq still occupied by some 41,000 American soldiers. Come January 2012, the US Army posture will diminish to an as yet undetermined number, likely around 5000 troops. The State Department hopes to conduct its police training under these conditions, protected by its own mercenary army of 5000 security contractors, using hand-me-down Army gear.

    Corruption, Mismanagement and Torture Play a Part

    The killing of Iraqi cops is probably the main issue holding back recruitment. However, the lack of organized control by their parent organization, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI), is another impediment to a well-run police force, regardless of how much training they receive.

    In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group reported that the Iraqi Interior Ministry was filled with corruption, infiltrated by militia and unable to control its own police. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iraq’s MOI had become a “federation of oligarchs” where various floors of the headquarters building were controlled by rival militia groups and organized criminal gangs. The report described the MOI as an eleven-story powder keg of factions where power struggles were settled by assassinations in the parking lot. In its September 2007 report, the congressionally-mandated Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq described Iraq’s MOI as a ministry in name only, dysfunctional, sectarian and suffering from ineffective leadership. To make matters worse, the police have been implicated in multiple incidents of href="http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2011/09/06/cables-reveal-more-on-wolf-brigade-torture-of-iraqis-how-it-fuels-violence/" target="_hplink">torture.

    Who Will Guard the Guards?

    There remain significant questions on if State will be able to oversee the huge police training program.
    The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bureau came under fire from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) for its management of the contract with DynCorp to train police. A 2010 audit concluded that “INL lacks sufficient resources and controls to adequately manage the task orders with DynCorp. As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud.” Most of $1.2 billion State was given to train Iraqi police remains unaccounted for. Though not directly related to police training, State’s own Inspector General just found that INL mismanaged another Dynacorp contract in Afghanistan to the tune of href="http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2011/10/state-dept-ig-finds-waste-and-mismanagement-on-afghanistan-contract.html" target="_hplink">$940,000, in large part because of lack of staff to oversee the project.

    Following the negative report by SIGIR, State did the logical thing: they slammed the door on the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction auditors. State’s coordinator for Iraq transition, Patricia Haslach, told Congress that SIGIR has almost no jurisdiction over State Department spending in Iraq, including that five billion sought for police training. State’s reluctance to submit to the audits is understandable; SIGIR stated that 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    The Bright Side

    Undersecretary of State Pat Kennedy reminded Congress October 12 without irony that “We have a robust contracting oversight system firmly in place and being executed by our Bureau of Administration. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is overseeing its competitively awarded security task orders using the enhanced oversight and management system put in place over the last several years.”

    Pat Kennedy also said that providing assistance to the Iraqi police and security forces “will eventually reduce the cost of our presence as security in the country improves and we can rely on Iraqi security for our own protection.”

    And it is not like State has just been sitting on its hands. In July 2011, out of Iraq’s 400,000 cops, the State Department invited nine of them to the US for three weeks with local police forces in Vermont, Pittsburgh and Denver, cities that no doubt offer a lot of points of commonality with policing in Iraq.

    With plans like that, what could go wrong?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    It looks like Iraq is off its Meds Again

    June 22, 2011 // Comments Off


    It looks like Iraq is off its meds again.

    On Tuesday, at least 27 people, many of them police, were killedand more than 30 wounded when a pair of bombs exploded by the house of the provincial governor in the central Iraqi city of Diwaniyah.

    The explosion in Diwaniyah followed the bombing of a French embassy convoy in Baghdad on Monday, wounding several Iraqis, and a blast Sunday targeting a western security company guarding a client in the southern oil region of Basra. That attack, on a route traveled by oil companies and western firms, left one Iraqi and one Westerner wounded.

    Meanwhile, despite elections in March 2010, and forming a government in December, the cabinet has failed to date to name its security ministers.

    Meanwhile, most Iraqis live with minimal services, intermittent power, murky water, nonexistent sewers. Lack stalks the country; this article delves into the lives of those in Iraq who make a living scavenging US-left behind trash, reminding that some 23% of Iraqis live in poverty.

    Gunmen blasted their way into government offices in central Iraq on last week with two car bombs and suicide blasts that killed seven people. Militants involved in the attack in Diyala’s provincial capital of Baquba exchanged fire with Iraqi security forces, holding them at bay, in a siege that lasted nearly three hours.

    The fight only ended after US military assistance, including troops, armored vehicles and helos, arrived and intervened.

    But we sort of knew the Iraqi Army just isn’t all that it can be. The Washington Post tells us:

    According to Iraqi politicians and military officers, the country’s armed forces remain dysfunctional, with power dangerously decentralized and wielded by regional fiefdoms controlled by Iraq’s top politician.

     

    Ho, ho, it’s funny. We have spent billions training the Iraqi Army and there is not much to show for it; these guys must be the slowest learners on the planet (ED: No, that would be the Afghan Police). The Iraqi Army remains an almost gleefully silly Third World organization. US soldiers whose unrelished task it was to “train” the Iraqis would tell tales of rifles so dirty and rusty that they would not fire, and levels of discipline so poor that it was scary just to be around the troops and their weapons.

    On joint bases, such as FOB Loyalty (Peter had more than a few sleepovers there) where five Americans lost their lives in early June, Iraqi vehicles with mounted machine guns, full belts of ammo in the weapon, would be left parked here and there, sometimes left running out of fear they would not start later. It was not odd to see a loaded AK leaning against the wall, its owner having run off to the toilet. One training trooper watched with some sense of entertainment as a company of Iraqi BMPs tried to start their engines, only to find that about one out of three would not even turn over.

    It’ll be awhile before the Iraqi Army is ready for varsity play. Eight years after invading, decimating and then disbanding the Iraqi Army, let’s not make their ineptitude a reason to remain in Iraq, ‘Kay?

    It is critical not to buy into the media vibe that these attacks are “bad guys versus the government.” They are not. The “government” in Iraq is a hodge-podge of militias, gangs and factions, each one controlling a part of the whole. An attack against the police in an area is one faction seeking turf or exacting revenge. We use the term “government” only a a convenience.

    And please note that these attacks continue in a steady stream while the US still maintains a sizable combat force in Iraq. A smaller, hold-on force post-December 2011 will be even more limp. Even worse, since these are factional struggles, anytime the US intervenes the US is choosing a side, whether we do it willingly or (most often) out of ignorance. That can only weaken our overall position by setting up US forces for a revenge strike, or allowing us to wake up one morning on the losing side without even knowing it.

    Really kids, time to come home.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Drop the Oversight, Take the Cannoli

    June 14, 2011 // Comments Off

    Can’t have it both ways? Don’t tell the State Department, who wants several billion dollars to assume the role of occupier in Iraq while at the same time demanding little oversight into how it spends taxpayer money.

    In a previous post, we wrote how State refused to allow the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) to audit their police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money. State says SIGIR jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building.” A fight before Congress will resolve the matter since the kids can’t settle it on their own.

    But better move fast Congress– SIGIR is scheduled to shut down in 18 months, so all State has to do is s-t-a-l-l.

    Last week the Commission on Wartime Contracting asked State to justify in writing any decision to overturn recommendations in favor of suspending or debarring a contractor by other State Department officials, and also for the establishment of a permanent, government-wide special Inspector General for contingency operations.

    State said no. Give us the money, stuff your oversight.

    The commissioners called State’s opposition to the first recommendation–that it would be overly burdensome–“logically dubious.” After State Department management droid Pat Kennedy could not answer how often recommendations for suspension or debarment are overturned, the commissioners asked how it could be so burdensome if State didn’t even know how frequently it occurred. We hope that gets entered into his next performance review but kinda doubt it.

    The commissioners were also skeptical of State’s opposition to a permanent, government-wide Inspector General (IG) for contingency operations. They cited historical examples of State’s history with IGs to support their skepticism of State’s position. For instance, just a few days prior to the hearing, the Washington Times published a story about attempts by State to oppose an investigation by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) based on lack of jurisdiction.

    Commissioner Charles Tiefer questioned State’s will to hold its contractors accountable, citing the example of First Kuwaiti General Contracting and Trading. Tiefer noted that a 2009 audit by the State Department IG recommended that State recover $132 million from the contractor for its exceptionally shoddy work constructing the Baghdad Embassy. It has now been almost two years since the release of that report and as Kennedy acknowledged in the hearing, State still has not asked the company to pay up. We hope that also gets entered into his next performance review but again kinda doubt it.

    A full accounting of the problems found in the Baghdad Embassy is worth reading.

    To make matters worse, despite First Kuwaiti’s sad performance in Baghdad, the company continued to get work building for State in Saudi Arabia and Gabon as a subcontractor through an American company called Aurora, LLC, which some State Department officials suspect was established to serve as a front company for First Kuwaiti.

    So why worry, eh?

    Read more about the need for aggressive IG oversight at State in POGO’s November 2010 letter to President Obama.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    State to Congress: Drop Dead

    June 9, 2011 // Comments Off

    Barney Fife Entry into the Foreign Service requires, among other things, that you pass a tough written test, kind of like the SAT, but with less math. To help any readers thinking of joining State, here is a sample question. Let’s see how you do:

    You are in charge of the State Department during a rough budget climate. Your organization has few friends on the Hill, and you are going to be asking for a lot more money for your new duties in Iraq. One project you need cash for– say a billion dollars– is training Iraqi police. The military has done the job for the past seven years, but it will soon be State’s problem to resolve. Do you:

    a) Pick a turf fight with the well-regarded US government’s independent auditor for Iraqi reconstruction and force a showdown in front of an already angry Congress;

    b) Expect you’ll lose that fight and go along with the inspection to avoid further damaging your cred on the Hill;

    c) After pulling your head out of your own butt, try to get reassigned to the consular office in Bali and change your name.

    I’m not sure what the correct answer is on the test, but in real life the State Department chose A, have a figth with Congress.

    Someone at State, possibly still suffering from a bad batch of anti-malarials, has refused the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) permission to audit the police training mission. The US has spent billions training Iraqi police since 2003, hoping to change them from bribe taking street thugs into smiling law enforcement professionals. The Iraqis have proved, um, resistant to change and little has been accomplished outside the hemorrhaging of US money into the hands of Dynacorp, the contractor designated by the USG to steal all that money.

    The US government has spent $7.3 billion for training Iraqi police since 2003. Some 400,000 Iraqis received training and are on the force, but the “capabilities of these forces are unknown because no assessments of total force capabilities were made.”

    State says the Department regards SIGIR jurisdiction as limited to “reconstruction” activities, as opposed to “technical assistance and capacity-building” that the State Department will run after the military mission in Iraq ends on October 1.

    SIGIR is not going away. Their boss said “We are going to try and engage with the State Department and make the case why our statute and past practice demonstrably supports our jurisdiction over the police-development program. I hope they will see the correctness of our position and allow this audit to go forward. If they don’t agree, then I think the Hill might intervene further.”

    On March 31, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cooperate with SIGIR’s request for information.

    State said no anyway. Oops, make that, Hell No.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

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