Daily Archives: November 23, 2009

Afghanistan all the time

I’m not so naive to think that we, especially in wartime, can or should only deal with people with lily white reputations.  Still, this article is not exactly encouraging.

In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.

Are we trying to ween them off their heroin money?

“We’re basically being extorted. Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.” Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. “Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

Hey, the Afghans aren’t stupid.  When we dropped the ball in the DDR program (and in so many areas) in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Taliban, it didn’t take long for local commanders to figure out by converting their militias into private military companies they could get in on even more of the gobs of cash that we started spreading around.

I asked Col. David Haight, who commands the Third Brigade of the Tenth Mountain Division, about it. After all, part of Highway 1 runs through his area of operations. What did he think about security companies paying off insurgents? “The American soldier in me is repulsed by it,” he said in an interview in his office at FOB Shank in Logar Province. “But I know that it is what it is: essentially paying the enemy, saying, ‘Hey, don’t hassle me.’ I don’t like it, but it is what it is.”

And finally, the obligatory public information hack gives a hold harmless response…

Wayne Shanks, the chief public affairs officer for the international forces in Afghanistan, said that military officials are “aware of allegations that procurement funds may find their way into the hands of insurgent groups, but we do not directly support or condone this activity, if it is occurring.” He added that, despite oversight, “the relationships between contractors and their subcontractors, as well as between subcontractors and others in their operational communities, are not entirely transparent.”

It’s not clear if this sort of activity is part of a larger plan used in conjunction with creating militias to battle the Taliban as described here.  I suppose you could argue that these monies are intended to worm into various militia/Taliban groups and subsequently try to separate those motivated by cash from those motivated by ideology but I think that would be highly generous and not supported by anything I’ve read recently.  So, it appears these are two distinct events.

The American and Afghan officials say they are hoping the plan, called the Community Defense Initiative, will bring together thousands of gunmen to protect their neighborhoods from Taliban insurgents. Already there are hundreds of Afghans who are acting on their own against the Taliban, officials say.

For now, they are not arming the groups because they already have guns.

Of course there are risks of such a policy, especially in Afghanistan where any sort of control or oversight is likely to be sporadic at best.

“In Kunduz, after they defeated the Taliban in their villages, they became the power and they took money and taxes from the people,” Mr. Atmar, the interior minister, said. “This is not legal, and this is warlordism.”
Colonel Kolenda said, “In the long run, that is destabilizing.”

The NY Times has a nice overview of the various escalation plans under consideration.  Hopefully, any announcement of escalation (or lack thereof) will be accompanied by a clear, well defined strategy of our goals (short and long term).  In addition to whatever the US additions of troops there may be a nearly simultaneous announcement of a increased European commitment to Afghanistan as well.  That certainly won’t be popular among their populations and it seems the European populations need a clear articulation of strategy and purpose in Afghanistan even more than we do.