Afghan Roundup

Dexter Filkins had an article about the incestuous relationship between private military contractors and insurgents a couple of days ago.  It suggests that some PMCs are taking money to protect supply convoys and using some of that money to pay off insurgents creating a ‘win-win’ for both groups.  There’s also indications that the PMCs may hire insurgents to attack rivals and stage attacks to encourage the coalition to hire PMCs to guard more convoys.

And here lies the problem with outsourcing military operations with private, for profit companies.  Their primary loyalty must be to their shareholders or owners and therefore it’s in their best interest to maintain enough instability (or at least the appearance of it) to keep those high dollar contracts coming.  It is most definitely NOT in their best interest for a conflict to get resolved or peace to break out unless there’s another conflict they can shift operations to.

And here’s where Filkins’ article falls a little short.  He writes like the problem is with those danged corrupt Afghans and doesn’t touch on the fact that this problem is inherent in the whole system.  It doesn’t matter if the owner and employees are Afghan or red blooded Americans.  But this isn’t new…listen to the master:

Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

A couple of weeks ago I expressed disbelief at the estimate that about one third of all supplies transiting to Afghanistan through Pakistan were getting lost through insurgent activity, theft, etc.  Well, apparently feeling the need to demonstrate this to me, gunmen torched a convoy of 50 vehicles recently.  Not a pretty picture…

And I don’t want this to become the convoy destruction scoreboard but there was another one this week.

The Tuesday night attack on some 100 oil tankers and trucks meant for transporting supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan in the Tarnol area of Islamabad left 80 of the vehicles badly burnt. According to official figures, another 60 carriage trucks (22-wheelers) were also gutted.

Witnesses told the news agency when the attack was launched there was only one security guard at the parking lot to protect the Nato fleet parked there.

Ghosts of Alexander was posting the observations of a couple of attendees of a CENTCOM AfPak conference.  I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the posts as they were heavy on opinion and short on supporting facts.  That’s the problem with live blogging such events.  You don’t get a chance to synthesize the information, pull out themes and consider questions.  Eventually they did take a bit of time to reflect however and posted the results up at Abu Muqawama.  The result is a huge improvement and worth a look.

The conference was structured in a way that prevented it from generating the analysis that ISAF so badly needs. The structure was built entirely on the participation of experts. Let’s be clear about something here: when it comes to social and political issues, experts don’t exist. …Every expert at this conference–there was nearly one of them for every two participants, and the participation of every single one was selected by conference planners, not volunteered independently–was considered an expert because he or she had written about related topics, lived in related places, or participated in related activities. That isn’t expertise. It’s just experience. And it’s a really huge leap to assume that an individual’s personal or even professional experience can provide generalizeable insight into an entire region or social situation.

So, they propose an alternate way to structure such conferences (sort of a Lollapalooza AfPak extravaganza):

  1. Leave the ‘experts’ at home. Instead of selecting speakers, do what real academic conferences do and solicit submissions.
  2. Assuming an event is structured to take all comers (see point #1), each volunteered proposal should be included in or excluded from the conference proceedings based on the logic and evidence the presenter cites in defense of his or her conclusions. The person’s resume shouldn’t even be a consideration.
  3. Don’t just invite competition; facilitate it.
  4. The most important thing is not how good the conference or workshop or publication is. Its main usefulness always lies in its ability to connect people who work on similar issues so they can go forward working together instead of separately.
  5. Everything said in events like this one–everything–should be open to merciless criticism from all sides, both within and outside of the government.
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