Friday, 28 January 2011

SIGAR boss goes out with a bang

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), General Arnold Fields, appears to be going into overdrive in his last few weeks in the job. After being criticised for little activity, he has published his second report in a week.
Like the previous report (see below) the most recent offering concerns reconstruction funds that may be at risk due to lack of planning.
This audit of the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Laghman found that 27 of the 69 CERP projects in the province, worth $49.2 million out of a total budget of $53 million, were at risk or have questionable outcomes.
The CERP program is basically a large pot of cash that military officers can dole out locally for humanitarian and reconstruction projects without having to go through the tiresome business of tenders and all that. Since 2004 Congress has appropriated nearly $2.64 billion for CERP projects in Afghanistan.
What the SIGAR report has found out is that most of the money spent so far has gone on road contracts, but there appears to be no money in the pot to pay for maintenance, meaning the roadways may simply revert to tracks in a few years. "“Our audit found that these projects and groups of related infrastructure initiatives were approved without adequate assurance that the Government of Afghanistan had the resources to operate and maintain them. This suggests that the Afghans have not been sufficiently involved, despite a U.S. strategy emphasizing Afghan First,” said General Fields, who visited Laghman in September last year. "Building multimillion dollar projects, and then trying to figure out a sustainability plan, is a nonsensical way of planning," he added.
Is it possible that General Fields is trying to prove a point, now he has been sacked from his job?
In his final report to Congress, issued today, Fields notes that there are 16 ongoing audits in his office. The Investigative Directorate opened 35 new cases and closed seven bringing the total number of ongoing cases to 105. At present 86 per cent of current investigations are focussed on contract or procurement fraud. Presumably this includes the case of the lying, cheating Sarah Lee Mitcham of Bennett-Fouch and K5 Global, who I have written about before and who left Afghanistan last year without paying her local contractors.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

UK Defence Ctte publishes transcript of Afghan evidence

The UK House of Commons Select Committee on Defence has published a transcript of oral evidence given to the committee in hearings on 15 December last year as part of its inquiry into operations in Afghanistan.
Giving evidence to the committee were Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox, Chief of Joint Operations Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, and Peter Watkins, director of Operational Policy at the Ministry of Defence.
Some interesting tidbits in the evidence:
"Chair: How much is a judge paid in Afghanistan?
Peter Watkins: I’m afraid I don’t know that.
Chair: Am I right in thinking that it is, or at least was a year ago, half the amount that is paid to a private soldier?
Peter Watkins: The Committee has asked this before and we have been trying to find out the answer. There does not seem to be an available figure. It seems to vary considerably, depending on the rank of the judge, obviously, and the location."
"Dr Fox: It’s worth pointing out that just over 50% of all the violence in Afghanistan is in just nine of the country’s 401 districts, four of which are in Helmand and four of which are in Kandahar. That gives us an idea of the dynamic within which we are operating."
"Dr Fox: I have studiously avoided questions on WikiLeaks disclosures. First, they are fragments and incompletely disclosed. They are designed to damage the United States in the eyes of the outside world, and drive a wedge between the United States and its allies. We should have no part in playing the WikiLeaks game. It is trying to set a particular agenda and put particular ideas into the public mind and the wider public discourse. I think that it is extremely regrettable that some organs of the British media have played along with it. I find the whole concept of WikiLeaks and its activities completely loathsome."
Nine members of the committee have just returned from a four-day visit to Afghanistan as part of its current inquiry. The final report is due to be published later this year.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Planning failure puts billions at risk - SIGAR

An audit released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)  found that $11.4 billion is at risk due to inadequate planning for the construction of nearly 900 Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF) facilities.
“SIGAR initiated this audit when our auditors found that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) could not provide the plans or justifications for the ANA facilities being built across Afghanistan,” said Inspector General Arnold Fields, who recently announced that he is leaving his post following widespread criticism.
The report found that there was no long-range capital construction plan, needed to improve accountability over the proposed new facilities which are being built to accommodate the expected increase in ANSF personnel. Numbers are already projected to reach 305,000 this year and may reach 400,000 by October 2013. Without such a plan, it would be impossible to adapt to changing requirements, prioritize resources, achieve strategic goals or avert potential waste. Nor was there any long-range maintenance plan for the ANSF facilities now being built, even though contracts worth $800 million had already been let to maintain more than 660 sites.

Restrepo nominated for an Oscar

Great news that Restrepo has been nominated for an Oscar. This film is certainly one of the best war documentaries I have ever seen. It tells the story of the deployment of Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade to the Korengal Valley in Eastern Afghanistan. Named after a dead comrade, Restrepo is a remote 15-man outpost, built in the middle of the night from Hescos and dirt. Most days it comes under fire. At one point, one soldier is says he would really have liked to see some of the people he is actually fighting against. Most of the time they are invisible.
The soldiers, most of whom were on  a 14-month deployment, tell the story, sometimes direct to camera, sometimes during action as it is filmed. There are no interviews with anyone not based in Restrepo, just the grunts.
Some parts of the film are heartbreaking. At one point the platoon visits a local village where they had called in an airstrike. Although some of those killed were combatants, most of the victims and wounded appeared to be children. The soldiers struggle to justify to themselves what they see. Some of them try to explain the difficulties of returning to America after a deployment like this, recognising that no-one will be able to understand the pressures they have faced.
Restrepo has already won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and surely deserves the ultimate film accolade. It was made by noted war journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, both of whom have written books about the Korengal Valley, which was abandoned by US forces last spring.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Colonel Imam murdered by his kidnappers in Wazirstan

Colonel Imam, the former Pakistani ISI officer responsible for training many of the current leaders of the Afghan Taliban, including leader Mullah Omar, has been found murdered outside the town of Mir Ali in North Wazirstan, according to media reports.
Imam - real name Sultan Amir Tarar - was kidnapped last April along with another former ISI officer, Khalid Khwaja and British journalist Asad Qureshi and his driver. Khwaja was later murdered, but Qureshi was released after his family paid a large ransom.
It is believed the men were kidnapped by a group calling itself the Punjabi Taliban, made up from expelled members of the Pakistan Taliban and the sectarian Lashkar-Jhangvi group. Some of the group's leaders, including Usman Punjabi, died last August in a shoot-out over how Qureshi's ransom should be divided.
Col. Imam and Khwaja were both Taliban sympathisers and had accompanied Qureshi to Waziristan so that he could make a film. However, the kidnappers believed the two former ISI officers were spies. Despite attempts to secure their freedom by Taliban officials the two men were killed.
Videos were made of both men before they were killed. Khwaja was shown allegedly confessing to being a CIA spy, while Col Imam begged the authorities to do something to save him.
Once report says that he was killed when his family failed to deliver a $590,000 ransom. The killers now say they want a ransom before they will hand over the body.

Apathy rises in Pakistan as the killings continue

Trail of Tragedy: A chronicle of violence in Pakistan 2010, by Pakistan's Strengthening Participatory Organisation, is a chronology compiled from the online archives of the two Pakistani newspapers, Dawn and The News. Produced in the form of a day-by-day record, it includes - but is not limited to - suicide attacks, bombings, ambushes, target killings, casualties resulting from military operations and drone attacks.
Depressingly, the authors say that as terrorism has increased in Pakistan during the last decade, so public apathy and indifference towards it has also risen. They note the attacks on schools and, more recently, Sufi shrines, which are symbols of "tolerance, peace and coexistence".
"This report is being presented with the hope that terrorism should be seen in a holistic way by government as well as by the public. This is the most important problem in Pakistan today, because the development and progress is not achievable unless peace and stability are restored. We also understand that the promotion of peace is one of the foremost responsibilities of civil society, and it should be placed at the top of our day to day work schedule, or at least alongside everything that we are doing and that we stand for."
While not as comprehensive as the PIPS study published recently (see below), it still brings home the devastating impact terrorism is having on Pakistan. According to the report, 4678 people were killed in Pakistan last year - about half the number recorded by PIPS

Friday, 21 January 2011

US designates Qari Hussain as a global terrorist

The US government decided yesterday to designate Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Qari Hussain Mahsud as a terrorist, saying that the action will "help stem the flow of finances to Hussain by blocking all property subject to US jurisdiction in which Hussain has an interest and prohibiting all transactions by US persons with Hussain."
Hussain himself is one of the TTP's senior leaders and has said in the past that he is the trainer of the group's suicide bombers, many of whom are young boys.
The official terrorist designation says that Hussain has taken responsibility for numerous bombings including a car bomb in Peshawar in November 2009, two attacks on Pakistan government offices in Lahore, a September 2010 attack on a rally in Quetta that killed 54 and one in Lakki Marwat the same month that killed 17. He is also thought to have trained the Jordanian bomber who blew himself up in a CIA base in Eastern Afghanistan a year ago.
The odd thing about this announcement is the timing. Hussain was widely reported to have been killed in a drone missile strike in October 2010 and nothing has been heard of him since. It is unlikely that he has any interests in US property, having been brought up in the tribal areas of Pakistan and educated at madrassahs. Either the State Department knows something we don't know, or this is another example of pointless bureaucratic paper-shuffling.

Transport is the key to Afghanistan's development

Almost without thinking, many of us accept that the Western mission in Afghanistan is to build up the Afghan National Army and security forces, so that foreign troops can leave the country. President Obama has made it very clear that he sees the task in Afghanistan, not as nation-building (a hated concept since Vietnam), but as winning the war.
What of economic development? Little if any thought has gone into that, according to a new paper.
Afghanistan: Beyond the Fog of Nation Building, written by S Frederick Starr for the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and the Silk Road Studies Program, based at Johns Hopkins University and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm, highlights this point. "In fact, the US has no strategy for economic and social assistance to the new Afghanistan," says Starr.
He recommends five measures: an effective economic programme for Afghanistan must bring tangible and substantial benefits to large numbers of ordinary Afghans; it must be capable of being advanced simultaneously with the military effort; it must provide the government with a sustainable income stream; it must dovetail not only with the efforts of the Afghan government but also with those of key regional neighbours; any such measures must begin to bear fruit quickly.
Efforts to date have focussed on agriculture and minerals, both of which are flawed. The former, says Starr, takes more time than is available and the latter breeds governmentalisation and corruption. Both depend on transport infrastructure, which does not exist at present and was ignored in the 2010 US policy review.
Starr says "The U.S. must concentrate its 'economic' energies on opening transport corridors within Afghanistan and between Afghanistan, its neighbours, and the broader world. Transport and trade in goods manufactured locally and abroad, resources, and energy are the essential foundation of any successful economic policy for Afghanistan and the region."
Starr refers to a 2010 World Bank study which states that Afghanistan's single greatest comparative advantage is its geostrategic location. It is a hub for continental trade between India, south-east Asia, Europe, Russia, the Middle East and China. "Whatever its larger geopolitical significance, the reopening of continental transport and trade to, from, and across Afghanistan is the single most important determinant of the future of Afghanistan itself".

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Final report on kidnap and murder of Daniel Pearl

After a three-year investigation, The Pearl Project, based at Georgetown University has published its final report on the January 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The Truth Left Behind: Inside the Kidnapping and Murder of Daniel Pearl says that 27 men were involved in Pearl's kidnapping and murder, although only four have been charged and convicted, including former British public schoolboy Omar Sheikh. Fourteen others remain free. The murder itself was carried out personally by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America.
KSM has previously confessed to the murder. There were doubts about the veracity of the confession after it was revealed that KSM had been 'waterboarded' - an extreme form of torture. However FBI and CIA officials later used a technique called vein-matching to compare the hand of the killer in the murder video with a photograph of KSM's hand.
The report says that the conspirators were inept, failed to cover their tracks and were even unable to operate video equipment properly. However, the Pakistani investigation into the murder was even more inept. The Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual murder on Omar Sheikh, even though he had only been involved in the kidnapping. Neither Sheikh nor his three co-conspirators were present when Pearl was decapitated by KSM. They, in turn, are using KSM's confession as the basis for an appeal that is now before the Pakistani courts.

Mullah Omar has not had a heart attack - Taliban

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan categorically refutes this baseless and fatuous claim and believes that circulation of this rumour,  is part and parcel of the propaganda war launched by the enemy."
Thus does Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid deal with the story that Taliban leader Mullah Omar was admitted to a Pakistani hospital in Karachi following a heart attack a few days ago.
He adds: "The esteemed Amir-ul-momineen (may Allah protect him) has never suffered from such disease, that would have required to rush him to a hospital. The enemy is circulating these rumours to cover up its  own defeat at the military field and to distract the attention of the common man."
The real question is whether or not the Taliban itself knows the location of its own leader. As I reported last October, he had not been seen for several months and was believed to be a 'guest' of the ISI.

Young and uneducated - the leaders of the Pakistan Taliban

Many of the new layer of leadership of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan are in their thirties, with little or no formal education and come from relatively poor socio-economic backgrounds. There are likely to be upwards of 10,000 militants in the organisation, which is riven by factional disputes.
These are some of the findings from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, An attempt to deconstruct the umbrella organization and the reasons for its growth in Pakistan's North-West, published by the Danish Institute for International Studies.
The author of this 74-page report, Qandeel Siddique, is a research assistant at DIIS. She says that bombings, including suicide attacks, appear to be the group's preferred tactic. They promote themselves through illegal FM channels and the circulation of DVs, CDs and pro-TTP newspapers and websites. Child recruitment is common and particular TTP leaders are responsible for training suicide bombers. Money for the organisation comes from criminal activity, protection rackets and donations from sympathisers both within and outside Pakistan.
The organisation's main aims are to enforce sharia law, unite against Coalition forces in Afghanistan and to perform a defensive jihad against the Pakistan Army.
However, the organisation is also tinged with sectarianism, mainly due to the injection of leaders and cadres from other organisations. Its aims have swung in behind those of al-Qaeda.
The factional nature of the organisation, itself based primarily on tribal affiliations, means that groupings such as the Muqami Tehrik-e-Taliban and the Haqqani group are focussed on Afghanistan, while the Hakimullah Mahsud group and Fidayeen Islam claim that the fight against the Pakistani security forces is the 'real' jihad.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Pakistan remains a land ravaged by violence

More than 10,000 people were killed and another 10,000 were injured in political violence in Pakistan last year, according to figures released by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies. These figures include deaths and injuries as a result of insurgent and terrorist attacks, security force operations, drone strikes, inter-tribal attacks and cross-broder attacks.
They also confirm that Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world, despite a fall in incidents since the previous year.
The worst affected areas were Baluchistan (737 attacks) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (720 attacks), followed by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (459 attacks).
Overall, violent incidents decreased in 2010 for the first time since 2007. Fatalities also fell from 12,623 in 2009 to 10,003 in 2010, while injuries fell by a similar proportion. Suicide attacks fell from 87 in 2009 to 68 in 2010, almost half of which occurred in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Deaths resulting from US drone attacks rose by 165 per cent in 2010 to 961, most of which occurred in North Waziristan.
The number of terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan decreased by 21 per cent compared to 2009, although attacks by militants in FATA increased by 28 per cent and fatalities from such attacks in the tribal areas increased by 40 per cent and injuries by 37 per cent. While law enforcement personnel were the target of 105 attacks in 2009, this figure rose to 144 attacks in 2010. Attacks on political leaders rose from 7 in 2009 to 34 in 2010.
The number of civilians killed in 2010 was 3,570 in 2010, compared to 3,476 in 209, but security personnel deaths fell by half from 2,515 in 2009 to 1,211 in 2010.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Reassessing Afghanistan's media

Nine years after the fall of the Taliban, argue the authors of a new report, dreams of a free and independent media sector in Afghanistan go unrealised. It is time, they say, to reassess the media landscape and reevaluate how media can best be employed as a tool for peacebuilding.
Afghanistan Media Assessment: Opportunities and Challenges for Peacebuilding, published by the US Institute for Peace and written by Eran Fraenkel, Emrys Schoemaker and Sheldon Himelfarb, says the media in Afghanistan should serve as an interlocutor between the historically antagonistic centre and the periphery of the country. It argues that although millions has been spent on media by international donors, the two main goals of counteracting insurgent communications and creating a free and independent media sector have not been met.
Donors should henceforth invest primarily in the production and dissemination of socially constructive content, rather than building media institutions that the economy cannot support and should also make multi-year funding commitments, even if institutions do not become self-sustaining.
The US and its allies should coordinate their media support strategies and the military should restructure its media activities to avoid excessive financial and editorial interference.
The authors recommend a number of specific media interventions, including a TV or radio drama based on the experiences of Afghan returnees, a reality TV show based on an all-Afghan youth cricket team, a TV documentary series showing how some communities have solved problems, a radio satire that examines the role of rumours and provides solutions through audience participation, an investigative and participatory radio talk show and a radio show that broadcasts the deliberations of shuras (community councils).
These are all interesting ideas, although it is by no means certain that they would be welcomed by an Afghan audience or pull in large numbers of viewers and listeners. Or that there are sufficient numbers of well-trained and talented technicians and writers in Afghanistan to make these interventions successful. As the Afghan media organisations mature, commercial pressures (and politics) are likely to be the most important arbiters of Afghan tastes. Although around 100 people were interviewed for this report, what is now needed is a much more in-depth survey of Afghan audience perceptions and preferences.
Ironically, this may help explain why the Taliban has been so successful in its media strategy. Despite producing entirely fictitious battle reports for years and failing all the 'truth and accuracy' tests,  the overall message it delivers of Islamic justice as a solution to the country's woes continues to exert a powerful influence. 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A few reports you may have missed...

Defining success in Afghanistan by Frederick W Kagan and Kimberly Kagan, A report by the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War .
The Kagans define success as "the establishment of a political order, security situation, and indigenous security force that is stable, viable, enduring, and able—with greatly reduced international support—to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for international terrorists." They argue that military forces are making progress and that policy does not need changing much. They say that the Taliban has lost almost all of its momentum and main safe havens in the south and that locals are now stepping forward to fight the Taliban with ISAF support. In the East insurgents do not have much momentum and they are extremely unlikely to gain strength in the north. "From a military standpoint, the counterinsurgency is going reasonably well, insofar as it is possible to judge over the winter." The main test, they say, will come in late summer 2011 when the insurgency is expected to peak.

A New Deal: a plan for sustainable Afghan Stability by Bijan R Kian and Wayne Porter of the New America Foundation argues that it is time to transition from "foreign-funded, Afghan-assisted development to a sustainable "Afghan-funded, foreign-assisted programme that reduces corruption. Drawing on parallels between the United States in 1933 and present-day Afghanistan, they suggest setting up an Afghan Development Corps of young Afghans to work on project such as water, sewage and sanitation, reforestation and land management.

Strategies to Counter Opiate Production in Afghanistan: Are we on the right track? is produced by URD, the French government's development agency. They conclude that "Though slow, practices are changing and there is growing recognition that there is no one replacement crop, nor any one “alternative” form of development, but that only holistic socio-economic and political development will make it possible to reduce dependence on opium poppy cultivation in a sustainable manner."

How to find Sarah Lee (Mitcham): Step 3

A quick check on a commercially available database confirms that Sarah Lee (b. 4 Nov 1965) also uses the aliases: Sarah Hel Mitcham, Sarah L Mitcham, Sarah Murrell Mitcham, Sarah Helen Lee and Sarah H Mitchan. Such a lot of aliases! Albany, Oregon looks like a pretty good bet for her present location.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

How to find Sarah Lee: Step 2

Sarah Helen Lee married Dennis Murrell Mitcham (b1957) in February 1985. They have two children who are now in their mid-twenties and whose names are in the public domain. I guess this means that Sarah Lee, Sarah Helen Lee and Sarah Lee Mitcham are one and the same person. Both Dennis and Sarah now appear to live in Isleton, California or perhaps in Albany, Oregon. How hard did the US Army try to find Ms Lee (Mitcham)?

How to find Sarah Lee: Step 1

The Excluded Parties List System, provided as a free service by the US General Services Administration, includes information regarding entities debarred, suspended, proposed for debarment, excluded or disqualified under the non-procurement common rule, or otherwise declared ineligible from receiving Federal contracts, certain subcontracts, and certain Federal assistance and benefits.
Therefore it should come as no surprise to see that it contains information about the two companies, Bennett-Fouch Associates and K5 Global, that were suspended from US army contracts recently (see below) for failing to pay their Afghan subcontractors.
According to the EPLS website, Bennett & Fouch Associates of 1805 Florence Road, Ste 9, Killeen, Texas and K5 Global of 329 Bob Moore Rd, Anacoco, Louisiana, were entered onto the list on 27 December 2010 for an indefinite period.
Also added at the same time were Gary Brandon of Dallas, Texas, Sarah Helen Lee of Anacoco, Louisiana and Sarah Lee Mitcham, also of Anacoco (who may or may not be the same person as Sarah Helen Lee). According to the 2003 Alumnus magazine of Northwestern State University of Louisana Susan H Lee Mitcham was an emergency room Registered Nurse at Christus Jasper Memorial Hospital in Texas and lived in Anacoco.
Interestingly, Anacoco has a population of only around 756, so it should not be too difficult for anyone to find Ms Lee if she is still there. The US Army said in a statement last week that it had been unable to find Ms Lee since she skipped Afghanistan last year without paying her bills. She is alleged to be the owner of the two companies.
Perhaps they may have better luck if they check out Fort Polk, just a few miles away, an army base that happens to be home to the Joint Readiness Training Center, the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division and the 162nd Infantry Brigade? It presently provides contingency training for the Army's light infantry and special forces before deployment to Afghanistan. It is in the process of doubling its 100,000-acre training area, much of which is in the Kisatchie National Forest. I feel sure Ms Lee has the odd contact or two on the base.

Monday, 10 January 2011

What Afghans think about the military campaign in Kandahar

Only rarely does one come across documents that accurately reflect the opinion of ordinary Afghans about the war that is being fought on their doorstep. Thus, the second Afghan Voices paper published by Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy is to be welcomed.
Entitled How Afghans View Coalition Military Operations in Kandahar, the paper is written by Zabih Ullah - an Afghan journalist who was born in Kandahar, but chooses not to use his real name. He argues that most Afghans do not regard the prospects for Coalition success as very high. Discussions with villagers and residents of Kandahar reveal that most believe the military campaign will end in failure. "Many Kandaharis have come to believe that Coalition military operations result only in the death, injury, arrest and dishonouring of innocent Afghan civilians who have nothing to do with the Taliban", he says.
At the same time, they don't want the Coalition forces to leave and say they could play a more positive role in rebuilding the shattered country.
Zabih Ullah gives five reasons who the Coalition military campaign is failing: the Taliban can find sanctuary in Pakistan; they learn quickly from their mistakes, for example, avoiding head-on clashes with Coalition troops, which they know they cannot win; some Coalition tactics, such as night raids, are counter-productive. "For a Pashtun it is almost better to be killed rather than to be dishonoured by having foreign soldiers in his house at night"; Coalition strategy changes constantly, as do the messages being communicated to locals; the failure of Coalition forces to keep their word and stay in the villages they secure for the long term.
Zabih Ullah says that if there is one over-riding reason why locals have little confidence in US-led operations in Kandahar, "it is the continued failure of American and Coalition forces to understand local context and dynamics and the impact of their stalled operations on the local population." Some excellent observations in this short, but timely report.
Details of the first paper in this series, written by Wazhma Frogh on the subject of the Afghan government's plans for reconciliation and reintegration, can be found here.

US military aid to Pakistan continues to rise

Two reports from the Congressional Research Service, published by the Federation of American Scientists, update the picture on American aid to Pakistan since 2001. A one-page summary of Direct Overt US Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2011 shows that since 2001 the total declared amount provided to Pakistan (there is also substantial covert aid) reached $19.595 billion. From this figure, $13.305bn paid for security-related items. The largest annual aid package came in 2010, when it totalled $4.347bn.
A second paper entitled Major US Arms Sales and Grants to Pakistan since 2001 notes that most purchases by Pakistan have been made with Pakistani national funds, but these purchases have been eclipsed in recent years by purchases funded by US grants.
Foreign Military Sales agreements with Pakistan for FY2002-FY2010 totalled about $5.4bn, with sales of F-16 combat aircraft and related equipment accounting for more than half of this.
Major post-2001 defence supplies provided under US Foreign Military Financing include:
* eight P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, of which two have been delivered so far;
* about 6,312 TOW anti-amour missiles;
* more than 5,600 military radio sets;
* six AN?TPS-77 surveillnace radars;
* six C-130E transport aircraft;
* one ex-Oliver Hazard Perry class missle frigate;
* 20 AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters;
* 121 refurbished TOW missile launchers.
Pakistan itself paid for 18 new F-16C/D Block 50/52 combat aircaft, (of which 17 have been delivered), 500 air-to-air missiles, 1450 2000-lb bombs, 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 500 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and six Phalanx Close-in Weapons System naval guns.
Major transfers under the Excess Defense Articles programme include 14 F16A/B combat aircraft, 59 T-37 military trainer jets and 550 M-113 amoured personnel carriers.
Under various other programmes Pakistan has also received 26 Bell 412 utility helicopters, four Mi-17 multi-role helicopters, two King Air 350 surveillance aircraft, 450 vehicles for the Frontier Corps and huge amounts of equipment such as body armour, helmets, first aid kits, night vision devices, etc.
All-in-all, more than enough to launch a major military operation into North Waziristan.

Friday, 7 January 2011

SIGAR decides to get tough

Fields - Tough guy or pussy cat?
Is Arnold Fields, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, getting tough at last? On Tuesday he announced that the leaders of the organisation's Audits Directorate and the Investigations Directorate were being replaced, to take the agency "in a new, increasingly aggressive direction". With contractors like Sarah Lee of Bennett-Fouch getting away with not paying Afghan subcontractors, (see below), it's about time.
Update: On Tuesday 11 Jan, Fields - a former soldier - resigned his post, effective from 4 Feb 2011. This followed Congressional pressure on President Obama to sack him for incompetence and mismanagement.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

US companies run from Afghan creditors

Rather late in the day the US military has suspended contracting privileges to two companies in Afghanistan over allegations they failed to pay their Afghan subcontractors. According to a statement from Coalition forces, several Afghan companies have brought allegations of nonpayment against Bennett-Fouch Associates and K5 Global, both of which are owned by a 45-year-old American woman named Sarah Lee. "The failure of firms to pay their local national workforce or local national subcontractors adversely affects counterinsurgency strategy," the coalition said in the statement.
Bennett-Fouch appears to have lied when it told local Afghan contractors last spring that it could not pay them because it had not been paid by the US government."In reality", the Coalition statement said, "the U.S. government had paid Bennett-Fouch for the work on the construction projects." In April last year the company had closed its local offices and bank accounts in Afghanistan and had left the country owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
According to one report, US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was told about Sarah Lee's companies at an event in Kabul in June and promised in public to solve the problem. Nothing further happened until the announcement this week. What has now happened is that the US Army will investigate the claims from creditors and not award any further work to the two companies until it has reviewed the evidence. This could take up to 18 months.
Lee's companies seem to be involved in basic construction work in Afghanistan, such as building sewers, although in Iraq they were also involved in building a radio station and selling airtime for advertising to the US Army, as well as supplying generators and other items of equipment.
However, since reneging on payments in Afghanistan last spring, 45 year-old Sarah Lee appears to have gone to ground. The Coalition statement says "The US government attempted to contact Bennett-Fouch without success to address these allegations in connection with construction contracts at military bases in Afghanistan." Remarkable that the US government could not find the woman behind this alleged scam. Has it issued an arrest warrant? Checked her home address?

The Coalition statement acknowledges the obvious fact that treating Afghan creditors so shabbily will only strengthen the insurgency and confirm the worst attitudes of Afghans towards foreigners. Perhaps the US Army investigators will understand that fact and deliver some justice to the Afghans who are owed money by Lee's companies.
If anyone has a picture of Ms Lee or can help with any contact details, I would be delighted to offer them to a wider audience.

'Remarkable gains' in Helmand - report

The second of Jeffrey Dressler's two reports on Helmand for the Institute for the Study of War argues that US Marines and Coalition forces have made "remarkable gains" in the province by taking back key terrain previously controlled by the Taliban.(The first report can be found here).
Dressler argues that Taliban supply lines have been disrupted, that safe havens and support zones have largely been removed and that the Taliban has been forced out of the main populated areas in Garmser, Nawa, Marjah and Nad Ali.
As a result, Taliban-initiated violence have fallen considerably since its peak in 2009. In Marjah, for example, daily security incidents have dropped from several dozen to single digits. While the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army has improved with mentoring, police were found to be so predatory that tribal elders have helped in the recruitment of indigenous police who more accurately represent the local tribal makeup.
The military action has successfully disrupted the narcotics trade, with estimates that insurgents received around 50 per cent less money from the Helmand drug trade in 2010 compared to 2009, resulting in a cash flow problem for them.
Problems remain, says Dressler, including political interference from allies of President Karzai and also a lack of capable civil servants.
Reconstruction projects have helped attract local support for the government, with around 4,000 people employed each day. Schools and healthcare facilities have been built. Furthermore, 71 percent of Helmand residents currently describe their living conditions as "good," an increase of 27 percent since late last year. Of those surveyed, 59 percent give positive marks to the availability of jobs, up nearly 50 percent from last year.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

State's low priority for Afghanistan prior to 9/11

Dr Marvin Weinbaum served from 1999-2003 as a State Department analyst for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In August 2003 he gave an interview in the form of a memorandum for the record to members of the State Department Counterterrorism team, presumably at the point when he left State to take up a new job at the Middle East Institute.
The now declassified memo has been published on the Cryptome website and should be read by anyone interested in US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The four-page redacted memo succinctly spells out the major errors made by US policy makers as the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda cemented its relations with Mullah Omar.
Weinbaum says Pakistan was willing to back whoever would bring order to Afghanistan and at various times gave money to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and to the notorious General Dostum. He argues that the Taliban was not created by Pakistan, rather that it caught the eye of policy makers after a number of victories in Kandahar and elsewhere.
He notes that Osama bin Laden (UBL) and the Arabs had a strong connection with the Afghans, but that they were not very popular with the average Afghan: "When UBL returned in 1996, he is not viewed as a hero; rather he is viewed as a source of cash," explains the memo, adding that eventually the Taliban under Mullah Omar became financially dependent on bin Laden and the relationship was later cemented by marriages between the families of the two leaders. The money came from wealthy Arabs who donated to Arab charities based in Peshawar and Kandahar.
Meanwhile, from 1989 to 1998 Afghanistan remained a low priority for the State Department. The threat from the Taliban was not appreciated, with some officials arguing that they should be "given a chance". At that time oil company Unocal was discussing its proposed pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean with State: "Weinbaum opines that while Unocal was not a driving force in setting policy, the Department definitely heard them out."
With the arrival of new officials in 1998, policy began to change, particularly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa and after Pakistan's nuclear tests. The main US policy for Afghanistan now became the expulsion of bin Laden. While Counterterrorism Coordinator Michael Sheehan argued for sanctions, Weinbaum believed this policy would push the Taliban closer to bin Laden.Instead he supported the idea of financing development in the north as a way of discrediting the Taliban and their claims of progress. However, this policy was not followed because the Northern Alliance at that time was perceived as being pro-Iranian.
Weinbaum says that engaging with the Taliban was not easy and that the more moderate wing around Mullah Rabbani could never hope to deliver bin Laden to the Americans: "Weinbaum doesn't even think Omar would have traded UBL to the US in return for American recognition. We had very little leverage here."
Nor did pressure on Pakistan work, not least because the US had distanced itself from Islamabad after the nuclear tests.
Weinbaum ends by saying that as al-Qaeda mounted its momentous attacks on America there was very little expertise on Afghanistan within the State Department: "Weinbaum says that on 9/11, he was the only person in State who had lived in Afghanistan."