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Entries in Afghanistan (70)

12:39AM

Afghanistan's minerals deposits now super-sized by U.S. geologists

Beneath the sheep be lithium

NYT story via Michael Smith and David Damast and HuskerInLA.

I know the temptation for crowing here is intense, but I would suggest going very easy on the cascading assumptions.  There are a lot of reasons why this news has remained unknown this deep into globalization's expansion.

The "shocker" here is that U.S. geologists have confirmed what has been long suspected: Afghanistan's mineral riches are significant. Just like with Iraq, once outside experts got some free range, a lot more reserves were found.  Frankly, that'd be true for any Gap nation that's remained largely cut-off from the outside world for reasons of too much dictatorship or not enough law. Hell, it was true for Russia on oil.

This is being presented as a game-changer, but I think the overselling is premature.

First off, understand that the mining world doesn't exactly get turned upside down on this basis.  This is great news and potentially game-changing for Afghanistan if a lot of things go right--for a long time, but it will not alter any larger realities in the global marketplace (where China is the demand center of the global mining industry), except to end this nonsense notion that somehow Bolivia controls the bulk of the world's lithium (Whew! Dodged that would-be superpower!).  There is lithium being found in plenty of places, trust me.  The same discounting can now be applied to China's alleged cornering of the entire rare earth market--also a vastly oversold fear.

Mineral riches in the range of $1T certainly shove Afghanistan into the big-boy category (past estimates said Afghanistan was Syria-sized in oil and had just enough minerals to qualify as resource-cursed--a line I've used to very ho-hum effect in the brief for two years now, suggesting that no American audience I've ever come across would suddenly jump and say, "Yeah baby, this changes everything!") , but the primary reason why the place has never been sufficiently checked out before now has been the security situation/lack of governance, and that doesn't exactly change overnight on the basis of this information. Nor will it change--I suspect--the Obama administration's unwillingness to sign up for a significant combat presence that drags into the next election at anywhere near the level to maintain enough security to get balls seriously rolling.  "Blood for lithium" doesn't exactly ring the average American citizen's bell.  It also won't likely make the Taliban any less fierce in their fighting--anything but.  If you don't believe me, then please remember that the Naxalite Maoists in India do best in areas where mining deals strikes the local as inequitable.

Most importantly (and this is what Enterra learned in our Development-in-a-Box work in Kurdish Iraq), the discovery doesn't change but only reveals the lack of counterparty capacity in Afghanistan--as in, plenty of outside parties willing to engage in the transaction, but Afghanistan's government is nowhere near capable of playing the counterparty.  And yeah, it takes two to tango.  Remember the first thing Jed Clampett did after he moved to Beverly Hills:  he got himself a Mr. Drysdale.  There will be a lot of entities vying for that role in Afghanistan, and in many ways, it would be better if that role wasn't hogged by the Americans.

Finally, don't assume any of this is a big surprise to the Chinese, whose overly-generous 30-year deal on the Anyak copper mine now looks like the start of a beautiful and logically far larger relationship.  China, after all, has a border with Afghanistan (76 clicks long); we don't.  The basic pattern long cited here of Americans doing the Leviathan heavy-lifting while the Chinese reap the SysAdmin winnings isn't exactly snapped by this news--anything but.

So as before, I think the key remains getting a whole lot more rising great powers deeply--and I mean DEEPLY--interested in helping secure Afghanistan for the long haul.  Mining isn't a slam-dunk but years upon years upon years of stability required for the riches to flow, and then they have to flow with some transparency and positive popular impact, otherwise you can find yourself in an endemic conflict situation that's just Afghanistan-the-failed-state-as-we've-known-it now supercharged by a fungible source of funding for any side willing to kill enough to control its resulting wealth.

Before anybody gets the idea that somehow the West is the winner here, understand that we're not the big draw on most of these minerals--that would be Asia and China in particular.  What no one should expect is that the discovery suddenly makes it imperative that NATO do whatever it takes to stay and win and somehow control the mineral outcomes, because--again--that's now how it works in most Gap situations like Africa.  We can talk all we want about China not "dominating" the situation, but their demand will drive the process either directly or indirectly.  There is no one in the world of mining that's looking to make an enemy out of China over this, and one way or another, most of this stuff ends up going East--not West.

If anything, this news should be used to leverage more of a security contribution out of regional great powers--to include China.  So less of a game changer than perhaps a very welcome game accelerator--as in, China is a lot better positioned to reap the mineral rewards that is Afghanistan, with the question being, "How long does it take for China to step up security-wise and stop low-balling its effort there?"  Certainly, the notion that we turn Afghanistan and all its minerals over to Karzai's cronies, Pakistan's ISI and the Taliban strikes me as truly cracked, but the truth remains:  we and our Western allies aren't enough to make the security situation happen on our own--not for the long timelines required.  If it were that easy, these discoveries would have been made decades ago.

I'm not trying to diminish the importance of the findings here (although, again, whenever an isolated place like this finally gets checked over, the "stunning" surprise is the same--as in, there's lots more than anybody knew previously); I'm just saying the macro dynamics aren't all that altered.

So again, less a game-changer than potentially a tremendous game-accelerator.  China is now that much more incentivized to accelerate its penetration, and it would be nice to see that happen on a timetable that helps us while effectively drawing Beijing into more explicit partnership.

Or we can pretend this is going to remain a NATO-dominated show that somehow achieves Afghanistan's potential as a long-term supplier of important minerals to the global economy.

If I've said once in the brief, I've said it a thousand times (literally!):  Americans cannot integrate a nation-state on the other side of the planet into the global economy all on our own.  Our Leviathan can rule any battlespace, but the SysAdmin's victory is necessarily a multilateral one.

Here's the simplest reality test I can offer you:  if we're just at the initial discovery phase now, we're talking upwards of a decade before there will be mature mines.  Fast-forward a decade in your mind and try to imagine the US having a bigger presence in Afghanistan than China.  I myself cannot.

Start with that realization and move backward, because exploring any other pathway will likely expose you to a whole lotta hype.

12:08AM

McChrystal hinting at a more realistic timeline

AP story by way of Our Man in Kabul that reminds us that two timelines are out of synch:

The commander of NATO and U.S. forces stressed Sunday that progress toward real stability in Afghanistan will be slow as international troops painstakingly try to win over a population that includes its enemies and has little trust in the government.

The NATO push in Afghanistan has long been running on two timelines: one in which officials call for years of patience to establish peace in the war-wracked nation, and one in which President Barack Obama promises to begin drawing down troops in July 2011.

McChrystal hinting at the truth:  "Progress will be measured in months, rather than days."

12:07AM

Caldwell's assessment of, and efforts on, improving the training of the Afghan police forces

Readers will remember Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV for his hosting of one of my visits to Leavenworth to address the student body of the Command and General Staff College (Petraeus hosted me the first time). Caldwell then asked to make a direct post to my site, which I was honored to accept and publish.

So when you're talking WAPO's Greg Jaffe covering Caldwell's recent review of police training, I'm all ears for any glass-half-full news.

The best bits culled:

A U.S. military review in Afghanistan has concluded that the addition of more than 1,000 new U.S. military and NATO troops focused on training has helped stabilize what had been a failing effort to build Afghanistan's security forces, but that persistent attrition problems could still hinder long-term success.

"We are finally getting the resources, the people and money," said Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who heads the NATO training effort in Afghanistan and oversaw the review of his command's past 180 days. "We are moving in the right direction."

U.S. war plans depend on Afghan forces maintaining security in areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the U.S. military is adding 30,000 troops this summer. More broadly, the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy places a heavy emphasis on an expansion of the Afghan security forces before the United States begins to withdraw troops in July 2011.

Caldwell's report card on the training effort, which The Washington Post obtained in advance and is expected to be released within the next couple of days, paints a mixed picture.

On the plus side, new money for pay raises has helped boost a recruiting situation that was so dire last fall the Afghan army was shrinking . . .

For the first time in years, the Afghan forces are "currently on path" to meet the ambitious growth targets, the assessment states. It isn't yet clear how well those forces will perform once they are in the field, which is the most important measure of success, Caldwell said . . . 

"In some areas last fall, we had one trainer for every 466 recruits," Caldwell said. "When you have that kind of ratio, it means that people aren't receiving any training."

The additional trainers have helped double the number of new Afghan soldiers who meet the minimum marksmanship standards by the end of basic training, the report states, although it is still lower than U.S. commanders would like . . . The number of police recruits enrolled in basic literacy programs has also more than doubled, to 28,000 from about 13,000 last fall.

Despite those improvements, police and army units are still struggling to retain personnel, especially in critical areas where fighting is heavy and the demand for forces the greatest . . .

The assessment found that the attrition rate in the Civil Order Police is about 70 percent. That's lower than it was at the end of 2009, the report states, but still "unacceptable and unsustainable" . . .

To fix the problem, U.S. and Afghan officials are weighing the possibility of increasing combat pay and giving soldiers a break from battle. "We are working real hard to set up a system to rotate units" out of areas where combat is heaviest, Caldwell said.

U.S. commanders have said the performance of Afghan police and army forces in Kandahar, the country's second-largest city, is essential to the military campaign planned for the area this summer. There are concerns that, as fighting with the Taliban increases, recruitment and retention could suffer . . .

"We're going to start seeing a more professional Afghan force in the field over the next eight to 12 months," Caldwell said.

Or else, I guess.

12:09AM

There is no Plan B for Afghanistan

Karen DeYoung piece in WAPO underscores the bum's rush mentality at work in the Obama administration:

The Obama administration's campaign to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan's second-largest city is a go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed.

The bet is that the Kandahar operation, backed by thousands of U.S. troops and billions of dollars, will break the mystique and morale of the insurgents, turn the tide of the war and validate the administration's Afghanistan strategy.

There is no Plan B.

The deadline for results is short: Administration officials anticipate that the operation will form the centerpiece of a major strategy assessment due in December and will justify the first withdrawals of U.S. troops from elsewhere in Afghanistan in July 2011. Although operations initiated last winter in southwestern Helmand province will continue, and new troop deployments are scheduled this year for northern and eastern Afghanistan, little else will matter if the news from Kandahar is not good.

The urgency and the difficulty of the task were illustrated Saturday when the Taliban launched an unprecedented rocket and ground attack against the Kandahar air field, NATO's largest installation in southern Afghanistan and the headquarters of the upcoming offensive. Several coalition troops and civilian employees were wounded when rockets sailed over perimeter fortifications, but gunmen who tried to fire their way inside through a gate were unsuccessful, the U.S. military said.

Officials have described the offensive's blend of civilian and military operations as the first true test of the counterinsurgency doctrine adopted five years ago on the eve of the 2007 surge in Iraq, but since only imperfectly applied. As troops battle insurgent forces entrenched among the population on the outskirts of the city, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, U.S.-mentored Afghan police will establish a presence in the relatively secure center.

Scary to think this rush job is being described as the "first true test of the counterinsurgency doctrine."  Last time I checked, the doctrine didn't say, "Do a half-assed job for the first seven years and then cram a serious effort into a window of several months, making a do-or-die show of force in a single city."

We all hope it works, but this is not a seriously patient test of anything other than Obama's intense desire to quit the place amidst a good showing.  

There has been no significant regionalization of the solution set.  Instead, we get this showpiece showdown.

Tell me that doesn't strike you like magical thinking?  "If we can make it work in Kandahar, then the Afghans themselves will make it work throughout the rest of the country!"

I have a bad feeling. 

Even more so when I hear Obama saying his new national security strategy will create a new "international order" based on diplomacy and engagement.  An unimpressive showing in Afghanistan will render that vision DOA--no matter what pretty words are attached.

12:07AM

The Taliban, in gearing up their attacks, keep us in Leviathan mode as much as possible

The preview from Marjah, a former insurgent stronghold, does not bode well for the far larger and more seminal effort in Kandahar, where the persistent attacks against NATO base hubs suggests the Taliban will not simply wait out our latest surging COIN effort but will aim to keep us in combat mode as much as possible so as to crowd out the nation-building stuff.

Going into Marjah, we promised tens of millions of dollars for serious SysAdmin reconstruction efforts, only to so far spend $1.5M--a bit short of the projected $19M.  The Taliban has simply kept up the sort of harmonic attacks that keep the situation just unstable enough to prevent recovery--the usual kidnapping of Western workers on key projects and the beheading of pro-gov locals and "night letters" threatening retaliation.  Classic example:  USAID buys irrigation gear, but no local farmers will accept after one of the first to do so was killed by Taliban.  

To date, the whole telegraphing our punch by saying up front Kandahar would be the big proving ground seems to be backfiring.  The Taliban have geared up and gone toe-to-toe every step of the way.  We have our set level of effort, and the Taliban are effectively calculating just enough counter-effort to prevent any lasting impact.

This is where our go-it-alone-with-NATO package looks weak.  Everyone knows we make little effort to regionalize a serious long-term solution beyond Pakistan's cynical buy-in, and that reality encourages the Taliban to play hard for the anticipated short-duration--by their standards--effort the Westerners are likely to make.  Their threshold for critical mass is being met; ours is not.

12:03AM

Jaffe portrait of the quintessential SysAdmin officer

Nice piece by Greg Jaffe in WAPO that explores what it means to be a frontline SysAdmin-style officer: part-warrior, part-diplomat, part-anthropologist, part-nationbuilder . . . just a lot more moving parts than the usual Leviathan role of ass-kicker-and-then-leave.  Focus is Lt. Col. Robert Brown.

Story comes in two parts.

The career background is classic:  This guy has been SysAdmin his entire career, just missing out on the Leviathan's last great romp.

Brown was commissioned as an armor officer in 1991 just months after U.S. tanks sliced through Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard in a demonstration of the post-Vietnam Army's raw power.

Two Iraq tours in 2004 and 2007 opened Brown's eyes to the limits of his Army and himself. He avoided "we can do the impossible" pep talks that other commanders used to fire up their troops. His goal was to build the Afghan government and bring his soldiers back alive.

The vast majority of his time was spent quizzing Afghan elders and officials on decades-old tribal disputes and intrigues. In the evenings he scoured the Internet for information on the HiG and its history in Nurestan province during the Soviet era. "There is so much here that is opaque to us," he said.

The dances-with-wolves isolation and vulnerability:

The outpost, surrounded by soaring mountains on all sides, was isolated and hard to defend. "It felt like we were living in the bottom of a Dixie cup," one of Brown's soldiers said.

Brown eventually decides that his unit's presence is uniting two wings of an insurgency that could otherwise be split.  He asks to close the outpost and the decision to do so takes a while.  In the meantime, his unit suffers a massed attack by local insurgents:

Eight U.S. troops were killed in the Oct. 3, 2009, battle at Combat Outpost Keating, making it one of the deadliest fights for Americans of the Afghan war. For soldiers, the harsh reality of combat has scarcely changed in the decades since Vietnam. To survive, the outnumbered Keating grunts relied on their mutual devotion and marksmanship.

What makes Keating different from past battles is what happened afterward. A decade of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has forced battlefield commanders to accept that victory in today's wars is less a matter of destroying enemies than of knowing how and when to make them allies. This new kind of war has compelled midlevel officers such as Brown to take on new roles: politician, diplomat, tribal anthropologist.

"My goal is to get people to stop shooting at my soldiers and support government," said Brown, a wiry, quick-talking officer whose three combat tours have imbued him with modesty, skepticism and a little self-doubt.

After the Kamdesh battle, an insurgent leader known as Mullah Sadiq sent word to Brown that he wanted to drive his more radical Taliban rivals from the area around the Keating outpost. Sadiq, who had been on U.S. kill-or-capture lists for five years, needed money and Brown's help brokering a peace deal with Afghan government officials in Kabul. The offer was Brown's chance to ensure his eight soldiers didn't die in vain.

"We don't think Sadiq is a Jeffersonian Democrat," Brown wrote of Sadiq in a February e-mail from Forward Operating Base Bostick in Naray. "But he is rallying public support to the Afghan government and against the Taliban. . . . And frankly, that may be good enough."

From part two:

Sadiq wanted 50 assault rifles, $20,000 and a promise that U.S. forces would not kill him. In return, he promised to turn against more-radical Taliban insurgents and to begin to work with the Afghan government.

Sadiq's proposition gave Brown a chance, however tentative, to achieve a victory of sorts in his corner of Afghanistan and redeem the loss of his men.

"This has the potential to work," Brown told his commander.

It has become a given within the U.S. military after nearly a decade of grinding battle in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq that U.S. forces cannot kill their way to victory. Enemies must be persuaded to lay down their weapons through a mix of negotiation and force. Grievances must be understood and wherever possible addressed. These principles are at the core of the military's coming campaign in Kandahar, which U.S officials are touting as the most important battle of the nine-year war.

Brown is a firm believer in this new American way of war, one that has forced him to puzzle through dauntingly complex tribal feuds and to overcome a fractured Afghan government that often prefers to fight enemies, such as Sadiq, rather than cede influence to them.

Brown, 41, has struggled to make sense of Sadiq, who insists on dealing with the Americans solely through intermediaries. Some Afghans describe Sadiq as a religious scholar and brave commander. Others maintain that he is a warlord and extremist.

"The bad guys aren't bad because they were born bad," Brown said from his base in Naray. "What no one ever teaches you is how to get to the bottom of the story. No one ever teaches you to ask, 'Why is Mullah Sadiq the way he is?' "

 The deal struck sounds right out of Anbar in Iraq:

Every few nights, one of Sadiq's deputies telephoned Brown to work out the terms of the deal. By March, the insurgent commander had assembled an informal police force of about 230 locals, some of whom had probably taken part in the Keating attack. Brown arranged for the United States to pay the men about $25,000 a month until the Interior Ministry formally accepted them as police.

But the problems are two-fold: 1) does the Afghan government really want to broker such deals? and 2) what's the nature of US staying power?

In early April, the deal with Sadiq began to fall apart. Senior Afghan officials in Kabul banned Zaman (local PD chief) from sending any of his forces to meet up with Sadiq's fighters.

"They are worried that we are trying to give Kamdesh district to the HiG," Zaman said. "They don't want us to give these guys a say in the government."

The hedging in Kabul also unnerved Sadiq, whose representatives immediately called Brown. "We are surrounded by 1,000 Taliban, but our government doesn't accept us!" one of Sadiq's deputies screamed over the satellite phone. He demanded Brown's help in acquiring 600 assault rifles, 16 Ford Ranger pickup trucks and two dozen machine guns and grenade launchers for the new Kamdesh police force.

Brown explained that the weapons had to come from the Afghan Interior Ministry, which was refusing to send any arms to Kamdesh. Sadiq's representative hung up on Brown in mid-sentence.

To get the deal back on track, Brown and George pressed the Afghan officials to write a letter to the central government in Kabul detailing the need to move forces into the valley and to better arm Sadiq's police force.

"After much cajoling, we have gotten all the Afghan players supporting the resources for the police in Kamdesh," Brown wrote in an e-mail in early May. Sadiq didn't get all the weapons he wanted, but he got some.

A new U.S. unit was scheduled to replace Brown's cavalry squadron at the end of May. He knew the next U.S. commander wouldn't have the same incentive to close the deal with Sadiq. Brown also had ample reason to question Kabul's commitment to working with Sadiq.

"We want this to happen more than the Afghans do," he said he often worried.

The reconciliation ceremony has not been held, but in recent days hundreds of Afghan army and police forces have been inching along the perilous road to Kamdesh to link up with Sadiq. Taliban commanders have been assembling a force to stop them.

Brown said he does not know exactly what to make of the maneuvering, although he detects signs of progress. "The momentum change has been significant," he wrote in an e-mail.

He expects to be home in Colorado in about two weeks. Kamdesh will be a new commander's fight.

The usual problem of being there only so many months, learning enough to start working the situation, and then being yanked out just as things might mature into something better.  Here, they don't for reasons beyond Brown's control.

Nice reporting by Jaffe, showing the great difficulty and complexity of the task, but also highlighting, in an anecdotal way, how Afghanistan probably won't work out, COIN-wise, like Iraq.  Just too many competitors fighting for influence in a zero-sum manner.

12:07AM

The Taliban-After-Last

Good feature in Newsweek.

Key bits:

The old generation of fighters is mostly gone from the battlefield; most were killed, captured, or disabled before they reached their late 30s. And yet by all accounts the number of insurgents on the ground keeps rising, with ever-younger recruits joining the fight. Malik and Khan had scarcely been born when Baradar took up arms against Soviet invaders, and they hadn't yet reached their teens when Mullah Omar's fighters seized Kabul from feuding mujahedin factions in 1996. According to a senior Taliban intelligence officer, speaking to NEWSWEEK on condition of anonymity, roughly 80 percent of the group's fighters are now in their late teens or early 20s, and half the commanders in the field are 30 or under. The best young fighters tend to be promoted quickly, thanks to combat losses.

The young guns are a breed apart from earlier Taliban generations. In a series of interviews for this story with more than a dozen young insurgent leaders over the past three months, they showed themselves to be more hotheaded and less respectful of authority than their elders. War against America has steeled these young fighters in combat with an enemy that employs more accurate and lethal firepower than the Russians or the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance ever had. The experience has only made them tougher and more uncompromising, in the judgment of veteran Taliban members. "The difference between these young Taliban and those of us who fought against the Northern Alliance or even the Russians is huge—like between earth and sky," says the senior intelligence officer who is in his mid-40s, but knows many commanders in their 20s. "These young men have seen and suffered more, and have a much stronger emotional and religious commitment than we ever did."

They're also impulsive and lacking in discipline. 

The usual evolution (more commitment, less talent), not necessarily in our disfavor.  It's just the generational perversion created by long-term conflict.

Many older Taliban seem to value the young guns' fighting spirit enough to tolerate their blatant disdain for the chain of command. But it's not so easy to accept the new generation's attitude toward traditional authority. Three decades of war have shattered the centuries-old system of tribal rule that has been the only functioning law in large parts of Afghanistan. In the wake of the Taliban's collapse, some local chieftains turned against villagers who had sided with Mullah Omar's regime. "Some elders went too far," says Bari Khan, a subcommander in his early 20s in Ghazni province. "They insulted, mocked and abused Taliban supporters, thinking the winds had changed." Now the winds have shifted again, and the old men are finding themselves at the mercy of cocky young fighters and commanders. "This poor young boy whom village elders may once have ignored or humiliated now has the power to step on their throats, so they'd better listen to him," says the senior intelligence officer.

But their behavior is making enemies among the civilian population. "The Taliban's older generation was tough, too, but it respected elders and had some humanity," says a 45-year-old school principal in Helmand province, asking not to be named out of fear for his safety. "These younger guys are arrogant, radical, and show no respect for white beards." The principal says late last year he was arrested by a young subcommander for no discernible crime other than being a schoolmaster. As he was being led away, the principal produced letters from both Baradar and Zakir testifying to his good character and saying he ran a proper Islamic school. The commander threw the letters in his face and hauled the principal before an Islamic court, where he was fined $6,000—a fortune for an educator whose living depends on contributions from villagers. "They listen to no one," the principal says of the Taliban's new generation. "They're like the Afghan police—they only want to make money." They even confiscated the school's desks and chairs and sold them off at the local market.

Soon afterward, U.S. Marines drove the subcommander and his fighters out of the district—at least temporarily. The principal has cautiously reopened his school, but with no furniture, the students have to sit on the dirt floor. He's disgusted with the Taliban, but he's equally unhappy with the Kabul government and the Americans.

So basically a lose-lose for the population, with the US winning few hearts and minds.

Unless the Obama administration somehow regionalizes this mess a lot more than just relying on the Pakistanis, it's hard to see how this ends in anything but failure.  I mean, it's our corrupt allies versus Pakistan's brutal proxies, with the people trapped in between.

12:05AM

US-Afghanistan: trying to hold the US-Afghan endgame together

WAPO, FT and Economist stories.

As in Iraq, I don't see the Obama administration doing much of anything to regionalize what comes next.  This remains completely a US/NATO show, as improved as it may be.  And so we are reduced to emphasizing publicly to the world how strong our bond is with the Karzai government--a sure sign that it is weak.

Karzai remains committed to a personality-based rule, because it's what he knows and he knows it's more popular than the Americans.  The Americans remain committed to building up institutions, because it's what we know works best, and yet, as in Iraq, there is this sense of having our eye on the door.

And so we are left with our great faith in the Kandahar campaign and the notion that, as one American general put it, the Afghans will "shura their way to success."

I personally would put more faith in a regionalization scheme that engaged the Iranians, Turks, Russians, Indians and Chinese far more explicitly and deeply.  Instead, we seem intent on relying on the kindness of the Pakistanis going forward--or maybe it's backward.

12:09AM

The usual SysAdmin shortage: no enough trainers to go around

Pic found here

Per an NYT story, the usual suspect:

The Pentagon, in an official assessment of the Afghan mission released last week and current to the end of March, said that “one of the most significant challenges to the growth and development” of the Afghan security forces was the shortage of trainers.

So the US is forced to surge an additional 850 trainers to go with the 1,500-or-so provided by allies.  This is beyond the 30,000 troops surged previously.

That's a telling stat, is it not?

12:03AM

Update on efforts to professionalize the Afghan National Police

Dreazen story in the WSJ on the SysAdmin effort in Afghanistan:  the great battled against endemic corruption within the Afghan National Police.

Latest tricks:  dial #119 to drop a dime on corrupt cops, blue dye that marks government gas so the cops won't sell it off for personal gain (about one-fifth on average disappears), and electronic funds transfers of salaries so police superiors have a harder time demanding kickbacks.  In the past, they would just send the salary total for entire units to regional bases, which would then distribute them in cash.  Stunning, when you think about it.

But it's almost always these small training/human resources/personnel stuff that defines the major differences between professional and non-professional forces--not the gear nor the numbers nor the funding (beyond salaries, that is).  Rooting out the waste, fraud and abuse follows all that, but it cannot replace good wages.

Recent polling said the average bribe paid to cops by citizens was $160--in a country with a per capita income of just over $400.  That will get you a lot of angry people.

New officers are now getting $165 a month now--a wonderfully symmetrical number.  You ought to be able to beat the average bribe with your monthly salary.

Holbrooke, our special envoy to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, goes around telling the world that the police is terribly corrupt and inadequate, which is probably true, but I just wish the guy actually accomplished something in all his travels and speeches beyond such criticism.  I mean, hasn't he be a tremendous non-entity in this whole effort?

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