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Fighting on the float

Posted by on May 22nd, 2010

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By Dave Anderson:

Many have made the very commonsensical observation that the more money that the US has pumped into its COIN efforts, the more money the insurgents seem to have.  This makes sense, the US way of war is very capital and cash intensive.  Wastage and 'acceptable' pilferage and corruption potentially overwhelms the cash flow that is realized by drug smuggling by the Taliban and other insurgent/anti-government groups in Afghanistan.  

Travels with Shiloh attended a COIN symposium earlier this month, and passed along both the slides for a great presentation on Soviet COIN in Afghanistan by Lester Grau and some observations from Mr. Grau's presentation.  One stuck out to me:

The loss rate of supplies coming through Pakistan is approximately 30%.  I knew it was high and had read reports of occasional raids but I had no idea it was routinely this high.  One third of supplies are being lost through destruction/theft?  Maybe the insurgents don’t need to sell heroin if they can convert even a portion of that 30% into cash.

The Pakistan supply route is only for non-lethal supplies (fuel, food, spare parts, construction supplies etc) as ammo, weapons and fighting vehicles are flown in (which does wonders for the US logistics bill). In 2009, the US estimated the insurgent groups that it was fighting in Afghanistan had annual operations budgets of $300 million dollars per year.  Marjah wasl a major financial profit center for the Taliban with annual cash flows of $2.5 million per year.  The Pakistan supply route loss rate is most likely being absorbed into the Pakistani local economy, but there is probably some excess cash that is getting skimmed and sent to Afghanistan, either directly, or in the form of ammunition and weapons.  And the larger the volume of supplies being sent, the more that can get skimmed off so that insurgencies which can get out spent 100:1 or better are able to live off the scraps of the counter-insurgency effort.

This is not limited to Afghanistan.  The US military and government funded and armed a significant part of the Iraqi insurgencies.  There was and still is plenty of cash sloshing around in Iraq due to US operations. That cash often fell into the hands of groups that were shooting at US forces as they controlled the relevant local actors.  Fabius Maximus passes along an interesting article from the Nation:

 The Community Stabilization Program (CSP), which cost $675 million over its three years of operation, has been lauded as one of the war’s most effective counterinsurgency operations. Launched in May 2006, it was USAID’s chief contribution to the Bush plan of rescuing a tailspinning military adventure with a civilian surge and increased focus on economic development.

… According to several senior military and government personnel, however, this vaunted program was responsible for sending millions of taxpayer dollars to Iraqi insurgents via a complex web of contractors and subcontractors….

 Intelligence reports made available to Colonel Fazekas indicated that the council in Kadhimiya was directing some contracts to militia members and that additional militia members were extorting “protection” bribes from legitimate contract winners. “We saw reports that a particular contractor was being blackmailed for a thousand dollars a day,” Fazekas says. “It was feeding [the insurgents'] ability to continue to resupply and fight against us…

The letter—obtained by The Nation through the Freedom of Information Act—presented new “sensitive and disturbing information from a well-placed source” advising that as much as 40 to 50 percent of CSP funds in Kadhimiya had gone to insurgents and corrupt officials. 

This problem is endemic to the US version of COIN as it is a doctrine that is used to prop up very weak governments that become " a dysfunctional state, prone to military coups, and constantly being threatened by competition among elites for a bigger piece of the pie.  It remains a country that for a variety of reasons will continue to tempt external actors to play out geopolitical games…" where the dysfunction is endemic corruption that continues to generate plenty of crumbs for insurgent groups to feed off of.  

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