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Afghanistan, After The Happy Talk

Posted by on February 16th, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

I've noted often before that the "happy-talk" coming out of the US military about Afghanistan is more about message massaging the US public than about actual success. Today, three different stories underline just how true that is.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said that Afghanistan must address widespread corruption within its financial system before the IMF will green light a $125 million loan which is supposed to kick-start economic development there. Worse, IMF agreement on aid is a prerequisite for several other nations' aid programs, including the UK's – so Afghanistan won't be getting that money either for now. With so many of Afghanistan's elite hip-deep in the Kabul Bank fraud story and other corruption, it's difficult to see how Karzai can live up to the IMF's calls for  "several immediate measures to ensure the stability and future development of the financial system," including prosecuting  "any illegal behavior or fraud" without committing political (and maybe literal) suicide. Fraud is so endemic that up to 80 per cent of international help to Afghanistan is being lost in international and local corruption schemes, according to Pino Arlacchi, the former UN anti-drug and crime chief.

Next: we've also noted, as have others, that the US military's pushing of Afghan security forces recruitment numbers don't add up and don't tell the full story. With desertion rates for recruits running as high as 50%, still-high illiteracy rates and drug use, and widespread corruption, the ANA is a wash as a whole and the ANP is an embarassing failure, according to some analysts. Today, a new report by a UK parliamentary committee says the European Union mission to train the Afghan police is failing.

"We have huge concerns about this mission," said the committee's chairman, Lord Teverson, commenting on the report published on Wednesday.

"It is failing in its stated purpose of building up a civilian policing capability. What the Afghan people need is a police force that can relate to their lives, that can investigate crimes and bring cases to court."


"Let's at least get up to the staffing level that we promised Afghanistan," committee chairman Lord Teverson told Sky News.

"Then may be we have got a chance of fulfilling at least part of the mission.

"If we cannot do that then I think we should even question whether we should be there through to 2013 when the mission is supposed to end."

…The US and Nato training has focussed largely on counter-terrorism and guard work – only the EU mission is involved in teaching old fashioned policing, catching and the prosecution of criminals.

…the Lords' report observes that "great stress is laid by the Nato-led coalition on the number of police, rather than quality (as is also true for army training).

"Training courses tend to be short (six weeks) and emphasise the need to meet numerical targets… Six weeks of training is not enough.

"The huge rate at which trained police very quickly leave the service needs to be recognised – we heard in our evidence of a staff attrition rate, at one point, of 75%."

But there's absolutely no prospect of any EU nation sending more trainers. All have their eyes firmly on the exits, not a greater committment to what they see as a quagmire.

Thus has come General Petraeus' greater reliance on Afghan Local Police (ALP) and  "interim security for critical infrastructure" (ISCI) groups – armed local militias. And that's where the wheels can seriously coming off in the long term, as illustrated by a Guardian report by Jon Boone from Marjah.

the marines have been on an extraordinary hiring binge, with 500 recruited in 30 days. The marines' massive spending power has been critical to attracting recruits – they spend about $500,000 (£312,300) every 10 days on discretionary development programmes and ISCI salaries.

Each fighter receives $150 a month, while the group's leader gets $180 and a "startup" fund of $5,000 to buy weapons. That means the so-called block leaders, who collect the salaries, can get their hands on thousands of dollars every month.

Despite a rigorous vetting process, the ISCI scheme has been hit by problems in Marjah with armed groups fighting against each other, the Afghan security forces and the marines.

In a case regarded as particularly disturbing by local authorities, a commander illegally arrested and beat a man who had stolen a motorbike. The man's female relatives alleged that they had been mistreated. When police investigated, a fight ensued in which a 15-year-old boy was shot in the head and two ISCI commanders were wounded.

In another case, a drug-fuelled brawl between two ISCI members arguing over a woman led to one man being stabbed with a bayonet and the other shot dead. The killer fled without paying compensation to the dead man's family, leaving two neighbouring groups in a state of simmering antagonism.

There are also fears that Taliban sympathisers have infiltrated some groups, not least after marines were this month engaged in a lengthy firefight with gunmen who later revealed themselves as ISCI by the yellow armbands members have to wear in lieu of a uniform.

[District governor, Abdul] Mutalib is sufficiently unsure of the militias' loyalties that he was horrified when gun-toting ISCI guards turned up to a school opening last week attended by a delegation of US congressmen. Fearing their presence could have turned a photo opportunity into a mass slaughter of VIPs, Mutalib later told Hudspeth: "They are not to be trusted, this must not happen again".

Marjah isn't the success it is being painted by a long chalk, and feuding militias will only multiply the problems there. Yes, Governor Mutalib is a paranoid nutcase (another future problem for any success in Afghanistan is that too many US-backed leaders are not the most stable of chaps)  - but across Afghanistan politicians from Karzai on down are saying the same thing, as are people who remember previous warlordism and see the new militias turning to the old ways.

And finally, also from the Guardian's report, comes a partial explanation of why Petraeus and his staff expect this year to be even more violent than last year, which was the most violent year in Afghanistan since the beginning of the occupation.

Another big risk to Petraeus's priority project will come in the spring when the "fighting season" begins in earnest and the lightly armed militias will become soft targets for Taliban reprisals.

Elders have been alarmed at a recording that has circulated, apparently of a call to prayer broadcast from mosques in the Pakistani city of Quetta, a Taliban sanctuary, calling for jihad against the Marjah arbikai,the traditional tribal defence forces.

Hudspeth fully expects the insurgents to make every effort to assassinate some of the more influential ISCI leaders, as well as to try to mount spectacular attacks on US and Afghan troops, probably with suicide bombers.

"That is a risk we are prepared to take," said Matthew Lesnowicz, a captain who oversees the ISCI forces. "This is a relatively cheap process for us and the pay-off is potentially huge."

Wow. Of course this is a "relatively cheap process" for the US military. Mostly, it's only Afghan's who will die.

I keep wondering what the careerist Saint Pet is up to. The wheels are going to come off the happy-talk bandwagon very soon and he has to know that. Is the Teflon General, so-called because no crap ever seems to stick to him, planning on not being there much longer, despite denials?

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