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Defense Department Rules Data on Failure in Afghanistan Is Not Releasable

Today, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released the 38th quarterly report on the “reconstruction” effort in Afghanistan. We need only read as far as Inspector General Sopko’s cover letter to learn that the Department of Defense has decided that the effort in Afghanistan is failing so badly that a complete lid must be placed on information that provides details that can be used to document that failure:DOD continues to blaze new ground in its efforts to hide its failures. Remember when it tried retroactive classification to hide a report it didn’t like? This is an interesting variation on that play. Now, data that is clearly known to be unclassified, and that SIGAR has been publishing for two years, is suddenly “not releasable”.

Why is it not releasable? That, of course, is because it shows just how badly DOD is failing in Afghanistan. Note that SIGAR tells us “the number of districts controlled or influenced by the government has been falling since SIGAR began reporting on it”. You can bet everything you own that had there been even the slightest improvement on territory held by Afghan forces, DOD would have told SIGAR to release the data and would have had generals on every network touting their resounding success. At the same time, DOD is replaying a previous trick in classifying the actual force size for Afghan forces. I interpret that move to be telling us that Afghan forces are dwindling faster than previously claimed, presumably through the also-classified rates of casualty, attrition and capability metrics.

The ruling prohibiting release of data on the territory held becomes even closer to an attempt at retroactive classification as we move to the next part of Sopko’s cover letter:Just because they don’t want us looking closely at the data from November, here it is:
Granted, this report is from December 15, but let’s take a look at how that claim that “The Afghan Government retains control of Kabul” holds up. In today’s New York Times, we have this:
With Kabul suffering this badly, imagine how bad it must be in the rest of the country. The war in Afgthanistan is now over 16 years old. It’s time for it to take those car keys and drive itself home, because things are going so badly there that DOD is hiding all the data it can.

“Notwithstanding”: How Congress Enabled Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter to Keep Child Rape and Torture from Disrupting Forever War

Back in September of 2015, the New York Times published sickening details on widespread child rape in the Afghan military. The Times’ investigation was centered in part on a victim of child rape who had served as a “tea boy” to Afghan officers and subsequently acquired a weapon. He opened fire inside a base, killing three US Marines.

I had noted at the time that one of the victims, Gregory Buckley, Jr. had told his father just before he was killed that reporting Afghan soldiers for child rape was discouraged because “it’s their culture”. This stood out to me because I had been reporting on the retroactive classification of a DoD report that stated many green on blue killings could be explained by cultural incompatibilities between US troops and the Afghans they were training.

The reports of child rape were so disgusting that Congress commissioned a study by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Recontruction to look into how such widespread abuses were allowed to happen. After all, the “Leahy laws” were aimed at preventing funding of foreign entities known to be committing gross violations of human rights. SIGAR finished their report in June of 2017, but it has only now been declassified and released.

While the report “found no evidence that US forces were told to ignore human rights abuses or child sexual assault”, the end result of actions by Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter leading up to the September 2015 incident are damning in how they result in just that outcome, at least when it comes to using funding that Congress provided.

Here is how SIGAR places the investigation into perspective:

You are excused if, like me, you need to go off and curse a while over the outrageous sums of money we have “invested” in a security force that is failing at this very moment.

But now we have yet another outrage. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided in 2005 that no other law could be used to get in the way of the funding of our sacred war in Afghanistan. Recall that the torture memos were released in late 2004, so Congress rightly feared that much of what we were funding in Afghanistan was illegal and they didn’t want to let those measly laws get in the way of their war.

Just look what DoD had to go through to ignore what the Afghans were doing. Here is Chuck Hagel trying to provide cover in 2014:

This of course looks just fine. We all need a written protocol on how to report human rights abuses. But what happens when abuses are found? Oh, that’s bad. And even though DoD still redacts much of Hagel’s action, it’s clear he was told of abuses but he freed up funds anyway by relying on the “notwithstanding” clause:

It gets even worse. Ash Carter did the same thing, just a few short months before the tea boy attack that killed Buckley and two others:

Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter were fully aware of gross human rights abuses, including both child rape and torture, but elected to use the blunt tool that Congress had given them to ignore these human rights abuses and continue funding the same units within the Afghan military that carried out the abuses. So while official policy was that abuses are to be reported, they then are completely ignored at the Congressional and Cabinet level in order to continue a forever war that is forever failing.

Afghanistan Quagmire Update: Now With Even More Failure

Just before the election this fall, the US war in Afghanistan will pass its fifteenth birthday, making it old enough to obtain a driving learner’s permit in most states. Despite the fact that the Taliban government fell after only eight days of the war, the US has inexplicably stayed in the country, ostensibly maintaining peace, eliminating a small force of al Qaeda and “training” Afghan defense forces to take over. During that time the US has expended an ungodly amount of money, lost thousands of US troops and been present for much larger losses of life throughout a country that also has seen unacceptable numbers of internally displaced people. All of this has taken place while Afghanistan has continuously been found at or near the top of the list of the most corrupt nations on the globe.

Now, nearly fifteen years into the misadventure, we see that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction today issued its 30th in its series of quarterly reports to Congress (pdf). Nothing in the report provides any hope that Afghanistan will emerge from the US war nightmare as a functional country any time soon.

Violence levels in Afghanistan are at an all-time high. SIGAR relied on UN data to provide this illustration of violence levels over time:

UN data on Afghanistan security events as presented in the SIGAR quarterly report, January 2016.

UN data on Afghanistan security events as presented in the SIGAR quarterly report, January 2016.

Although sources and methods of reporting on violence levels in Afghanistan have changed over the years, consultation with posts here and here shows that since the days when troops were diverted from the misadventure in Afghanistan to the even bigger misadventure in Iraq, violence has trended only upward.

Another key feature of the US “activities” in Afghanistan has been the “training” of Afghan forces to step up and take over primary responsibility for defense of the the country. The US has disbursed over $56 billion in this training and equipping effort. After years of SIGAR reports carefully documenting the numbers of Afghan troops trained and the capabilities of those forces, we suddenly encountered a wall of classification of Afghan troop capabilities last year as the US effort in Afghanistan was “ending”.

Today’s report states that Afghanistan reports a fighting force of 322,638 out of a target size of 360,004. However, SIGAR notes that AP has seen through the ruse that Afghanistan uses in its self-reporting of troop numbers:

However, a January Associated Press report alleged that the actual number of ANDSF security forces is far less because the rolls are filled with nonexistent “ghost” soldiers and police officers. In that report, a provincial council member estimated 40% of the security forces in Helmand do not exist, while a former provincial deputy police chief said the actual number was “nowhere near” the 31,000 police on the registers, and an Afghan official estimated the total ANDSF number at around 120,000—less than half the reported 322,638. The success of military operations is at risk, because as one Afghan soldier in Helmand said, they do not have enough men to protect themselves. Additionally, an Afghan lawmaker claimed the government is not responding to the crisis because a number of allegedly corrupt parliamentarians are benefiting from the “ghost” security forces salaries.

SIGAR points out that they have long questioned the reliability of ANSF size and capability reporting, so the AP report should be of no surprise to anyone. Given these issues of the real fighting force size for Afghanistan, it also should come as no surprise that the Pentagon has cut back on how much information it releases. In today’s report, that is marked by this statement:

This quarter, details of ANDSF force strength at corps level and below remained classified. SIGAR will report on them in a classified annex to this report.

A key aspect of what remains classified is most of the information on Afghan troop capabilities. However, the abject failure of these troops can be seen in the assessment of how much of the country has fallen back into Taliban hands:

USFOR-A reports that approximately 71.7% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of November 27, 2015. Of the 407 districts within the 34 provinces, 292 districts are under government control or influence, 27 districts (6.6%) within 11 provinces are under insurgent control or influence, and 88 districts (21.6%) are at risk. In a report issued in December, DOD stated that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. There are more effective insurgent attacks and more ANDSF and Taliban causalities.

And yet, the mass delusion within the Pentagon persists, as that bleak paragraph above ends with this unbelievable sentence:

However, DOD remains optimistic that the ANDSF continues to improve its overall capability as the capabilities of the insurgent elements remain static.

This completely unfounded and contrary to all available data assessment by DOD of the situation in Afghanistan says everything we need to know about how these geniuses have failed at every step of the way in a mission that has mired the US in a quagmire that anyone could have predicted before the first bomb fell.

Did Obama Order Total Information Shutdown on Afghanistan?

In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.

The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.

Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:

–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)

As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.

The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:

Campbell

Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.

But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:

Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.

Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.

Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.

SIGAR Finds Huge Problems With $300 Million Afghan National Police Payroll

SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has released a report (pdf) describing very disturbing problems with salaries for the Afghan National Police. The report concludes:

The U.S. government is spending more than $300 million annually for ANP salaries with little assurance that these funds are going to active police personnel or that the amounts paid are correct. ANP identification cards with unique numbers are the primary control mechanism to help protect against fraud and abuse, but they are not being used properly—including for attendance and payroll purposes—and there are almost twice as many cards in circulation as there are active police personnel. Further, after 9 years of effort, an electronic human resources system—critical for ensuring the proper personnel are being paid and paid the correct amount—has still not been successfully implemented. Despite lengthy and costly U.S. government attempts to implement this system, AHRIMS, and a payroll system, EPS, the two systems are still not integrated. This lack of integration serves to negate critical controls, such as the ability to reconcile personnel between systems, that should be in place to protect U.S. salary funding from waste and abuse. It is not surprising, therefore, that reports have disclosed inflated police rosters, payments being made to more police personnel than are authorized in particular locations, and police personnel receiving inflated salaries. Achieving full functionality and integration of these systems would only partially resolve existing problems. Such improvements would still not address concerns about low-level ANP attendance procedures or the integrity of the data once it leaves EPS for final salary payment calculations. Also of concern is the payment of ANP personnel in cash via trusted agents, as there are even fewer controls over these salary payments. The fact that as much as half of these payments are possibly diverted from intended recipients is alarming.

The U.S. government and international community plan to continue funding ANP salaries. Some requirements to help safeguard U.S. funds are in place, but neither CSTC-A nor UNDP are fully following them. U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) should enforce these requirements and—where there are accountability gaps—create new, binding procedures to better safeguard funds. USFOR-A, UNDP, and the MOI must do a better job of coordinating to ensure that ANP personnel numbers match on-the-ground realities and that their salaries are accurate and provided only to actively serving Afghan forces.

We learn from the report that the flawed ANP identification card program was developed by DynCorp, but I don’t see in the report where the equally flawed AHRIMS and EPS programs came from. The fact that after 9 years of trying, we still don’t have a basic system for “taking attendance” for ANP personnel on the job is staggering. As a result, the system is still rife for corruption at all levels as ghost employees can be put on the roles and their salary embezzled. Here is more detail on the corruption enabled by part of the payroll being disbursed in cash:

SIGAR found that nearly 20 percent of ANP personnel are at risk of not receiving their full salaries because they are paid in cash by an MOI-appointed trusted agent, a process that lacks documentation and accountability. CSTC-A and UNDP officials told SIGAR that there is limited oversight of trusted agents and a higher risk that funds may be subject to corruption. Further, CSTC-A reported that corrupt practices within the trusted agent system of salary payments “could take as much as 50 [percent] of a policeman’s salary.”

On a separate but highly related front, Afghanistan finally has announced the full roster of nominees for its cabinet. This move will fill 27 positions. Conveniently, TOLONews has broken those nominees down by where they came from. Thirteen were nominated by Ashraf Ghani and twelve by Abdullah Abdullah. Two are “neutral”, the head of security (who carries over from the previous government) and the head of the banking system.

Returning to the problems in the SIGAR report, ANP falls under the Ministry of the Interior, whose new leader, nominated by Abdullah Abdullah, will be Noor-ul-haq Ulumi. He is a former general as well as having served in the lower house of Afghanistan’s Parliament. He will face quite a challenge in implementing the changes that SIGAR suggests in its report.

Did ISAF Joint Command Chief Leak Classified Information on Afghan Troop Capabilities?

Shorter Anderson: "Afghan forces are winning, trust me. I just can't tell you how capable they are."Recall that back on October 30, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction informed us in a quarterly report that the military suddenly has classified its evaluation of the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). One of the key commanders who may have been involved in this classification decision, Lt. General Joseph Anderson, who is the head of ISAF Joint Command, held a telephone briefing yesterday. The attached partial screenshot here shows the rah-rah article that DoD News put out covering the briefing. The headline blares “Afghan Forces Winning, ISAF Joint Command Chief Says” and opens with gushing praise for ANSF:

In the final days of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, the Afghan national security forces are winning and the long coalition effort is taking hold, the commander of ISAF Joint Command said today.

In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said that despite these gains, progress remains to be made.

The Afghan national security forces include Afghanistan’s armed forces, national police, border police, local police and members of the National Directorate of Security.

“They are the most trusted government organization in Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “They are trying to provide time and space for this society to grow and reduce the insurgency.”

Ah, but did Anderson go too far? Recall that the evaluation of ANSF capability has been classified. Here is what comes next in the cheerleading article:

He called the Afghan national security forces a hugely capable fighting force that has been holding its ground against the enemy.

Hmmm. Is that a leak of classified information? Saying that ANSF is “a hugely capable fighting force” sure sounds like a statement based on an evaluation of ANSF capability similar to the evaluation that has been classified. Here once again is the SIGAR description (pdf) of the evaluation suddenly becoming classified:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

So ISAF classifies the Regional ANSF Status Report but then unleashes the chief of ISAF Joint Command to make a statement that ANSF is “hugely capable” even though, as SIGAR notes, the public now has no way to have an “informed national discussion” on whether Anderson’s claim has any basis.

I’m sure that leak investigation will get started any century now.

US Military Suddenly Decides to Classify Its Analysis of Afghan Troop Capability

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released the 25th quarterly report (pdf) on US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We are of course at a major crossroads in US involvement in Afghanistan, as US and NATO combat involvement are being phased out and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security. Some US and international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year under the new Bilateral Security Agreement, but with Afghanistan in charge it is of utmost importance that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are fully staffed and functional so that they can take on their responsibilities. One of SIGAR’s key roles in its oversight activity through the years has been to collect and review information coming directly from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, concerning the recruitment, training and subsequent capabilities of ANSF. ISAF ostensibly is a NATO team but is of course dominated, both in command and in personnel, by the US military.

Suddenly, in the final SIGAR report before the current ISAF mission ends and operations move to the new arrangement, ISAF, and more specifically ISAF Joint Command, has decided to classify the reports it prepares on ANSF troop capability. Here is Inspector General John Sopko in his cover letter accompanying the quarterly report:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

It is very difficult to see this move by ISAF as anything more than a blatant attempt to cover up massive failure on the part of the efforts to train Afghan troops to take over their own security functions. This move by ISAF follows previous efforts that also come off as attempts to game the system so that evaluation of the always-claimed “progress” is difficult to impossible. Note in Sopko’s letter that he refers to three different systems by which troop readiness has been analyzed and reported. First, we had the Capability Milestone system, which was replaced by the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the now-classified Regional ANSF Status Report has replaced CUAT.

In March of 2013, I pointed out SIGAR’s frustration with how ISAF was gaming the CUAT:

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report:

In 2010, SIGAR audited the previous assessment tool—the Capability Milestone (CM) rating system which had been in use since 2005—and found that it did not provide reliable or consistent assessments of ANSF capabilities. During the course of that audit, DoD and NATO began using a new system, the CUAT [Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool], to rate the ANSF. In May 2010, the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) issued an order to implement the new system which would “provide users the specific rating criteria for each [ANSF] element to be reported by the CUAT including leader/commander considerations, operations conducted, intelligence gathering capability, logistics and sustainment, equipping, partnering, personnel readiness, maintenance, communications, unit training and individual education, as well as the partner unit or advisor team’s overall assessment.”

Since the implementation of the CUAT, the titles of the various rating levels have changed, as shown in Table 3.3. In July 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns that the change of the title of the highest rating level from “independent” to “independent with advisors” was, in part, responsible for an increase in the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level. GAO also noted that “the change lowered the standard for unit personnel and equipment levels from ‘not less than 85’ to ‘not less than 75’ percent of authorized levels.” In a response to SIGAR last quarter, the IJC disagreed with GAO’s assessment, saying a change in title does not “equal a change in definition.” Since last quarter, the IJC has initiated a CUAT Refinement Working Group to standardize inputs and outputs in the areas covered by the assessments.

But it turns out that the CUAT itself was developed only when SIGAR initiated an audit (pdf) of the Capability Milestone rating system. So, twice, when SIGAR decided to audit the system for evaluating Afghan troop readiness, ISAF responded by developing a totally new system, creating a strong discontinuity in the ability to track Afghan troop readiness over time. And now that we are at the most important moment for Afghan troops to be ready, ISAF decides that any information at all on their readiness is classified, even though they have provided the very same information without classification for years.

When we drill down to the details about the classification that SIGAR provides in the report, we see in footnote 196 (page 94) that they were informed of the classification in response to a data call submitted to IJC on October 3 of this year. Noting this and the arguments that SIGAR provides that aggregate data on Afghan troop readiness should not provide any sort of strategic advantage to insurgents, I submitted the following question to SIGAR: Read more

Graft-Sharing Agreement Signed, Ghani Awarded Afghan Presidency

On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani was declared the new President of Afghanistan. Despite months of “auditing” the votes cast in the runoff, we have not yet had an announcement of actual vote totals. That is because Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round of voting by over a million votes still disputed that he could have then lost by over a million votes in the runoff. Abdullah had refused to play along with the plan to announce vote totals at the same time as awarding the presidency to Ghani. Ghani will be sworn into office on Monday.

In this morning’s New York Times, Michael Gordon transcribes the State Department’s elation over the planned signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement shortly after Ghani is sworn in:

A new security agreement authorizing the presence of American forces in Afghanistan after 2014 will be signed just days after the nation’s new president is inaugurated on Monday, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

Both Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, indicated during their election campaign that they supported the security agreement. And both men recommitted themselves to the agreement in recent weeks as they worked out the terms of a power-sharing arrangement, American officials said.

“We expect that it will be fully signed in a matter of days after the new administration starts,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under the agency’s rules for briefing reporters. “No one has talked about reopening the issues.”

Though widely anticipated, the signing of the agreement is an important step that would provide a legal basis for American forces to advise Afghan forces after 2014.

Abdullah is reported as “optimistic” about the new national unity government and is saying all the right things about Afghanistan appearing to have avoided a violent resolution of the election conflict.

As a full-time skeptic, though, I can’t help wondering if at least a part of the prolonged process of negotiating the national unity government was just haggling over how much cash will be in Abdullah’s monthly bag from the CIA. After all, Karzai’s take is known to have been at least tens of millions of dollars.

Details of the “power-sharing” agreement are beginning to come out:

Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the president-elect of Afghanistan and the chief executive officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have shared the key government institutions almost on equal basis among themselves.

According to documents obtained by 8am newspaper, the ministry of interior and finance has been taken by Dr. Ashraf Ghani while the ministry of defense and foreign affairs have been taken by Dr. Abdullah.

Other key ministries and government institutions have also been equally shared among the two teams, according to the documents.

So although Ghani is to be President, it is very significant that Abdullah will have control of the defense ministry. Returning to my link above about the bags o’ cash that Karzai got, those payments are mere pocket change compared to the real cash that Afghan officials are able to siphon out of the firehose of US cash flowing into the country. As noted there, in 2011 the US committed around $11 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund alone and in that same year, SIGAR quoted the Congressional Research Service finding that around $4.5 billion in cash left the country through the Kabul airport.

Not quite as much cash will be there for the taking in 2015 and beyond, but by being in charge of the defense ministry, Abdullah would appear to be first in line for siphoning off parts of the $4.1 billion in funds from the US and one billion Euros from the EU plan for ANSF support next year.

By controlling the ministry of finance, Ghani also will have access to vast sums that can be siphoned off, so their graft-sharing appears on the surface to be fairly equitable. Also, one would presume that the interior department will be in line for bribes relating to Afghanistan’s reputed vast mineral wealth.

It appears that both Ghani and Abdullah are very well cared-for in their carefully negotiated graft-sharing agreement.

Postscript: There is one more aspect of Gordon’s transcription this morning that can’t be left unchallenged:

The signing of the agreement would not end the debate over the continuing American role in Afghanistan. Given the escalation of violence that followed the withdrawal of the last American forces from Iraq in 2011, some critics, including former ranking officials in the Obama administration, have urged the White House to adopt a more flexible approach toward removing troops from Afghanistan.

As I pointed out in this post, a full 18 months passed between the withdrawal of the last US troop from Iraq and the surge in violence there. Those 18 months are now being purged from the collective memory of the hive mind of the DC village.

SIGAR Finds That ANSF Weapons SCIP Away from OVERLORD

I have been harping lately on the US approach to international crises being to first ask “Which group should we arm?” and how this strategy has come back countless times to bite us in the ass, as seen most spectacularly in Osama bin Laden. Further, in Afghanistan, the dual problems of failed training and insider attacks have demonstrated that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ineffective and now even require a separate layer of security between them and US forces.

Back when there was a stronger push for the US to arm and train “moderates” in Syria, I noted the poor record-keeping that was being put into place, where we were being assured by those doing the training that they were getting handwritten receipts for the weapons they were handing out. Who could have known that in our much larger program of handing out weapons, in Afghanistan, that records were not much better? The 2010 NDAA required that DOD establish a program for accounting for weapons handed out in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report today (pdf) on how that accounting has gone. And the answer is not pretty:

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required that DOD establish a program for registering and monitoring the use of weapons transferred to the ANSF. However, controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the ANSF are insufficient both before and after the weapons are transferred. Accountability over these weapons within DOD prior to their transfer to Afghan ownership is affected by incompatible inventory systems that have missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records, that may result in missing weapons prior to transfer to the ANSF. However, the problems are far more severe after the weapons are transferred to the ANSF. ANSF record-keeping and inventory processes are poor and, in many cases, we were unable to conduct even basic inventory testing at the ANSF facilities we visited. Although CSTC-A has established end use monitoring procedures, the lack of adherence to these procedures, along with the lack of reliable weapons inventories, limits monitoring of weapons under Afghan control and reduces the ability to identify missing and unaccounted for weapons that could be used by insurgents to harm U.S., coalition, and ANSF personnel.

This graphic from the report shows the insanity of how three completely independent and incompatible databases are used to track the weapons:

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Seriously, who comes up with these acronyms? The database used by the military in shipping the weapons out is the Security Cooperation Information Portal, or SCIP. This name seems designed to let us know up front that these weapons are skipping town and there is no prospect for tracking them. And to make sure they can’t be tracked, once they arrive in Afghanistan, the weapons are logged in, but they go into a completely different database incompatible with SCIP. In Afghanistan they use the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, or OVERLORD. SIGAR tells us “SCIP is used by DOD personnel to track the shipment of weapons from the United States, while OVERLORD is used for tracking the receipt of weapons in Afghanistan. Errors and discrepancies often occur because these two systems are not linked to each other and require manual data entry.”

Perhaps if we were dealing with the relatively smaller number of weapons for an operation like our death squad training in Syria, manual entry into a database might make sense. But here is a photo from SIGAR of one of the weapons caches that they attempted to audit in Afghanistan:

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But perhaps even worse is that SIGAR has found Afghan forces already have far more light weapons than they need. From the databases they determined that there are 112,909 weapons in excess of stated needs for the Afghans (and 83,184 of them are AK-47’s that many Afghans learn to handle practically from birth) already in country.

As if that is not enough, more weapons will keep flowing even though ANSF force size is projected to shrink:

The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of ANSF personnel proceed. According to our analysis, the ANSF already has over 112,000 weapons that exceed its current requirements. The scheduled reduction in ANSF personnel to 228,500 by 2017 is likely to result in an even greater number of excess weapons. Yet, DOD continues to provide ANSF with weapons based on the ANSF force strength of 352,000 and has no plans to stop providing weapons to the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians.

What could possibly go wrong?

Afghan Election Commission Fires 3300 Staffers, But Runoff Will Proceed in Most Corrupt Place on Earth

Reuters brings us the shocking news that the election commission in Afghanistan has just fired over 3000 staffers even though the runoff election for President is only about three weeks from now on June 14:

Afghanistan’s election commission said on Wednesday it had fired more than 3,000 staff accused of fraud in the first round of the country’s presidential election, as it sought to quell fears that it might fail to deliver a legitimate outcome.

/snip/

Spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said the Independent Election Commission had blacklisted the fired staff, so that they would not be hired in the second round.

“Some fraud was reported from those polling stations,” he added, referring to the sites where the fired staff had worked.

Independent election monitors say many complaints were ignored in the effort to meet deadlines and the decision making process lacked transparency.

It appears that threats of violence may have been behind the earlier decision to ignore the fraud:

Runner-up former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani said most fraudulently cast votes were included in the final tally because of threats from rival candidates.

“Threats of violence, where the opposing team promised rivers of blood, created a chilling environment,” Ghani said in a statement after the final results were released.

“Close to 800,000 votes that should have been declared fraudulent were included in the final count.”

Although Reuters says that the election commission announced the firings today, ToloNews carried the story on on May 18:

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) sent out a notice on Sunday to their staff warning them that any sort of fraud happens during runoff under their staffs’ supervision will be terminated.

“This time we will seriously deal with the issue,” IEC Spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said. “Those staff members who were found guilty in the first round of elections have been dismissed.”

/snip/

The IEC has identified and dismissed 3,300 IEC employees who were involved in the manipulation of the first round of presidential elections.

Firing thousands of staffers just before the runoff has to be unprecedented. Except that it isn’t. It turns out that the same thing happened just before the scheduled runoff in 2009:

Half of the most senior Afghan district election officials will be fired, U.N. officials said on Wednesday, to prevent more fraud in a run-off presidential poll crucial to the country’s credibility and foreign support.

That announcement came on October 21, 2009, when the runoff had been scheduled for November 7, so it came even closer to the date of the runoff than this year’s firings. Since Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from that election on November 1, citing fraud, we do not have a track record for how the current runoff might proceed in light of so many firings.

Despite all the rosy claims from the US military and the Obama administration for how well the Afghan election process has gone so far, there is very little reason to expect a fair election. Afghanistan has become the most corrupt place on Earth and it is the direct fault of the US and its military that this has happened.

The latest quarterly report (pdf) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction opens in this way: Read more