SIGAR

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: Continue reading

Afghanistan Staggers Toward Election

Saturday will mark the first time Afghanistan has gone to the polls to choose a new president since the US overthrew the Taliban and put Hamid Karzai in charge. This will hardly be an accomplishment to herald in the US press, although I am sure the military will attempt to get major outlets to tout it as so after the fact. In fact, even the rosy “look what has been accomplished in Afghanistan” fluff piece published today in Khaama Press cites a paltry list of accomplishments, such as 50 television stations and not quite half a million Afghans on Facebook. Tellingly, though, a closer look reveals that the piece is attributed to Dr. Florance Ebrahimi. It turns out that even though she is originally from Kabul, she practices in Sydney. And why shouldn’t she? Afghanistan is tied with North Korea and Somalia at the very bottom of the list when countries are ranked for their level of corruption. And it appears that even before the election takes place, ten percent of the planned polling stations have been closed due to security concerns. And what of the candidates? The top three are profiled here by the New York Times.  All three of the leaders have already pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year–and thus assuring the maximal continuing flow of US funds to fuel even more corruption. The candidates are noteworthy to me only in that two of them have running mates that would rival Dick Cheney as the most notorious war criminal to be Vice President of a country in the past 15 years.

Today’s New York Times piece cited above on the closure of polling places due to anticipated violence is devastating. For example:

One of the few polling centers in this part of Logar Province is the government’s district headquarters, a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office.

As the body count for security forces has risen over the past few days in this embattled district, a stretch of dusty farmland surrounded by mountains, it has become clear that no one here is going to vote on Saturday, either for president or for provincial council delegates.

So far, that has not stopped security officials from proclaiming the district open for voting: It is not among the roughly 10 percent of 7,500 total national sites shut down as too dangerous to protect. The Charkh district center has been pumped full of security forces to keep the vote a nominal possibility, but residents know that within a day or two after the elections, the guards will be gone and the Taliban will remain.

“The government has no meaning here,” said Khalilullah Kamal, the district governor, who was shot two times in the stomach a few months back while speaking in a mosque. “If there is no expectation that we will arrest people who break the law, then how do we expect the people to come and vote?”

Think about that. The polling place in this passage looks like a bomb shelter and life has gotten so violent there that it is clear nobody will vote there Saturday. And yet this site isn’t included among the 10 percent of sites that won’t be open Saturday. Further, “government has no meaning here” reflects the utter failure of US efforts to establish a unified government in Afghanistan. But does that apply only to a small area? Hardly. Consider that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated back in October that it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to SIGAR  (pdf) to carry out oversight functions (and the State Department warned them that the 21 percent figure may be overly optimistic) by the end of this year.

Since the US has already formally handed over security operations to the Afghans, what are they doing to make the election safe? On Tuesday they announced that 60,000 “fresh” (I presume this means newly trained? How well were they screened?) Afghan National Army troops were deployed across the country for election security. Then, on Wednesday, the figure was increased to 195,000 total security personnel when ANA figures were joined with security personnel from the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security. That’s quite a force. So for roughly 7500 polling stations, that gives about 26 security personnel guarding each site if they are distributed evenly. Oh, and to protect Westerners before the election, places where they tend to gather have been closed.

Whatever the outcome on Saturday, I see little reason to be optimistic that there will be any improvement in living conditions for the average Afghan citizen.

Why Did DoD Wait Over Three Months to Issue Records Preservation Order After SIGAR Request?

The $34 million building without a use. (SIGAR photo)

The $34 million building without a use. (SIGAR photo)

Back in July of last year, SIGAR issued an alert (pdf) regarding what SIGAR head John Sopko termed “a potentially troubling example of waste that requires your immediate attention”. That statement was in Sopko’s cover letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Head of Central Command Lloyd Austin and ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford. It would appear that the folks in the Department of Defense missed that key word “immediate”, as the subsequent responses from the Defense Department have been both troubling and, at least on the most important move, slow.

First, to set the stage on the evidence of wasteful spending in constructing a building that had no use at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. From the alert letter linked above:

I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.

In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain. Determining all of the facts on how we reached this $34 million dilemma and what can be done to prevent it from happening again is the reason for sending this management alert letter to you.

Even though the Camp Leatherneck Commander determined in May, 2010 that the building was not needed, construction began anyhow after February of 2011. Ironically, Sopko notes in his letter that this may well be the best-constructed building he has toured in his many inspections in Afghanistan, even though it was known before construction began that there would be no use for the building.

Sopko’s letter continues, citing information collected that the building can accomodate 1200 to 1500 staff but that at the time of writing, only 450 people were available to use it. Furthermore, there was nobody on the base qualified to maintain the expensive HVAC system. But it gets even worse:

According to a senior U.S. military official, as the footprint of Camp Leatherneck decreases, the building could be outside the security perimeter, thereby making it unsafe for the U.S. military to occupy it. This leaves the military with two primary options—demolish the building or give it to the Afghan government.

However, to make it usable for the Afghan government, the building would require a major overhaul of existing systems, including the expensive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. A high-ranking, senior U.S. military official also advised me that the facility was built to U.S. construction standards rather than Afghan standards. For example, the power runs at U.S. 60 cycles versus Afghan 50 cycles and U.S. 120 volts versus Afghan 220 volts. Therefore, it would not be easy to transfer the building to the Afghan government. These were some of the reasons why the U.S. military officials we spoke with believe the building will probably be demolished.

It appears that the Defense Department reacted to Sopko’s letter, because Sopko states in a subsequent letter that he was informed that an investigation was underway and that his questions would be answered. But that process seems to have directly contradicted earlier work from DoD. Sopko wrote a new letter (pdf) to the same recipients on November 27 of last year: Continue reading

Civilian Casualties Rise Yet Again in Afghanistan, Confirming Surge Failure

UNAMA 2013

Click on image for a larger view.

The United Nations is the best source of information on the impact of the war in Afghanistan on civilians. They released their latest data this weekend (pdf), and their results show that the vaunted “surge” of US troops into the country in early 2010 through late 2012 failed to protect civilians. In fact, the data show that civilian injuries have shown a steady rise from 2009 pre-surge levels through 2013′s post-surge period. Civilian deaths rose in 2010 and 2011. They went down slightly in 2012 before rising again in 2013.

Despite this clear indication that the surge was a waste of lives and money, recall that the Pentagon continued to spew its positive spin as troops were drawn down. From September, 2012 as the surge ended:

Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge “a very important milestone” in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The “surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.

As seen in the UN data, the surge did nothing to reverse attacks on civilians, with civilian casualties continuing a steady increase. How about Panetta’s other claim, the one about dramatically increasing the size and capability of Afghan national security forces? To answer that, we depend on data supplied by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Their latest report can be found here (pdf). Once again, the target for ANSF size was not achieved, even after moving the goalposts (footnotes removed):

This quarter, ANSF’s assigned force strength was 334,852, according to data provided by CSTC-A. This is short of the goal to have an end strength of 352,000 ANSF personnel by October 2012. That goal had been in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) April 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. When that end strength was not met, DOD revised the goal to 352,000 ANSF by 2014 (187,000 ANA by December 2012, 157,000 ANP by February 2013, and 8,000 Air Force by December 2014). Neither the ANA nor the ANP met their end-strength goal by the revised deadline, as shown in Table 3.6.

But the reality could be far worse than those numbers indicate. While the force size falls just barely short of the target, the functionality of those troops is suspect. Further, it appears that Afghanistan may be playing games with the meaning of “available” (sorry, this bit of text won’t copy, so I have to use images instead): Continue reading

Pentagon Finally Surrenders, Cancels New Purchase of Russian Helicopters Through Dealer Supplying Syria

Back in June, I wrote about the deceit employed by the Pentagon in going against the advice of SIGAR (pdf) and explicit language in the NDAA to purchase Russian Mi-17 helicopters through the arms dealer Rosoboronexport. Because Rosoboronexport has been supplying weapons to the Assad regime in Syria, the helicopter purchase took on additional levels of outrage. It appears that the Pentagon did get about half of the helicopters it wanted by claiming to use leftover 2012 funds (use of 2013 funds for the helicopters was banned in the NDAA), but they have now cancelled plans to use 2014 funds for the remaining helicopters that had been planned.

Both AP and Reuters inform us of the cancellation of the order. The Reuters story notes that the procurement system for the helicopters is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation:

Reuters reported in August that the Defense Criminal Investigative Service had opened a criminal probe into the Huntsville, Alabama, Army aviation unit that oversees the Mi-17 program, and ties between the unit’s former chief and two foreign subcontractors.

Texas Senator John Cornyn did a bit of a victory dance over the cancellation. As described in the AP story:

Bipartisan opposition to the Mi-17 acquisition grew as the violence in Syria escalated and U.S. relations with Russia deteriorated. A growing number of lawmakers from both political parties objected to acquiring military gear from Rosoboronexport, which has provided Assad’s regime with weapons used against Syrian civilians.

“I applaud the Defense Department’s decision to cancel its plan to buy 15 additional Mi-17 helicopters from Rosoboronexport,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an emailed statement. “Doing business with the supplier of these helicopters has been a morally bankrupt policy, and as a nation, we should no longer be subsidizing Assad’s war crimes in Syria.”

But this victory by opponents of the sale comes after a large victory by the Pentagon in the earlier battles:

Rosoboronexport announced Monday that 12 of the Mi-17s had been delivered to Afghanistan in the month of October. The shipments, the export agency said, reflected the joint effort between Russia and the U.S. to combat international terrorism.

The AP story spends a bit of time on how Mi-17′s were chosen: Continue reading

The USAID vs SIGAR Pissing Contest

Reuters has a riveting exclusive today in which they have been given a treasure trove of documents from which they have reported on documentation that a contractor involved in USAID highway construction in Afghanistan is employing a subcontractor who is a member of the Haqqani network:

Much of the evidence against Zadran is classified, but the cache of documents given to Reuters by U.S. officials on condition of anonymity show that he has close business ties with the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The Haqqanis, Islamist insurgents who operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan.

The links between Zadran and the insurgency include him teaming up with Saadullah Khan and Brothers Engineering and Construction Company (SKB), believed to be one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s companies.

Together they won a $15 million contract to help build a road between the towns of Gardez and Khost in Afghanistan’s east for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011.

“The owners of these companies are facilitators and commanders of the Haqqani Network,” one U.S. government memorandum says.

This problem fits into the overall work that SIGAR has been doing recently in which they comment on the lack of control and auditing on funds once they are turned over from USAID and other agencies to the Afghan government for disbursement. And huge amounts of money are involved:

The inability over many years to stop firms believed to be supporting the insurgency from winning multi-million-dollar contracts exposes the lack of control that donors have over cash once it is handed over to the Afghan government.

Those transfers make up an increasing proportion of aid. U.S. federal agencies want more than $10.7 billion for reconstruction programs in 2014, SIGAR says, and the government has promised at least half will be granted directly to Afghan institutions to spend as they see fit.

SIGAR has clearly upset a number of folks with their work on this front. Back on October 10, the Atlantic carried a hit piece against SIGAR (I owe Marcy a huge thank you for alerting me to the article) in which we are supposed to believe that USAID has built a public health system in Afghanistan that in just a few years has added 20 years to life expectancy while dropping child mortality by half. And the article would have us believe that this wonderful new system is at risk of being shut down because of SIGAR’s campaign against funds being disbursed by the Afghan government without an audit trail:

John Sopko is the U.S. government’s chief auditor for Afghanistan and a former prosecutor with years of experience on Capitol Hill. In September, Sopko’s office—the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR—issued a report calling for the suspension of USAID’s $236 million in aid for basic health care in Afghanistan.

Why shut down such a successful program? The short answer is that SIGAR’s is a peculiar concept of caution.

Strikingly, the auditors’ report calling for the funding freeze for the health program doesn’t claim any evidence of serious fraud or waste. Instead, it raises hypothetical concerns about the Afghan government’s ability to manage aid money well, including evidence that some salaries were paid in cash, as well as the absence of double entry bookkeeping.

There is a huge problem with the underlying premise of “such a successful program”, though. It is fabricated bullshit. Here is how the hit piece frames their argument on the successes: Continue reading

Why Spend $887 Million on Armored Vehicles for Afghan Army When Thousands Sit Idle?

A shiny new Mobile Strike Force Vehicle in Afghanistan.

A shiny new Mobile Strike Force Vehicle in Afghanistan.

A single line item in the latest quarterly report from SIGAR (pdf) has my blood boiling. The report states that among the up to $7.73 billion that the Defense Department has requested for fiscal 2014 in Afghanistan, a single item of $886.9 million is listed as being for Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. A quick look with teh Googler gives us this page where we see details on just what the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle is. A Marine Corps photo of an MSFV appears here to the left. Here is the caption that the Marine Corps provided for the photo on Flickr:

Cpl. Damario Tillman, vehicle commander, Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team, observes his surroundings as a Mobile Strike Force Vehicle assigned to the Afghan National Army (ANA) Mobile Strike Force Kandak, navigates through a series of obstacles at a rough terrain driving course on Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 13, 2013. The course was part of a three day training package that the Marines with Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team conducted for their ANA counterparts.

The stupidity of spending nearly a billion dollars on new armored vehicles for Afghanistan is mind-boggling. I have been haunted for several months by this photo:

The CENTCOM Deployment & Distribution Operation Center and the Afghanistan retrograde

Here is the caption provided by the Defense Video & Image Distribution System where the photo can be found:

Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles wait in a staging area for onward movement at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia March 20, 2013. The joint team of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Central Command’s DDOC will play a major role in moving the more than 50,000 Coalition (U.S. and NATO, of which 28,000 are U.S.) military vehicles in Afghanistan that will need to be recovered or pre-positioned in contingency stocks abroad.

Although I am far from an expert on defense equipment, it appears to me that the MSFV is merely the latest version in the wide array of MRAP vehicles. Here is a snippet from a press release relating one of the major purchases of MSFV’s:

Part of the TM&LS COMMANDO Select line of armored vehicles, the MSFV is derived from the combat-proven M1117 Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). All MSFVs are configured with Enhanced Survivability (ES) capability, which increases blast protection to mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) levels. The ES-equipped vehicles continue to possess the ASV’s original, all-important V-shaped hull design, in addition to innovative protection design features that enable them to meet MRAP blast protection standards.

Note that the date given for the photo of MRAP’s that have already been shipped out of Afghanistan is March 20 of this year. It would appear that the Defense Department is engaging in a bit of misinformation to make it look like there isn’t an excess of usable MRAP’s, given this Marine Corps Times article dated less than a week later on March 26. The title of the article is “Most MRAP’s won’t be coming home from Afghanistan” and it is accompanied by this photo of several disheveled, out of service MRAP’s that look nothing like the shiny, functional ones already shipped out of the country in the March 20 photo.

bilde

The Marine Corps wants us to think this is what the MRAP’s in Afghanistan look like so that we can send new MSFV’s to the ANA.

The article states:

Very few of the Marine Corps’ 1,200 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles still in Afghanistan will be traveling back to the U.S., the Corps’ deputy commandant for installations and logistics said this week.

Speaking at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gen. William Faulkner revealed elements of a plan to donate unwanted MRAPs to partner nations within Central Command as Marines balance efforts to retrograde from Afghanistan with a mandate to get lighter and more compact as a service.

“The bottom line is, we don’t need them,” Faulkner said of the MRAPs remaining in Afghanistan. “We don’t need as many as we have today.”

/snip/

The Marine Corps has about 4,000 MRAPs in its inventory, Faulkner said, and officials have calculated they want to keep fewer than 1,500 of the 14-ton machines after Operation Enduring Freedom draws to a close in 2014.

So the Marines have an excess of 2500 MRAP’s and Faulkner even admits we want to give them away. So why haven’t these MRAP’s been donated to the ANA instead of the US sending them brand new MSFV’s?

SIGAR’s Sopko re $50 Million Sole Source Rule of Law Contract: “You Can’t Make This Up”

John Sopko

John Sopko

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has discovered that the State Department has awarded a sole source contract for nearly $50 million to provide training on the rule of law in Afghanistan. Remarkably, the State Department ignored its own rules for contracting and provided no mechanism for verifying spending under the contract. SIGAR also has found that the International Development Law Organization, which was awarded the contract, is particularly ill-equipped to manage such a large contract and is refusing to cooperate with SIGAR’s investigation.

From the alert letter (pdf) sent to Secretary of State John Kerry from Special Inspector General John Sopko:

I write to alert you to serious deficiencies related to the Afghanistan Justice Training Transition Program administered by the Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). In the course of performing an audit of rule of law programs managed by INL, SIGAR became aware of INL’s sole source award to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) for Afghan justice sector training services. This award does not appear to contain basic provisions that would allow INL to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of a project expected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $50 million.

On December 27, 2012, INL offered IDLO $47,759,796 in exchange for work on a project titled, “Completing the Transition in Afghanistan: Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP)” (see attached). On January 2, 2013, IDLO accepted INL’s offer by initialing a two-and-a-half page Letter of Agreement. According to INL, this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on and the United States has already obligated $20 million towards its completion.

It is very easy to see that this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on. Their website is pathetic. The “people” section lists only one person, Irene Khan, noting that she served as Director General of Amnesty International from 2001-2009. The page fails to mention that she was removed from that post and caused quite a scandal with the huge payout she forced Amnesty International to give her in order to leave.

Returning to Sopko’s letter, we see that IDLO was chosen to replace another organization, PAE (whose new Executive Chairman just came from CACI, scary folks there…) and that SIGAR had “significant concerns raised regarding award and management of the PAE contract”. It appears that the State Department can’t quite figure out how to observe the law in giving out grants to train Afghans on the administration of justice. Further, SIGAR found that the State Department ignored its own rule in awarding this contract in a manner that makes oversight almost non-existent, even though it did require oversight on the portion of the program that is contracted to the Afghan government.

Regarding IDLO itself, the letter is devastating (emphasis added): Continue reading

Defense Department Ignores SIGAR, Orders Russian Helicopters in End-Run Around NDAA

An Mi-17 undergoing maintenance. Most maintenance within SMW is carried out by contractors because SMW lacks the expertise. (SIGAR photo).

An Mi-17 undergoing maintenance. Most maintenance within SMW is carried out by contractors because SMW lacks the expertise. (SIGAR photo).

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, (SIGAR) issued a report (pdf) yesterday that serves as microcosm of the bumbling ineptitude and denial of reality that has characterized the entire US military’s misadventure in Afghanistan. Subtexts running through this scandal run the gamut from US think tanks cooking up unworkable plans to the vast network of international arms dealing (replete with counterfeit parts), Russia supplying arms to Syria, possible blow-back from the arrest of Viktor Bout, the US Congress remarkably trying to exert a bit of power and finally DoD declaring that they will continue with their schedule for claiming Afghanistan can provide its own defense operations despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

At issue here primarily is a contract for 30 Russian Mi-17 helicopters. Despite the fact that the US has been at war in Afghanistan continuously for almost twelve years now, and despite the spectacular failure of US helicopters under haboob (dust storm) conditions in the failed April, 1980 Iran hostage rescue attempt, it appears that Russian helicopters are more reliable in desert conditions and easier to maintain in flying order with a less sophisticated ground crew than US helicopters

The route by which we got to this contract is remarkable. The helicopters are to be supplied to the Special Mission Wing, which is the air support group for Afghanistan’s Special Operations forces. But how this group came into existence is very important to the current scandal. From the report (footnotes removed in this and all subsequent quotes):

At a December 2011 Special Operations Summit, ISAF senior leadership identified the development of air support capacity as a priority for improving Afghan military capabilities for counterterrorism and other special operations missions. To respond to this need, NTM-A [NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan] sponsored a RAND study to assess requirements and provide recommendations. The study’s recommendations discussed different scenarios for the planned size—in terms of both personnel and aircraft—of air support, the command structure, and scope of operations.

NTM-A determined that the Afghan Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) existing Air Interdiction Unit, a counternarcotics-focused unit, would provide the best foundation to develop an Afghan counterterrorism and special operations aviation capability, while maintaining critical counternarcotics efforts. On May 12, 2012, NTM-A issued a military order identifying its concept for the establishment of the SMW. On July 18, 2012, the ANA commissioned the SMW, which replaced the Air Interdiction Unit.

That’s all fine and dandy, except that the geniuses at RAND didn’t allow for the fact that they created a destructive turf war inside the Afghan government. The new SMW is to be housed within Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) since that is where Afghan Special Operations resides. The turf war over moving the existing unit has not yet been resolved: Continue reading

What Is the Attrition Rate for Afghan Special Operations Forces?

Yesterday, Major General Tony Thomas, who heads US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, fielded questions via satellite from a number of reporters gathered in Washington. The transcript of the session can be found here. One claim by Thomas that stood out to me as  I listened was an assertion that Afghan Special Operations Forces do not suffer the same high level of attrition that is seen generally for ANSF. Here is the exchange, where Thomas’ response to the first half of the question has been edited out and emphasis has been added:

 Q: General, it’s Luis Martinez with ABC News. Can I ask you about what your command’s role is going to be after 2014? What — will there be a shift in emphasis? What exactly will your operators be doing?

And also, the Afghan national army as a whole seems to suffer from attrition and retention problems. How does that manifest itself in the commando kandaks, if at all?

MAJ. GEN. THOMAS:

/snip/

We are not suffering similar attrition or, as we prefer to look at it, retention challenges with the commandos and with other formations. But again, here again, we’re lucky. We’ve been working with them for a while. They are on a cycle which has a built-in break, so it’s a great, amber, red cycle, where green, combat is on the schedule, they are going into operation and they know that they’ll have, you know, a — they’ll be applied in the hardest possible scenarios. But on the other cycles, they’ll have a chance to recoup, take leave. They’ll also have a chance to train as they come back into green cycle.

And I know that others are attempting to apply that same cycle to the rest of the force. That’s been the great challenge for the rest of the Afghan security forces, is they’re almost in a relentless combat cycle, and it’s breeding some of the retention challenges. But we are — we are looking to fix that over time, and, again, the special operations example is applicable to the rest of the force. We just need to bring that into line.

I noted at the time Thomas said this that it should be fairly easy to fact-check Thomas on his claim that Afghan Special Forces do not suffer the same high attrition rate as the rest of ANSF. One reason for my thinking this is that Afghan Special Forces are not nearly as highly trained as US Special Forces. There is only a twelve week extra training period for Afghan troops to be classified as special. I have a hard time seeing how such a short period of additional training will add significantly to retention rate.

If we look fist to Defense Department claims only, the most recent Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan (pdf), dated December 2012, has this paragraph (emphasis added):

ANASOC continues to develop its institutional capacity to conduct training programs. Currently, a majority of courses taught at the Division School of Excellence are Afghan-led, with minimal Coalition Force oversight. The ANASOC has produced 11,710 Commandos and 955 ANASF. Graduation rates for both CDO and SF operators remained steady and are on schedule to meet end-strength targets. From April through September 2012, the School of Excellence produced a total of 621 new CDO, and 282 new SF operators. Based on current recruiting and graduation trends, ANASF are anticipated to achieve their end-strength force level of 1,863 personnel by the 4th quarter of 2013. ANA Commandos (ANACDO) are currently at their endstrength force level of 12,525. Staff training at all levels is occurring through uniformed and civilian mentorship programs; the target of ANASOC reaching FOC for all units is 2014, with the exception of the SMW.

There are several different categories of ANSF troops described in the paragraph, but from the context of Thomas’ remarks and the reports analyzed here, the category of commando is what is relevant. Note that this Defense Department report claims 621 new commandos trained in an approximately five month period and that the commandos are at the endstrength force level of 12,525.

However, if we check these numbers against the more independent information from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, we find both Thomas’ claim of low attrition for commandos and the current force level for commandos in the Defense Department report to be misleading. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Prediction: Halbig reversed to look like King in en banc, so there is no circuit split and SCOTUS denies cert. and stays out of it.
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bmaz @armandodkos They are not mutually exclusive, and it is what I have said from day one. Which you know!
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bmaz @armandodkos I think the intent was to cover all states w/subsidies, also think it say differently and is a total clusterfuck of a law.
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bmaz @armandodkos I think people saying it is ridiculous, or that one side is politicized and the other pure as snow, are dishonest.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @ChrisInParis @MasaccioFDL @JoeSudbay Well the dinner sure as fuck didn't cause that. Better senior officials see our args.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @ChrisInParis @MasaccioFDL Obviously not everybody has to see all speakers, and we didn't see Biden and I hissed at Schumer.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @ChrisInParis @MasaccioFDL He is not my choice to run, but he is a Dem VP, think it lent prestige to have him there.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @ChrisInParis @MasaccioFDL Accept what? Nobody has formally announced for anything. I just see no prob w/Biden being there.
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bmaz @armandodkos I think there are honest voices that will say that; though I am not among them. It is a cognizable argument, even if I disagree
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @ChrisInParis @MasaccioFDL Lets be honest, if there was a "coronation", it was of Liz Warren, not Biden or Schumer.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @downwithtyranny @samseder @majorityfm Went to Heidelberg Project instead.
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bmaz @Gaius_Publius @downwithtyranny @samseder @majorityfm consider their intro irrelevant and didn't notice. Didn't go to Biden
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July 2014
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