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Afghan Cabinet: Nominate First, Screen Later

Just under two weeks ago, it appeared that one of the final hurdles in getting the Afghan government functioning after the disputed election may have been cleared, as a full slate for the cabinet was announced. Sadly, even though Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah took over three months to come up with the list of nominees to run their “Unity Government”, it is clear that no screening of these candidates took place, as many are now falling by the wayside. One turns out to have an Interpol red notice, as many as eleven may have dual citizenship (a direct violation of the Afghan constitution) and one may not meet the minimum age requirement.

Rod Nordland describes some of the problems that have been encountered:

Choosing the Afghan cabinet is to government what the national sport of buzkashi is to polo: a wild and woolly version with uniquely local characteristics and notably more carnage.

President Ashraf Ghani’s presentation of new cabinet nominees to Parliament on Tuesday was a case in point. One proposed nominee had just pulled out after revelations of an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Another dropped out, complaining that he did not have enough money and jobs to bribe Parliament into approving him. A third was subject to a social media smear campaign alleging that she had just gotten a new identity card so she could add a few years to her age to qualify for the job.

Several other would-be ministers were reportedly headed to the exits before Parliament got a chance to vote on them, as revelations tumbled out about dual citizenships, frowned on by the Afghan Constitution, or even, in one case, allegedly not being fluent in any national language.

It’s impossible to make this stuff up. Nordland continues:

“The candidate for rural development studied urban development, and the candidate for urban development studied rural development,” said Ramazan Bashardost, an anticorruption crusader and member of Parliament, famous for his outspokenness.

Corruption is running rampant in the confirmation process:

A more prominent nominee, Jilani Popal, a well-regarded former government official, withdrew his name from nomination as finance minister. While he is believed to have dual United States and Afghan citizenship, Mr. Popal told friends that he had pulled out when members of Parliament asked him for a total of 400 jobs in exchange for their votes, most of them in the lucrative customs service, leaving him with no slots for unstained candidates.

We get more on bribes from ToloNews:

However, a number of MPs have told TOLOnews that presidential advisor Mohammad Akram Akhpalwak has made promises of gifts to lawmakers if they vote in favor of the nominees. MPs said they had been promised IPHONE 6 mobile sets and 5-10,000 USD. Mr. Akhpalwak has meanwhile rejected the allegations.

That same ToloNews article informs us that seven of the nominees believed to have dual citizenship have been rejected by the Foreign Affairs Commission of Parliament. But over at Khaama Press, we learn that the rejection was quite the event:

The Lower House of the Parliament – Wolesi Jirga on Thursday witnessed brawl among the lawmakers over the issue of cabinet nominees holding dual citizenship.

/snip/

In the meantime, a number of the lawmakers insisted that the nominees holding dual citizenship should also be called in the session so that they can present their plans.

The lawmakers said the cabinet nominees have signed documents to surrender their second citizenship and the decision to reject the nominees with dual citizenship was not taken by the house of representatives.

Brawl among the Afghan lawmakers started after MP Shukria Barekzai critized the recent decision by joint parliamentary commission to reject the nominees insisting that the Parliament House is not authorized to deprive the rights of an Afghan national from election and voting.

The article goes on to describe a pathway through which the nominees might be brought back into eligibility. Given the slow, argument-filled route that has brought the Afghan “government” to its present state, I wouldn’t expect these questions about potential cabinet ministers to be resolved any time soon.

Over $80 Billion Wasted in “Training” Iraqi, Afghan Forces: No Lessons Learned

There simply is no level of duplicity that Iraqi or Afghan military leaders can engage in that will lead to the US re-examining the failed assumption that “training” armed forces in those countries will stabilize them. Between the two efforts, the US has now wasted over $80 billion and more than a decade of time just on training and equipping, and yet neither force can withstand even a fraction of the forces they now face.

The latest revelations of just how failed the training effort has been are stunning, and yet we can rest assured that they will be completely disregarded as decision-makers in Washington continue to pour even more money into a cause that has long ago been proven hopeless.

Consider the latest revelations.

We learned yesterday that a cursory investigation in Iraq has already revealed at least 50,000 “ghost soldiers”:

The Iraqi army has been paying salaries to at least 50,000 soldiers who don’t exist, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Sunday, an indication of the level of corruption that permeates an institution that the United States has spent billions equipping and arming.

A preliminary investigation into “ghost soldiers” — whose salaries are being drawn but who are not in military service — revealed the tens of thousands of false names on Defense Ministry rolls, Abadi told parliament Sunday. Follow-up investigations are expected to uncover “more and more,” he added.

We can only imagine how much larger the total will become should Iraq actually follow through with a more thorough investigation, but already one Iraqi official quoted in the article hinted the monetary loss could be at least three times what is now known. But that isn’t even the worst condemnation of US practices in this report. Consider this quote that the Post seems to consider a throw-away since it is buried deep within the article:

“The problems are wide, and it’s an extremely difficult task which is going to involve some strong will,” said Iraqi security analyst Saeed al-Jayashi. “Training is weak and unprofessional.”

So the glorious training program in Iraq, which was proudly under the leadership of ass-kissing little chickenshit David Petraeus when it was being heralded, is now finally exposed as “weak and unprofessional”. And the US will do exactly diddly squat about these revelations. Recall that last week we learned that the Defense Department does not consider reducing corruption to be part of their role as advisors in Iraq. I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that when confirmation hearings are held for a new Secretary of Defense, there won’t be a single question aimed at asking how our current training program will be improved to avoid the failures that have been so clearly demonstrated in the previous attempts.

The situation in Afghanistan, although it is receiving less attention, is no better. Reuters reported yesterday on how poorly equipped Afghan forces are for dealing with the Taliban, despite over $60 billion that the US has spent to train and equip those forces:

Afghan district police chief Ahmadullah Anwari only has enough grenades to hand out three to each checkpoint in an area of Helmand province swarming with Taliban insurgents who launch almost daily attacks on security forces.

“Sometimes up to 200 Taliban attack our checkpoints and if there are no army reinforcements, we lose the fight,” said Anwari, in charge of one of Afghanistan’s most volatile districts, Sangin.

“It shames me to say that we don’t have enough weapons and equipment. But this is a bitter reality.”

The article goes on to utterly destroy the ridiculous statements from Joseph Anderson, commander of ISAF Joint Command, back on November 5. Despite Anderson claiming that Afghan forces “are winning”, Reuters points out that claims that the ANSF remains in control of most of the country are grossly overstated:

And while the coalition says Afghan forces control most of the country, the reality on the ground can be very different.

Graeme Smith, senior Kabul analyst for the International Crisis Group, says that in many remote districts, the government controls a few administrative buildings “but the influence of Afghan forces may not extend far beyond that point”.

And yet, despite this clear history of failed efforts to train and equip forces, the US now plans to spend more than another $5 billion fighting ISIS. If it weren’t for the carbon dioxide that would be released, it would probably be better for all of us if that money were simply incinerated.

Another Iraq Failure by Petraeus: Graft-Ridden Military

Back when the Bush Administration and their neocon operators were most proud of their “accomplishments” in Iraq, their poster boy for this success most often was my favorite ass-kissing little chickenshit, David Petraeus. As the public finally became aware of what a disaster Iraq really was and as Obama moved his focus to the “good war” in Afghanistan, I noted that Petraeus’ name was no longer associated with Iraq once it, and especially Petraeus’ multiple attempts to train Iraq’s military, had failed. Today we have further news on how Iraq’s military came to be in such sad shape that many units simply disappeared when it came time to confront ISIS. It turns out that while he was gaining accolades for training Iraqi troops, Petraeus was in reality creating a system in which Iraqi officers were able to siphon off the billions of dollars the US wasted on the whole training operation:

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.

/snip/

The United States has insisted that the Iraqi military act as the conduit for any new aid and armaments being supplied for a counteroffensive, including money and weapons intended for tribal fighters willing to push out the Islamic State. In its 2015 budget, the Pentagon has requested $1.3 billion to provide weapons for the government forces and $24.1 million intended for the tribes.

But some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State fighters, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers. American officials directed questions to the Iraqi government.

“I told the Americans, don’t give any weapons through the army — not even one piece — because corruption is everywhere, and you will not see any of it,” said Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, also a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar Province. “Our people will steal it.”

But don’t look for any of the new billions being spent to put controls on graft into place:

American officials say working with the tribes, and military corruption, is beyond the scope of their mission. “Reducing corruption is not part of the advisers’ role,” said one American official involved in the effort, “and there is no reason to believe that advisers’ presence will reduce corruption.”

Isn’t that just peachy? We know without a doubt that giving weapons or financial support to the Iraqi military is guaranteed to wind up helping ISIS instead of fighting them. And yet Washington insists on throwing another $1.3 billion going down the same shithole.

Part of the reason that this can’t be stopped is that the US side of the graft is so organized and institutionalized. Moving out from just the efforts within Iraq to the entire campaign against ISIS, we see who really benefits:

President Obama is asking Congress for an additional $5.6 billion to fight the militant group. A large share of the money, if approved, would be given to the Pentagon to train and equip Iraqi forces, while a smaller portion would be reserved for the State Department.

/snip/

The big defense companies that manufacture weapons are likely to receive orders to help the military replenish its stocks, analysts said.

That includes Falls Church giants Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, as well as Raytheon and Boeing, said Roman Schweizer, a defense policy analyst with Guggenheim Securities.

/snip/

More broadly however, the budget includes funding requests for operations and maintenance of military bases, as well as classified operations and research and development.

That could potentially boost business for services companies such as Arlington’s DRS Technologies, or contractors that work in the field of intelligence, said James McAleese, founder of Sterling-based McAleese & Associates, a government contracts consultancy.

Ah, but the big goose keeps producing golden eggs for the folks who train Iraq’s military. The article continues:

In the long term, the biggest procurement for services contractors could stem from the $1.6 billion requested for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund, Schweizer said.

The fund would be used to provide training at multiple sites throughout Iraq for approximately 12 Iraqi brigades, according to the White House.

Although the Pentagon has yet to state if it plans to use contractors for training, “history would suggest that when the Army goes somewhere, contractor support follows,” Schweizer said.

So, while Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah continue their tussles over who owns what in Afghanistan’s graft-sharing arrangement, graft-sharing here in the US is politely played out in the Washington process of contracting. And in Washington, we know that the company that makes the biggest investment in congressmembers wins fair and square.

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

High Urban Turnout, No Major Violence, But How Successful Was Afghan Election?

With no catastrophic attacks taking place and reports of over 7 million people voting, on first impressions it would appear that Afghanistan’s presidential election on Saturday was a resounding success. Digging a bit deeper, though, reveals disturbing evidence of hundreds of violent incidents that received little attention and large areas of the country where the electorate was too scared of the Taliban to vote. Another large cautionary note is that the slow rate of vote counting means that it will be a long time before there can be any meaningful analysis of the extent of vote-stuffing. Further, the US goal of a new president clearing the way to a signed Bilateral Security Agreement is likely to be put off further, as any runoff will not happen until late May, which could well be past the point at which the US will have to decide if it will invoke the zero option and withdraw all troops from the country at the end of the year.

The New York Times gives us the rosy version of the voting:

After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

Even this report, though, cautions that fraud could still be a problem and will take time to detect:

Afghan election observers backed up the numbers offered by election officials, as did Western diplomats, though the latter struck a more cautious tone. But both said that some votes would invariably be thrown out because of fraud.

The question was how many, and whether Afghanistan would see a repeat of the 2009 election, which was marred by widespread ballot stuffing and other fraud. Turnout that year was about 38 percent, though some estimates put it lower. The memory of what happened that year still hovers here, giving many reason to hesitate before declaring this weekend’s vote an unqualified success.

It took days for the full extent of the problems with the 2009 election to emerge, and the ensuing political crisis lasted months, souring relations between President Karzai and the United States, embittering many Afghans and helping fuel a Taliban insurgency that was gaining momentum.

But the claims of no large attacks overshadowed the news that there were actually hundreds of attacks aimed at the voting:

The anti-government armed militants carried out 690 attacks across the country during the presidential and provincial council elections on Saturday.

Defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi said Saturday that the attacks by militants included direct fire, rocket attacks, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and suicide attacks.

/snip/

Azimi also added that 164 militants were killed and 82 others were injured during the attacks while Afghan army soldiers seized various types of weapons belonging to the assailant militants.

He said at least 7 Afghan national army soldiers were martyred and 45 others were injured during these attacks.

That Khaama Press account did not cite figures on civilian deaths or injuries, but this Reuters article does note some civilian deaths: Read more

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): Read more

CIA Bags O’ Cash Total Tens of Millions of Dollars, But Over $4.5 Billion Left Afghanistan in 2011

Today’s New York Times carries a frank exposure of blatant moves by the CIA to curry favor with Hamid Karzai and high ranking members of Afghanistan’s government through direct cash payments brazenly dropped off at Karzai’s office:

For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these cash payments is that they seem to have been designed in large part to pay off Afghan warlords:

Moreover, there is little evidence that the payments bought the influence the C.I.A. sought. Instead, some American officials said, the cash has fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington’s exit strategy from Afghanistan.

And it’s not just any warlords who are being funded by this cash. We learn in the article that the current corruption pay for Rashid Dostum, who committed the largest single war crime in the Afghan war, is now $80,000 per month.

And in the funding of warlords, keep in mind that they form the backbone of David Petraeus’ Afghan Death Squads Local Police under the “direction” of US special operation forces and the CIA. After particularly egregious behavior by one of these groups earlier this year, Karzai first expelled US special forces from Maidan Wardak province and then eventually backed off somewhat on that move. Today’s article suggests that Karzai is trying to play a major role in controlling these groups. Given the main topic of the article, we are left to presume that Karzai’s control is through the allocation of these CIA funds:

Now, Mr. Karzai is seeking control over the Afghan militias raised by the C.I.A. to target operatives of Al Qaeda and insurgent commanders, potentially upending a critical part of the Obama administration’s plans for fighting militants as conventional military forces pull back this year.

Although an off the books cash influence-buying program that has totaled tens of millions of dollars over the course of a decade sounds like a huge scandal, this is chump change compared to the real theft of US funds in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted in the January, 2013 report (pdf) that huge sums of cash exit Afghanistan through the Kabul airport:

The U.S. government has long had serious concerns about the flow of cash out of the Kabul International Airport. According to the Congressional Research Service, some $4.5 billion was taken out of Afghanistan in 2011.

Where does all this cash come from? The largest flow of money into Afghanistan of course comes from the US and the biggest program we fund there supports Afghan security forces:

The Congress created the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to provide the ANSF with equipment, supplies, services, and training, as well as facility and infrastructure repair, renovation, and construction.

Here is a figure from the SIGAR report showing how lavishly the ASFF has been filled with US funds: Read more

Rohrabacher’s Team for Decentralizing Afghan Government: War Criminal, Thief and War Hawk

Portion of mass grave of Dostum's victims excavated in 2002 by Physicians for Human Rights. (Physicians for Human Rights photo)

Yesterday, I pointed out that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai denied entry to his country by Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) over the weekend. At the end of that post, I posed a question:

Rohrabacher’s freedom-fighting then gave us a wonderful “hero” by the name of Osama bin Laden. Who will his latest adventures bring us?

It turns out that we can get a good handle on whom Rohrabacher wishes to promote in Afghanistan by going back to Rohrabacher’s own press release arising from his January 9 meeting in Berlin that brought his feud with Karzai to a head. Although Rohrabacher would like us to think that he is arguing for a more decentralized model of government in Afghanistan, his real motivation is revealed in the opening sentence of the press release, where he states he brought a group together “to discuss alternatives to Hamid Karazi’s consideration of including the Taliban in Afghanistan’s coalition government”.

Once again, we see Rohrabacher’s primary operating principle at work. His actions are determined by whom he has chosen as his enemy. Unfortunately, once Rohrabacher has chosen his enemy, all he seeks in an ally is someone who also opposes that enemy. As noted yesterday, that was the process that led him and his Freedom Fighters in the Reagan administration to ally us with Osama bin Laden against the Soviets when they were in Afghanistan. Now, with Karzai daring to negotiate with the Taliban, Rohrabacher has decided to team with anyone in Afghanistan whom he sees as opposing the Taliban. In doing so, he chose for his meeting in Berlin to present a group of “National Front Leaders” that contains the war lord responsible for the largest, most heinous war crime committed in Afghanistan since the turn of the century, a criminal former vice president of the country who was stopped with a suitcase containing $52 million and a former security chief described as an unapologetic hawk who advocates escalating the war in Afghanistan.

Batting leadoff for Rohrabacher’s All Stars is the notorious war criminal Rashid Dostum. Read more