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Even With Non-Validated Afghan Self-Reporting, SIGAR Finds ANSF Falls Short of 352,000 Goal

A central tenet of DoD dogma regarding withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan rests on Afghan National Security Forces reaching a force size of 352,000 and taking over full responsibility for security in the country as US forces leave at the end of 2014. There are multiple problems surrounding the myth of ANSF force size of 352,000. As reported last quarter by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the “official” force size reported by DoD relies on self-reporting by Afghanistan and can not be validated. Further, NATO ministers proposed back in February that financial support for the 352,000 size should be extended through 2018, rather than allowing the force size to drop by about a third at the end of 2014. I equated this offer to dangling an extra $22 billion in front of Afghan government officials for embezzling in return for a grant of criminal immunity for US forces remaining behind after the official withdrawal.

SIGAR released its latest quarterly report yesterday (pdf), covering the first quarter of 2013, and we see that the problems surrounding the myth of 352,000 ANSF force size persist and show no prospect of improving.

From the report, we see that even with Afghanistan self-reporting in an unvalidated way, and with US goals clearly known, force size falls short of the goal:

ANSF force size

Although the reported force size is only about 5.5% below the goal, it seems remarkable that Afghan officials developing their own numbers in a non-validated way were not able to reach the goals that are clearly known to them.

This process of developing the ANSF has drawn the largest portion of US funds that have been allocated to Afghanistan. Here is how funds have been allocated since the beginning of the Afghan war:

As of March 31, 2013, the United States had appropriated approximately $92.73 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. This total has been allocated as follows:

• $54.27 billion for security
• $22.97 billion for governance and development
• $6.39 billion for counter-narcotics efforts
• $2.43 billion for humanitarian aid
• $6.66 billion for operations and oversight

Of all the funds allocated to Afghanistan by the US, over half have gone to developing ANSF. Here is how security money breaks down from 2005 to the present time:

ASFF breakdown

Note that since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, we have provided nearly $14 billion in salaries for troop sizes that are self-reported in a non-validated system and therefore ripe for embezzlement. Further, another $13.8 billion was provided for “equipment and transportation” of ANSF, which would also seem a good source for corruption. That is a huge amount of money and it appears to be very poorly spent, given the lack of preparedness for ANSF.

SIGAR calls DoD into question on its claims that the 352,000 ANSF force size has been met: Read more

SIGAR: Widely Cited 352,000 ANSF Force Size Is Not Validated

The January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report has been out for some time now, but @SIGARHQ has still been tweeting about it regularly. One of their tweets yesterday brought my attention to the section of their report (pdf) where they discuss force size for Afghan National Security Forces. Since the interruption in training brought about by decreased interactions between US and Afghan forces during the  massive outbreak of green on blue attacks, I have maintained that the claim of 352,000 for ANSF force size was no longer credible. It appears that my skepticism is well-founded, as the pertinent section of the SIGAR report bears this heading:

ANSF NUMBERS NOT VALIDATED

The section begins:

Determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers. Moreover, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) noted that, in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers.” SIGAR will continue to follow this issue to determine whether U.S. financial support to the ANSF is based on accurately reported personnel numbers.

There are several important bits to unpack in that paragraph. First, note that even though the US (well, officially, NATO) is training the Afghan forces, it is the Afghans themselves who report on their force size. It appears that our training of the Afghans, however, has not trained them on how to count personnel in a way that can be validated. But the end of the paragraph is the kicker, because it appears that our financial support of the Afghans is based on their own reporting of the force size. Since we are paying them for the force size they report, why wouldn’t they inflate the numbers to get paid as much as possible? The Afghans know that the bulk of US policy is built around the 352,000 force size myth, so they know that there will be absolutely no push-back (aside from an obscure SIGAR report that only DFH’s will read) for inflating the number to get the result the US desires. For further enticement, recall that NATO has proposed extending the time over which a force size of 352,000 will be supported, in a move that I saw as a blatant attempt to dangle an additional $22 billion ready for embezzling in front of Afghan administrators.

It comes as no small surprise, then, that SIGAR has found that the Afghan-reported numbers somehow manage to include over 11,000 civilians in the reports for security force size that is specifically meant to exclude civilian personnel.

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: Read more

Hagel Hearing: Twilight of the Neocons Makes Senate Armed Services Committee Dysfunctional

The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.

Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration’s position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel’s nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]

Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):

“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”

Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.

Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.

A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.

Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):

DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.

Acknowledgement of Failure in Afghanistan Spreads Throughout US Government

Mostly abandoned $7.3 million Border Police facility in Kunduz Province, Click on photo for a larger view.

After staying out of the headlines while the military carried out its panty-sniffing investigation of his emails, General John Allen is back in today’s Washington Post in the first of what will be many valedictories of his time as commander of US forces in Afghanistan. He is the 11th commander there since 2001, so a year seems to be about all anyone can stomach. But Allen’s reappearance comes at an inauspicious time, as two different documents released yesterday show that despite the continued “we won” attitude from Allen and his minions, many of the rest of the branches of the US government (h/t to Marcy for pointing me toward both these documents) now openly admit that we have failed there.

McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay tweeted Monday afternoon: “State Dept #Afghanistan travel warning: Afghan govt has “limited ability to maintain order and ensure security.” Did White House read this?” Following up on his tweet, the travel warning paints a bleak picture of the security situation in Afghanistan:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan remains critical.

/snip/

No region in Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against U.S. and other Western nationals at any time. Remnants of the former Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist network, as well as other groups hostile to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military operations, remain active.

The next sentence, though, is the most devastating and is what Landay referenced:

Afghan authorities have a limited ability to maintain order and ensure the security of Afghan citizens and foreign visitors.

As Landay asks, has the White House read this? After a long string of no longer operational explanations for why we are still in Afghanistan, the current line is that we must stay long enough to train and support the 352,000-strong Afghan National Security Force so that it can take responsibility for security as we withdraw. Although the Post article does note that the future for Afghanistan does not look good, when Allen is quoted, victory language returns, and it is in stark contrast to the State Department view of conditions:

With 11 days left in his tour, Allen says he’s proud of the growth of the Afghan security forces and the success of NATO’s troop surge in places such as southern Helmand, where four years ago the Taliban operated freely.

The State Department would appear to dispute that claim that the Taliban no longer operates freely in Helmand.

As if the State Department’s travel warning isn’t devastating enough to the Afghan war situation, a report released yesterday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) (pdf) demonstrates that the claim that ANSF force size has achieved the 352,000 goal is a sham. The photos above depict a $7.3 million facility built by the US for Afghan Border Police in Kunduz Province. The findings of the report are devastating: Read more

SIGAR Reports That Afghan Bases Can’t Be Maintained After Handoff

SIGAR found a team of Afghan technicians being trained to maintain heating and air conditioning units in Kabul in October, 2011.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its quarterly report (pdf) this week. Along with the report, it issued an audit (pdf) with the long title “Afghan National Security Forces Facilities: Concerns With Funding, Oversight, and Sustainability for Operation and Maintenance”. What SIGAR has found is that the massive investment that we have made in building military bases and training facilities is likely to be wasted because Afghanistan will be incapable of maintaining those bases after they have been handed over into Afghan control.

The audit report provides some context for the investigation:

A key objective of coalition efforts in Afghanistan is to build the country’s capacity to provide for its own security by training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which consist of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). Between fiscal years 2002 and 2012, the U.S. Congress appropriated $52.15 billion to equip, train, base, and sustain the ANSF. Approximately $11.7 billion of this amount has been appropriated for the construction of ANSF facilities. In our prior audits of U.S.-funded ANSF construction projects, we expressed concerns about the Afghan government’s ability to sustain these facilities in the absence of U.S. and coalition support, thus risking that U.S. investment will not be sustained after an expected significant decrease in international support after 2014.

In February 2011, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) developed a plan to transition operation and maintenance (O&M) of ANSF facilities to the Afghan government by the end of 2014. In an effort to ensure that facilities are maintained until the ANSF is capable of doing so, NTM-A obligated $800 million to fund these services for Afghan army and police facilities across Afghanistan. In July 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) awarded two firm-fixed-price contracts to ITT Exelis Systems Corporation (Exelis) to provide O&M for facilities in northern and southern Afghanistan. The contract covering facilities in the northern provinces is valued at $450 million and the contract covering the southern provinces at $350 million. The services include the O&M of buildings, structures, and utility systems and pest control. The contracts also require Exelis to train ANSF workers on the trade skills required for O&M.

What SIGAR is telling us is that we have invested over $50 billion since 2002 in the training fiasco and that a bit over 20% of that money, or just under $12 billion, has been spent in the construction of facilities for the Afghan security forces to use. It never occurred to the geniuses at NATO that our forces would leave some day and put the Afghans in charge of $12 billion worth of facilities, and so it wasn’t until the middle of 2010 that any steps were taken to prepare the Afghans to maintain the facilities.

Of course, our outsourcing mentality long ago stripped the military of its own operations and maintenance capabilities, so we had to outsource even the training for operations and maintenance. It should come as little surprise then, that this effort is an abject failure: Read more

US Wasting Money on Afghanistan Infrastructure While US Infrastructure Continues Decline

Joshua Foust tweeted a link to a story in today’s Washington Post about the most recent report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Foust’s tweet succinctly summed up the situation: “#SIGAR body slams the war in Afghanistan… again, and no one will probably ever care.” He followed that up with more: “This will destroy you if you dwell on it too much, but the blithe way DC encourages zero memory and zero accountability really is awful.”

Coming on the heels of the exposure of General William Caldwell’s disgusting 2010 coverup of hellish conditions at Afghanistan’s Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, it’s hard to see how Foust can be wrong in his pessimism. Where was the outrage over such horrid coniditions? Why is Caldwell still in the military?

The SIGAR report eviscerates the US counterinsurgency strategy that is based on the assumption that building a Western type of “infrastructure” will produce an Afghan populace that develops such adulation for the purveyors of such cultural “improvement” that they will immediately in fall in line with all other desires of the West.

The Post story opens:

A U.S. initiative to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan, originally pitched as a vital tool in the military campaign against the Taliban, is running so far behind schedule that it will not yield benefits until most U.S. combat forces have departed the country, according to a government inspection report to be released Monday.

A few paragraphs later, we get more of the explanation of how the strategy was supposed to work:

Many U.S. military commanders, diplomats and reconstruction experts have long believed that large infrastructure projects were essential to fixing Iraq and Afghanistan.

The next sentence, however, suggests that David Petraeus saw through this strategy and understood what really mattered in the “battle for hearts and minds”: Read more