Afghanistan: Another Broken Obama Promise; Taliban Poised to Retake Sangin; Money Trail Shows Billions of Fraud; Mish 5-Point Solution
A resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan highlights another miserable failure of the Obama administration as well as another broken promise.
Taliban Poised to Retake Sangin
The Financial Times reports Taliban Poised to Retake Sangin from Afghan Army.
Afghanistan's Taliban rebels appear poised to retake the strategically vital town of Sangin raising fears the Islamist militants could control the important poppy-growing areas of Helmand province.
Members of Afghanistan's poorly trained armed forces on Tuesday were reportedly struggling to hold on in the face of a determined rebel push that saw them seize the town's police headquarters.
Security analysts said Taliban forces were determined to regain control of Helmand, a region with which many Taliban leaders have close ties, and where they enjoy considerable popular support.
"Helmand is a base area for many of the Taliban leaders," said Ahmed Rashid, the author of several books on Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia. "It is dear and important to them."
He also said the Taliban was likely to try to declare an alternative governing council once they gained full control over Helmand, which would be a further blow to the Afghan government in Kabul.
The central government in Kabul is facing instability across the region, with a Taliban suicide bombing near Bagram in the east of the country killing six US soldiers on Monday in one of the deadliest attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan this year.
Although Nato's combat role in Afghanistan ended in 2014, the battle for Sangin highlights how stretched the Afghan security forces have become in holding back the Taliban advance.
Defence analysts say they are badly stretched trying to hold back the Taliban advance on multiple fronts, with fears the militants will capture further swathes of territory.
At the height of the international military intervention in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of educated Afghans were employed in service jobs, supporting the international forces, but most of these jobs disappeared with the drawdown of foreign troops, with nothing to take their place.
Afghans fleeing their country's grim situation have been a significant component of the wave of migrants that have sought refuge in Europe this year.
Another Badly Broken Obama Promise
The Washington Post reports Hope fades on Obama's vow to bring troops home before presidency ends.
In meeting after meeting this spring and summer, President Obama insisted that the last American troops in Afghanistan would return home by the end of his presidency, definitively ending the longest war in American history.
Afghanistan has been the one constant that spans his two terms in office. As an inexperienced president, Obama decided to send more than 50,000 American troops into Afghanistan in an attempt to blunt the Taliban's momentum, bolster the Afghan army and improve the prospects for reconciliation in a country that had experienced three decades of civil war.
Nearly seven years later, the leaders of Afghanistan's new unity government were still feuding, Afghan security forces were losing ground to insurgents, and the prospects for reconciliation with the Taliban seemed bleak.
In early October, Obama summed up one of the biggest lessons he's taken from America's interventions in these fractured societies. "What we've learned over the last 10, 12, 13 years is that unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem," he said at a news conference.
Did Obama Learn Anything?
Why did it take 13 years to "learn" the intuitively obvious? Did Obama really learn anything or did he parrot a statement?
If indeed the president has learned something, then what the hell is he doing with that information? Has he changed tactics? Withdrawn the troops?
Well, not exactly.
Obama Flips On Afghanistan Withdrawal Plan
On October 15, the Huffington Post reported Obama Flips On Afghanistan Withdrawal Plan.
President Barack Obama will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017, according to senior administration officials, casting aside his promise to end the war on his watch and instead ensuring he hands the conflict off to his successor.
Obama had originally planned to pull out all but a small, embassy-based U.S. military presence by the end of next year, a timeline coinciding with the final weeks of his presidency. But military leaders argued for months that the Afghans needed additional assistance and support from the U.S. to beat back a resurgent Taliban and hold onto gains made over the last 14 years of American bloodshed and billions of dollars in aid.
Money Trail: Where Did Billions in Aid Go?
Inquiring minds just may be wondering: "Where the hell did billions of dollars of aid money go?"
That's a damn good question, too. For the answer, please consider "Money Trail"
This week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report that outlined how the Pentagon spent nearly $43 million on building a gas station in the Afghan provincial town of Sheberghan. Though comparable stations in Pakistan cost only $500,000, the report cited Pentagon claims that it could provide no explanation for the enormous cost of the project.
John Sopko is a lawyer and a veteran investigator for Congress and government, appointed to the job in 2012. He heads a team of 200 investigators and support staff, more than a quarter of them in Afghanistan. When he visits the country, he moves with a large security detail, since he is considered a high-value target -- though not necessarily by the Taliban.
Where did the one hundred and something billion dollars go?
One hundred and ten billion I think is where our best guesstimate is. It may even be higher now. The [cost of] the total conflict there is over a trillion dollars. The actual fighting of the war over the last thirteen to fourteen years cost a lot more than reconstruction. War fighting is more expensive. Reconstruction is relatively cheap if it's done right. A lot of it was lost, fraud, waste, and abuse. I don't know what percentage. We just don't have the time or the ability to calculate the loss, but a significant amount of that number is lost.
When you go there, do you see 110 billion dollars worth of reconstruction? Could you put a price on what you do see?
No, I can't. We keep finding horror stories all the time. A lot of it was just stolen.
When you get into a war it's like you're on steroids, everything is just crazy, people are shooting at you. When you're on steroids, when you're in Afghanistan, you're spending more on AID [the Agency for International Development] than the next four countries combined. But the head of AID only visited Afghanistan twice. He rarely focused on it. He was more interested in something else, other issues were more important to him. It wasn't a priority.
The way we reward people in the government is not based on saving money. If you're a procurement officer your reward is on how much money you procure, how much money you put on contract. If you have a reward system in place, if you have a human resources system that rotates people out every six months, what do you expect is going to happen? Welcome to my world. It was a disaster ready to happen, and it happened.
See this airplane here? [Gesturing toward a plastic model of a twin-engine transport plane sitting on his office windowsill] That's a model of the G222. It was an airplane we purchased out of an Italian boneyard for . . . They were almost scrap. We purchased it for 400-500 million dollars. We sent twenty of them over to Afghanistan. They were the wrong plane for the country, the altitude, the weather. They were basically referred to as death traps. They couldn't fly over there. The Afghans couldn't be trained on them. When I first saw them, they were sitting outside the airport in Kabul just rusting with trees growing through them. They were eventually turned into -- when we started the investigation -- scrap. We got three cents on the dollar. That's a 400-500-million-dollar investment. We don't know the exact figure. No one has been fired for purchasing that airplane.
How much of the money never left here [the US]?
Quite a bit. I don't have the percentage, but quite a bit ended up in the coffers of consultants, firms here, and it never got to Afghanistan, and that is a true complaint about our assistance program, high overhead costs. Again, nobody is minding the store. We also get instances where we do financial audits and we can't find any records to support the costs to the U.S. government. We just had one for 130-135 million dollars.
What was that for?
It was for Afghan National Security Forces training in the eastern part of the country. [The contract was with Jorge Scientific, recipients of $1 billion in contracts.]
They just didn't have any records, so for 130-some million dollars they couldn't support where the money went.
We've had instances where we've questioned costs and they said, "Oh, a flood or a fire," or, you know, "Somebody lost the records." Our concern is, when you can't support the record, can't support a cost, that it could just be fraudulent.
We just issued a report on what we call the 64K. The sixty-four-thousand-square-foot building in Camp Leatherneck where three generals on the ground said, "We don't need it, we don't want it, we're not going to use it, don't build it." They were overruled by a general sitting back in a comfortable office, not in the fog of war, back in Kuwait or Qatar or wherever he was, and he said, "Well, since it was supplemental appropriations it would be unwise or imprudent to ignore the wishes of Congress." So we spent 36 million dollars on a building that was totally built, never used, and has been turned over to the Afghans. As far as we know, it's empty.
Another example I like to cite for just how we don't understand Afghanistan: somebody came up with a brilliant idea in the Department of Agriculture that Afghans really should eat more soy. So they spent 36 million dollars on creating a soy program. The Afghans don't grow soy, they don't eat soy, they don't like the taste of soy. But we spent 36 million dollars doing this. We were kind of putting our value system, you know, you should have a low carb diet, onto the Afghans. It was a total disaster from the beginning to the end.
Nobody has gotten fired in Afghanistan for all of the problems I've exposed.
Nope. Call up DOD, call up State, see if anybody has gotten fired. I bet you no one has lost a promotion. I bet you no one has lost a bonus.
Holding on to the Gains
Despite what Obama claims to have learned, what he really has learned is we need to keep troops in Afghanistan and we need to keep spending billions of dollars to hold onto "gains".
Might I ask, what gains are those, and how many more troops will it take to hold those gains? What will it cost to hold on to those gains?
What about those 13 years of knowledge gains? What happened to those?
Far be it for me to offer only criticism without an alternative plan. I happen to have the very face-saving plan the president needs.
Mish 5-Point Proposed Solution
- Label the Taliban as "Moderates".
- Declare the war won with the Taliban's help..
- Leave immediately.
- Brag about the reduction in spending.
- Brag about honoring promises to bring the troops home.