Permissible Arms

Bargaining Chips

Another boring-but-informative (and potentially useful) link dump. Where are my words?

Soldiers smoked late one evening at Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Paktika Province.


“Protocol droid fluent in 6 mil languages discharged for violating DADT.”

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, usaid by Karaka on 28 July 2010

Without a doubt, the most entertaining thing on the internet right now is the #wookieeleaks (or #wookieleaks) hashtag on twitter. Marc Ambinder has collected some of the best here, but my favorites are the ones about the Death Star. There’s some seriously clever humour in there for those who, like me, dovetail as Star Wars nerds and national security geeks. Of which there are more than I ever thought existed.

Naheed Mustafa has another dispatch up at Registan that I’ve finally had a change to read, and like the rest of her series it balances being both moving and informative.

Everyone needs a myth; it’s the only way to sleep at night. But behind the myths in Afghanistan, the warriors from then and from now are just broken men, continuously looking for opportunities to perpetuate their own hype and stay relevant because without the fight, what are they? Behind the myth, ordinary people are profoundly weary and untrusting. They relive their worst moments nightly each time they close their eyes.

Mosharraf Zaidi’s piece last week on Hilary Clinton, Pakistan, and foreign aid that I found compelling. The comments section of his site is a little wily, but his work is always worth your time to read.

Perhaps now Pakistanis can better understand the frustration of the John Kerrys, the Hillary Clintons and the Richard Holbrookes of the earth. Top US policymakers have fought for over two years to win the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Since then, two things have kept that money from flowing into Pakistan. The first is Mr Holbrooke’s decision to dispense with the Clintonian (Bill, not Hill) model of US aid disbursement through large contracting firms that Americans often refer to as Beltway Bandits. That decision, while long overdue, was rushed and was made in the wrong country, at the wrong time. American development assistance, which is not routed solely through USAID, but often through half a dozen different US departments (or ministries), has been in desperate need of an overhaul for years. But to attempt to reform the instrument of aid delivery in Pakistan, at the climax of Obama’s war in Afghanistan, has been a disastrous decision. The American international aid community is so removed and so distant from the mainstream of western assistance thinking (spearheaded by the OECD and captured in the Paris Declaration) that it doesn’t quite know how to deal with large sums of money without the Beltway Bandits. This has meant that the Kerry-Lugar money has been parked in Washington DC, with a clear destination, but no vehicle to take it there.

Top pick of the week, though, goes to David Wood writing on women in Afghanistan (a recurring topic of mine and one of immense interest).

In Afghanistan, where women have traditionally been treated as shut-ins and worse, 29 Afghan women are taking a daring step: They are the first volunteers to undergo training to serve in the all-male Afghan national army.

Two American women, Rebekah Martinez and Jennifer Marcos, are among a cadre of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants spending six months away from their families to train the Afghan women here.

Meanwhile, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, reportedly has issued new orders for his Taliban fighters to begin again targeting women cooperating with Americans or helping their own government. Assassinations, suicide bombing and IED attacks may follow, on the women — and on their families.

One of the basic premises of my understanding of “reasons to stay in Afghanistan” ten years into this thing unequivocally has to do with women. Well, people in general, but women specifically. The quality of life for women in Afghanistan–not exactly of stellar height right now–plummeted under the Taliban and would do so, without a doubt, once again should ISAF retreat. Of the many obligations I believe the United States to possess towards Afghanistan, the quality of life of women there carries great weight for me.

Just turn off your phone. It’s not that hard.

I don’t care if the Army said it was nifty keen, I can’t get this stupid Lady Gaga song OUT OF MY HEAD and I’m blaming it on paratroopers.

Of note: Stephen McInerney’s article on budget & appropriations for the Middle East in 2011. His analysis notes the increases in funding for Yemen, the withdrawal of support to Iraq in line with the withdrawal of assets and personnel, and the continued increase in funding to Afghanistan/Pakistan. The URL itself is actually a nice brief on Obama’s budget submission, but there’s a longer PDF as well. Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal responds, noting the Problem of Egypt.

USAID has released a couple of reports of note, including a report on internally displaced persons in Iraq, and human resources and logistical support in Afghanistan (both PDF). The GAO has also released Operation Iraqi Freedom: Actions Needed to Facilitate the Efficient Drawdown of U.S. Forces and Equipment from Iraq, which is sure to be a scintillating read, and a report on the problems of aid and contracting in Iraq and Afganistan (both PDF, more at Diplopundit).

Break the Kandahar Mafia:

It’s even worse than that, according to an in-depth poll of Kandahar residents completed last month for the U.S. and ISAF command. Conducted by U.S. Army human terrain teams, the poll found that corruption is viewed as “a widespread problem,” and that “most people have sympathy for the reasons AGEs (anti-government elements, i.e., the Taliban) take up arms against the government.”

A majority of the 1,994 people surveyed said a lack of security was their biggest problem, and that they felt danger mostly from Afghan army and police checkpoints and convoys.

The poll found “almost universal agreement that negotiation with the Taliban is preferable to continued fighting.”

At leas the Human Terrain Teams are working? I feel like my comparison of Ahmed Wali Karzai to Don Corleone is a little more on the nose now. From the Washington Post, the US is shoring up support the actual, technical governor of Kandahar:

In the hope of pushing power brokers such as Karzai to the sidelines, American officials are trying to infuse Wesa and his government with more clout and credibility. They see better governance as a central part of a U.S.-led effort that has brought thousands of troops to the region for a summer offensive against the Taliban.

But the government headed by Wesa has severe problems of its own. It remains understaffed, is viewed by many as corrupt and does not reflect the province’s tribal mix. Karzai and other allegedly corrupt political bosses who dominate Kandahar show no sign of giving way.

“Wesa is a weak governor,” said Rahmatullah Raufi, a former general and Kandahar governor. “If Ahmed Wali Karzai wants him to die, he will die. If he says, ‘Live,’ he’ll live.”

Isn’t that something. If it looks like a warlord, quacks like a warlord, it must be…

AP via Stars & Stripes covers the perils of contracting in Afghanistan:

Afghan companies often bid on projects that they don’t have the money or skills to complete, Wilson said. Quality inspectors end up teaching the basics of drainage or safe electrical wiring.

Small Afghan companies are also under more pressure to pay bribes to local authorities than large international firms, Wilson said. The military has received invoices for as much as $40,000 from Afghan contractors for bogus building permits, he said. International companies either have the power to say no or don’t even try to get their money back from the military.

On NATO bases, hours are also lost each day getting Afghan workers through security.

Despite the problems, Wilson says the “Afghan First” program is the right approach given the new focus on winning over the population. The problem is that this year, in the midst of a troop surge, there’s just too much to build.

Makes you wonder how much of the appropriations for Afghanistan in the budget above will actually be used for stated purposes.

Anthony Cordesman issued a pointed critique of the Obama administration’s communications efforts (or lack thereof) on Afghanistan et cetera via CSIS; some good notes, though I wonder what, if anything, Cordesman might have changed if this had been released after the Afghanistan report instead of before.

In addition to his whirlwind speaking schedule, Secdef Gates published an article in the May/June Foreign Affairs, Helping Others Defend Themselves (PDF). It effectively articulates what Gates (and presumably Clinton) would like to see change in the duration of their time with the Obama administration, perhaps in part from the conclusion of the QDR and QDDR.

The United States now recognizes that the security sectors of at-risk countries are really systems of systems tying together the military, the police, the justice system, and other governance and oversight mechanisms. As such, building a partner’s overall governance and security capacity is a shared responsibility across multiple agencies and departments of the U.S. national security apparatus — and one that requires flexible, responsive tools that provide incentives for cooperation. Operations against extremist groups in the Philippines and, more recently, Yemen have shown how well-integrated training and assistance efforts can achieve real success.

But for all the improvements of recent years, the United States’ interagency tool kit is still
a hodgepodge of jury-rigged arrangements constrained by a dated and complex patchwork of authorities, persistent shortfalls in resources, and unwieldy processes. The National Security Act that created most of the current interagency structure was passed in 1947, the last major legislation structuring how Washington dispenses foreign assistance was signed by President John F. Kennedy, and the law governing U.S. exports of military equipment was passed in 1976. All the while, other countries that do not suffer from such encumbrances have been more quickly funding projects, selling weapons, and building relationships.

Yemen, Yemen, Yemen. The Martha Brady of insurgency-riddled nations. Anyway, I’m curious to see what Gates says in his next speech–he seems to be on something of a campaign. Also, let me point out this rebuttal of Gates’ Navy League speech from Brian McGrath at Information Dissemination; it’s a point by point response, and really gets into the meat of what Gates is proposing.

A new Director for Chrismukkah

Posted in usaid by Karaka on 3 December 2009

It didn’t slip my notice that, early last month, Obama announced his nomination for USAID. Rajiv Shah, currently an Under Secretary at the USDA. His hearing was Tuesday, news that was likely eclipsed with the West Point speech.

I do think it’s a net positive that any nomination has been made, after nearly ten months and a bit of moaning about it. And Dr. Shah has a pretty impressive resume.

Josh Rogin at The Cable obtained the written answers Dr Shah submitted prior to the hearing, which give some insight into his perspective on the troubles USAID faces and the department’s role in US foreign policy–particularly in Afghanistan. But as Diplopundit notes:

The whole thing is worth reading although one comes away without the answer to the questions we really want answered. The only thing that seems sure from this and from the hearing is that we won’t really know how much change there will be for USAID until the roll out of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review next year.

Important point. Given the significant changes made to USAID administration ca. 2006, it makes me curious as to how, or if, USAID will play against this escalation in Afghanistan. (Which is, of course, but one of USAID’s development locales.)

TNR also came out with thoughts on USAID this week that touch on the balance Shah faces as USAID’s role comes to be redefined for Obama’s administration, during the QDDR taking place in the State Department.

Into this debate over the role of foreign aid–self-interest versus altruism? short-term versus long-term?–steps Shah. It’s impossible to know how the new USAID chief will act, although, as a young pick with no prior experience at the agency, he seems likely to defer to Clinton. One thing is for sure: He won’t have a lot of time to get his bearings. As soon as he’s confirmed, he will probably join the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which will aim to provide a blueprint for coordinating diplomatic and development efforts.

The State Department denies that the QDDR will be used to justify a shift toward strategic aid as opposed to pure humanitarian aid. At a briefing about the QDDR in July, Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter was asked: “Traditionally, humanitarian aid has been kind of walled off from the diplomatic objectives of the United States. Should this be seen in some way as a blurring of that bright line?” She answered no; but USAID watchers still worry that State Department control of the agency means a certain approach to foreign aid will prevail. Says Atwood, “Diplomats are trained for certain expertise but development is not one of them. … If you believe in that, you need a strong and independent voice representing development interests at the table–because otherwise the tendency is for short-term political priorities to win out over long-term development goals.”

I highly recommend reading Shah’s answers to the Kerry-Lugar hearing, even if I don’t find them to be wholly satisfying. This is the first real movement USAID has had this calendar year, and I’m interested to see how it goes.

A collection of related unrelated things

Posted in afghanistan, pakistan, us politics, us senate, usaid by Karaka on 20 October 2009

A handful of things on USAID today. I was listening to CFR’s podcast with Charles North and Isobel Coleman on USAID’s involvement in Central Asia, particularly Pakistan. From the blurb on the page:

Currently, as North points out, USAID is required to maintain high standards of financial accountability that make it difficult for it to work with local NGOs. “So often we need to work through international organizations that provide that kind of accounting for their resources,” he says. But experts say this system of using contractors results in high overhead costs and large amounts of money being channeled back to donor countries. Coleman recommends that the U.S. Congress ease up on some of the accounting requirements. “It has to over time be able to get comfortable with losing money,” she says.

Congress, in itself, seems conflicted on that. On the one hand, you have the Kerry-Lugar bill:

The bill, which awaits President Barack Obama’s signature, would give Pakistan $1.5 billion annually over the next five years for democratic, economic and social development programs. It also allows ‘such sums as are necessary’ for military aid.

The US says the bill is aimed at alleviating poverty here and lessening the allure of militant groups in a country seen as crucial to the American fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan.

And on the other you have the Franken amendment:

There were about 85 amendments proposed in this bill. One of those that has attracted a greater share of attention is Senator Al Franken’s S.Amdt. 2588: “To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims.” The Franken amendment passed: Yea-Nay Vote 68 – 30 with these Republican legislators voting “no.”

The amendment was prompted by this one who was gang-raped in Baghdad. The victim according to Mother Jones was “forced into mandatory binding arbitration, a private forum where Halliburton would hire the arbitrator, all the proceedings would be secret, and she’d have no right to appeal if she lost.” It took three years just to get the court to agree that she can sue.

Here’s why I think these two issues are related. If, as North indicates, the strictures for providing aid require the contracting out of such economic, democratic, and social programs (and to some degree military programs) to companies who can offer accounting procedures in line with congressional requirements, the financial and contractual relationships with such companies are deepened, even in the face of illegal activities by contractors while abroad. In its clippy, fantastic fashion, Jon Stewart picks apart the logic:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It’s like arguing from inside a box: if you can only work with companies that meet certain guidelines, but those companies fail in other ways, make those other ways irrelevant by stressing those certain guidelines, so everything fits nice and cleanly in the box. (Except for that pesky rape claim, allegations of fraud, human rights violations and also that murder charge that one time.)

It seems as though it’s easier to refrain from sanctioning companies who act extralegally than it is to pursue programs that might come in at a loss, as Coleman suggests, but who do not violate the rights of their employees or the people they aim to assist. Since the US is ramping up a new aid package for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, I wonder if Franken will get his amendment through.

The US, by far the largest foreign donor to Afghanistan, has channelled about a fifth of its spending through USAid in recent years. Much of the rest of Washington’s aid has been devoted to military assistance and counter-narcotics schemes.

USAid’s Afghan budget has been doubled this year to $2.1bn, about half of which will be spent on programmes to promote better governance, with the rest divided between infrastructure, health, education and the expanded farm programme.

…Conscious of criticism that USAid has relied too much on private-sector contractors, Mr Frej pledged to raise the proportion of his budget allocated to the Afghan government from 5 per cent last year to 40 per cent by 2010, starting with a $236m grant to the ministry of health.

“We are absolutely shifting our programme to Afghanisation, engaging more Afghans in what we do,” he said.

“I think it’s important to reconnect with the Afghan government and the Afghan people.”

Edited to add: Reading this from my rss feeder, I don’t think I made my point as cleanly as I wanted to. Essentially, this is what I think. The US awards aid packages of a significant budget to several countries of interest to the US, and more besides. The Senate places restrictions on how that money is accounted for that basically mandates the awarding of contracts only to companies who can provide that accounting. Those companies frequently foster or further extralegal activity while completing the programs it was awarded aid for. And the completion of those programs is of importance, because we keep providing money to do them. But the requirements we place on the accounting of that money solidifies the dependence on companies who can account for it, and those companies contribute to the violation of US law. It results in a situation where the violation of law is given as much weight as auditing practices, which is ridiculous.

If Congress were less committed to reinforcing contracts with those existing companies as a result of the accounting strictures, perhaps such contractors would have less power to quell claims against them; and perhaps there would be fewer situations that would lead to such claims.

Heart of glass (and bribes)

Posted in afghanistan, usaid by Karaka on 16 October 2009

Oh, USAID. I think you could be very effective if you, y’know, had an appointed administrator, more money, and more personnel. But first you need to deal with some of these rather pernicious issues [h/t Diplopundit]:

In August 2006, USAID awarded a $1.4 billion contract known as the Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project (the AIRP contract). The AIRP contract required the award of numerous subcontracts, including for the provision of security services to protect AIRP workers.

According to the indictment, McMonigle was employed from approximately February 2009 until May 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan, by Civilian Police International, a Virginia-based company that provides law enforcement training internationally. The indictment alleges that McMonigle, Bryan Lee Burrows and others conspired to solicit kickbacks from security vendors in return for favorable treatment for those potential bidders in connection with the award of a subcontract to provide security services to protect USAID personnel and contractors in Afghanistan operating under the AIRP contract.

McMonigle is charged with one count of conspiracy to solicit a kickback and one count of aiding and abetting the solicitation of a kickback.

Okay, not actually that surprising, but seriously–a little oversight please?

Maybe if this senatorial resolution passes USAID will get some money to pay for the director it doesn’t have so that director can hire personnel who won’t consider kickbacks for foreign aid contracts. Maybe.

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