Pay to Play
As the cool weather finally moves into Afghanistan I have to tell you that from my perspective not much is happening. I am not talking about security incidents – they almost doubled last week from a near all time high the week before. There is lots of villianary going on – the weather is perfect for it – but nothing seems to be really changing. One gets the impression that the players from all sides want to maintain the current status quo because all the sides are benefiting.
Last week yet another story about one of the ISAF countries paying the Taliban to keep things on the down low came out. This story implied the French losses in last August action around the Uzbin Valley were directly tied to them failing to maintain the financial arrangements of their predecessors from Italy. There are hundreds of stories about how the Taliban and their various allies are benefiting from the current war as are various government officials and a rouges gallery of warlords. NATO has issued a strong denial that any of its members are paying off potential trouble makers.
I don’t believe the NATO spokesman nor do I believe there is a direct correlation between payments to local centers of influence by the Italians and the attack on the French patrol in the Uzbin. If the French had known about such an arrangement and refused to honor it one suspects they would have been better prepared when they ran into their first ambush. However there is no question that “centers of influence” on every side of this conflict are making a lot of money by allowing or protecting or stealing from the unbelievable amount of supplies moving into Afghanistan. This is a fact which is not in dispute – many people including myself believe the various Taliban units make much more cash in the protection racket than they make in the poppy trade.
Most of the money being paid for protection is coming from the reconstruction effort and as with most things in life is not as straight forward as paying cash to the head bad guy to be left alone. The cash comes from establishing local monopolies such as vehicle and heavy equipment rentals. If people had any idea how much money there is in waste removal trucks servicing the many different FOB’s and COP’s which dot the countryside we would have a Gold Rush of poop removal prospectors combing Central Asia for honey dipper trucks. Having a monopoly on poop trucks, or fuel tankers, or rock crushers, could make a man millions quickly in Afghanistan. The other way money is extracted from the effort is by providing security or a construction services. Much has been written about the efforts in Kabul to regulate the security industry but once outside the capitol every local power broker has both his own security and construction company and failing to utilize these services invites attack.
There are persistent rumors that the local Army FOB at the Jalalabad Airport is being targeted with rockets by local “land owners” because they are not paying enough rent. My Army friends have heard this too and have not a clue about what it is all about because they don’t pay rent. It is possible that some locals are not happy with the current unit. The CO banned the weekly bazaar in which dozens of local vendors would participate. This was an economic loss to local businessmen but given the amount of aircraft, drones and munitions on the base a reasonable precaution. It is hard to believe that somehow somebody important is no longer getting their cut and is letting lose with 107mm rockets as a result. But they are shooting one or two every week or so. The skipper hired well diggers to go out into the fields next to the base to dig up the dud rockers (they function about 50% of the time) but the army remains convinced they aren’t being shot at.
I’ll tell you this … when us outside the wire contractors fall behind of paying local subcontractors our personal security goes right out of the window. Many a firm has had important local national staff kidnapped and in some cases international staff attacked over money issues. As I have observed in the past experienced mafia leaders would feel very at home operating businesses in Afghanistan.
One of these days the local shooter is going to get lucky with his 107 rockets and hit the fuel pit or ammo dump which will get every-one’s attention for about four or five days. I doubt he is aiming at those sites or even wants to hit them which is why it seems that everything is just moving along the same way it always does. We lose a fuel tanker here, a few men in a MRAP there, the drones continue to kill with scary precision, the military talks COIN but when you observe them operating in and around Kabul you see a attrition warfare oriented army of occupation completely removed and divorced from the locals they are supposed to be protecting.
My prediction for the future is that nothing will change. The President has made it clear he intends to continue vote present. Now he is waiting for the election results in order to determine the best way forward to pursue our goals (whatever the hell they may be) in Afghanistan. John Kerry, who was a CAB Chaser before there were CAB’s, has weighed into the debate helping out President Obama by declaring that targeted strikes combined with Special Forces missions will not be enough to “win” in Afghanistan. It always helps to have a senior senator like Kerry coming out in direct opposition to your Vice President’s new strategary when you are running the clock.
Several trial balloons being floated out of the White House. The Pakistan First idea which is favored by VP Biden and maybe three other people; the we are “prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan’s political future” idea – the quote is from a White House press briefing. The third option (which I believe will be the one Obama goes with) is to declare status quo as victory and start to wind things down real slow like. The only problem with that last option is that the bad guys get a vote on your plan too and once they see the money train is leaving the station it is hard to predict just how poorly they will react. It is safe to say that regardless of the direction our current administration takes Afghanistan is going to continue to get more unstable and more violent. The Afghans I know don’t want this but they also understand just how little they can influence current events. Life is hard; harder when you are stupid and there seems to be an inordinate amount of stupid people on all sides trying to “manage” the fight in Afghanistan.