The Going Is Getting Tough
The ongoing saga about banning security contractors continues with the need for them is so obvious even CNN has gotten a clue. Many of the reconstruction projects in the country are grinding to a halt and let me tell you something – the local people are sick and tired of this. We have been at this for almost ten years now yet our impact on the lives of the average Afghan has been marginal at best. In Kabul there is a rising epidemic of Cutaneous leishmanisis which has stuck some 65,000 people, mostly woman and children. Do you know how simple it is to stop the current epidemic of leishmanisis? Start a cash for work program to build concrete floors in every dwelling – that simple. This could be done so fast, so easy and so cheaply that were it not so serious for the people afflicted by this disease it would be funny.
Yet simple solutions to complex problems elude us; we focus instead on things like “good governance” or the “Afghanistan water table project” or a dozen other programs which suck up hundreds of millions of dollars while doing not one damn thing for the Afghan people. We do these programs because they can be done “virtually” from the FOB’s by thousands of military, government and contract workers who never step one foot outside the wire. What in the name of God can we teach the Afghans about good governance? Why not take all these thousands of people and millions of dollars and invade Illinois to restore the right to vote for our military and civilian citizens who are currently serving overseas? The citizens of that state could use some good governance as could those living in Michigan, California, New York and all the other deep blue states plagued by decades of mismanagement and corruption. But I digress.
The Afghan government continues to fail at providing basic services while excelling at hounding outside the wire contractors. Visa’s for internationals working in-country remain impossible to obtain so more and more of us who work outside the FOB’s are heading home. Look at this quote, one of many I have seen from ISAF supporting the elimination of private security contractors:
Karzai has said repeatedly in recent months that the companies undermine government security forces, creating a parallel security structure. His desire to ban the private security groups seems to reflect the thinking of the former top American commander in Afghanistan.
Before he was replaced earlier this year for making disparaging comments about the Obama administration, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said “the coalition in Afghanistan has become too dependent on private contractors.”
There is no doubt that the military is too dependent on private contractors – the FOB’s are full of them 98% of whom are not in the security industry. Those of us who are outside the wire doing the heavy lifting in the reconstruction piece need to be able to protect ourselves. The Afghan security forces are not remotely capable of doing the job and the sad fact is that the only international military force we can count on to come to our aid when attacked are the Americans.
For those of you who think I am exaggerating read this article closely. If you are a German citizen you may want to skip this because it is about the response to the Taliban attack on DAI in Kunduz earlier this year by the German military. Response is actually the wrong word, inaction bordering on gross incompetence is a better description of this disgraceful story which should be causing national outrage in Germany. The only bright spot for Germans in this saga was the senior security manager, a German national, who was killed while fighting to protect his clients. I spent hundreds hours of my professional life studying the innovation and professionalism of the German military during the First and Second World Wars. It gives me no pleasure to highlight this story of incompetence and indifference from a military which was once the best the world had ever seen.
Given the train wreck that is Afghanistan at the moment, Nic Lee, who heads the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office has recommended that NGO’s deal with the Taliban to facilitate their projects. That is not as ridiculous as it probably sounds to FRI readers because he is talking about NGO’s not implementation firms.
Nic sees the NGOs (unarmed, non-profits) as neutral and believes that if the Taliban also see them as non-participants in the war they’ll leave them alone. This has been generally true in the east for years. In the South not so much and in the North and West the problem for NGO’s and other internationals has been criminal groups. It’s to the Taliban’s advantage to allow medical clinics and farm projects to run without interference so they can show the locals that good stuff can happen when they’re in charge. There’s no upside to harming NGOs and the Taliban senior leaders know it. Criminals and junior Taliban who didn’t get the memo and are another matter.
The problem for NGOs ( Lee does not count DAI, Chemonics and all the other USAID implementing partners as NGO’s, he sees us as participants in the war who are no different then the military) is in areas where control is contested and their locals are at risk from kidnapping, air strikes, and IEDs.
In light of the “new” US moves to facilitate peace talks and given the vulnerability of NGOs his ideas, in theory, have merit. His earlier quarterly report predicted rapid NATO withdrawal (he’s a Brit and does not understand how the war is primarily driven by US domestic politics) and he recommended that NGOs have nothing to do with ISAF. The first part of his prediction was wrong and the second part redundant as most NGOs have never had much to do with ISAF.
By definition NGO’s have no affiliation with international governments and are embedded in the local community for years at a time living in exactly the same circumstances as the people they are helping. Dan Terry and Tom Little spent over 40 years doing just that while bringing state of the art medical treatment to tens of thousands of Afghan people. Despite their years of experience and relationship building they were gunned down after receiving permission from local leaders (some of whom had to be affiliated with the Taliban) to travel into the areas they were working. The security situation has degraded too far too fast for NGO’s to operate safely in most of Afghanistan. Implementation contractors are now the only option for outside the wire reconstruction.
Contractors have gotten a bad rap in the press and with the FOB bound portion of our military establishment. Troops at the pointed end of the spear where we do our projects love us and go out of their way to protect and take care of us. But on the big box FOB’s we are not allowed weapons, cameras, laptops, or cell phones. Of course on every FOB there is an Afghan bazaar plus a military exchange which sell knives, swords, antique guns, cell phones, computers, cameras, etc… proving again that stupidity never takes a holiday, never rests, and will always torment competent productive people. By contract we must have cell phones, cameras and laptops in order to do the reporting we are required to do. Rules like those in the sign below, dreamed up by rear echelon pouges who have little else to occupy their time, are ….I’m coming up with little more than foul language here….. let me think….I know… unproductive.
There is no indication we are going anywhere next summer despite the muddled guidance from our Commander in Chief. Yet at some point we have to stop hemorrhaging the hundreds of millions of OPM (other peoples money) our governments are throwing into this endeavor. Very little of it leaks into the Afghan economy and it is not helping the Afghan people to stand on their own. We are fielding tens of thousands of personnel; military, government, and contractor alike who sit on these massive FOB’s generating more information than any system can digest or use in a million years. The rational way forward is clear; follow these steps.
The few contractors who remain outside the wire need protection from the Taliban, from criminals, from the Afghan government and the rear echelon military establishment. It’s getting damn lonely for us outside the wire firms these days and there is no excuse, none, for this situation to continue.