On The Border
The military campaign in Afghanistan is apparently going well. I read that last Monday here in the Washington Post so it must be true. But two days ago the military effort in Afghanistan took a turn for the worst. I know that to be a fact too because I read it here in the Washington Post. The truth is that it is not terribly important how well the military is doing right now. The military is fighting to do the “Clear” portion of the “Clear, Hold and Build” component which is the backbone of our current counterinsurgency strategy. The people responsible for part of the holding and all of the building are about to ran out of the country in what appears to be another self inflicted wound.
President Karzai is determined to implement the ban on private security companies and apparently it has just dawned on the various embassy’s who are funding the reconstruction projects that this time President Karzai is serious. There are now frantic consultations happening in Kabul with the Americans in the lead and they are asking security companies for mountains of information, due in 48 hours, on the extent that new security platform will degrade technical results. When asked what exactly the new security platform is there is no answer because nobody at the embassy is exactly what the platform is. When asked who will pay for security provided by the the new platform headed by the Afghan National Police (ANP) there is no answer because nobody seems to know those details.
What the American Embassy (and the UN) have made perfectly clear is that they supports the Presidential decree saying that any government should be able to regulate who has guns and what they do with them. The Afghan government is not regulating access to guns for their citizens just those available to internationals who use them for self protection.
Why would the American government support a decree which is going to drive their implementation companies out of the country? It’s not like the American government doesn’t use armed security contractors back in the states. Contractors guard prisons, fly convicts around the country, guard court houses and important officials. Why the hostility to security contractors in Afghanistan? Who knows? This is Afghanistan.
I’ve been spending time in Zaranj, the capitol of Nimroz Province. We do a lot of work in Zaranj which is on the border with Iran and has a large population of Baluch tribesmen. It is a Dari speaking town in the predominately Pashtun south with 24 hour electricity from Iran and a surprisingly relaxed attitude towards the female half of the population. You do not see many women in Burkas and it is not uncommon to see them driving vehicles. There are not many social taboos associated with holding a job outside the home so we are doing several large vocational training programs for women in the city.
Zaranj is a desert border town of around 100,000 people just across the border from Milak Iran. The Indian Government’s Border Roads Organization just completed a modern hard top road from Zaranj to the ring road and the city of Delaram. That means there is now a modern hard ball road direct from the deep water port of Chabahar, Iran to the ring road of Afghanistan and beyond. That route could prove significant to somebody at some point in the future. For now it is hard to capitalize on having a modern route to a large seaport given that the run from Nimroz to Kabul is 500 kilometer ambush alley for truckers.
Zaranj is now starting to feel the love after years of getting by on their own. Last year Mullah John and The Boss flew in here (Zaranj is way out in the middle of nowhere) with little idea of what was going on and discovered a community that was ripe for development projects.
This year as the military and civilian surge continues to pour into Afghanistan the regional representatives from various USG agencies as well as the Marines are staging a series of meetings to see where they can help.
The meeting with the governor and his staff was interesting. In fact a case study in complexities of trying to provide meaningful development in Afghanistan. ISAF put out a press release about the meeting which can be found here. The governor said that he needed some help with his main canal and also needs some sort of medical treatment facility. He could also use a proper runway for the airport so commercial flights can resume. For now only our planes and the Marine Osprey’s land at the airport due to the ruts in the runway and packs of feral dogs that always seem to run across the runway when fixed wing planes are on their final approach.
The governor was probably in better spirits six weeks ago when they had their first meeting like this and talked about what kind of help he needed. He opened the meeting saying he was happy to see everyone again and that he hopes they are not gong to put a base near Zaranj because they don’t need any Taliban lurking about. He added that he hoped for maybe some action on the last discussion because although talking with friends is always good it is also good to see action resulting from these talks.
I don’t think ISAF has an intention of putting a base way out in Zaranj as there is no reason for them to be here but this getting action instead of talk stuff is going to be problematic. This is where good intentions drive expectations above what can met with the current contracting processes.
As noted in my last post nothing happens fast with the Regional Contracting Command. The Marines and their USG counterparts are trying to use money as a weapon. But if you are going to use money as a weapon you need to have money. They will get the funds to do the canal work and probably pave the airport runway too but that is months and months and months away. Plus the “Afghan First” policy which makes sense on a PowerPoint slide normally produces results like this (a story about botched police station construction) which I found today after surfing the net for .025 seconds.
More distressing is the lack of medical facilities in a such a large urban center. Currently people who can afford it seek treatment in Iran. The others have to make do with local doctors working out of offices with very little equipment. This shortfall clearly bothered the American delegation and they explained that it will be their first priority. But as the mission of our military and USG agencies remains first and foremost to support GIRoA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) they stressed that whatever solution there is to this problem must be fixed in direct consultation with the Ministry of Health in Kabul. Hate to be blunt about this but that is essentially the same as saying nothing is going to happen except years of frustrating meetings resulting in zero action.
From my perspective we’re fighting an insurgency to support a government who is actively working against our interests which normally not be in their best interests but there it is.
Life continues on the border, hot, windy, dusty but secure. The Marines will fund the complete rehabilitation of the main water canal which will make life a little easier for the people of Zaranj but that is going to take time given the current contracting procedures. At some point we have to realize that speed is a weapon that doesn’t subtract from effectiveness. We are acting as if we have all the time and money in the world and we don’t.