Neutral Intermediaries

The efforts of the international community to bring aid to Afghanistan, help develop the infrastructure with the goal of allowing Afghanistan a chance at self sufficiency are failing dismally.  That should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the international aid racket.  The international community has spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the years in Africa without one iota of success. They are enriching vile, oppressive dictators while sentencing the average African to a life of misery, poverty and squalor. Most people in most places at most times have lived under the yoke of tyranny which seems, with the exception of the western world, to be the natural order of things. One need not be a historical scholar to understand what is self evident – just look at Zimbabwe, Haiti, Mexico or Illinois to see the heavy hand of tyranny stealing from the people to enrich powerful elites.

Is the average citizen of the African continent better off now that colonialism is dead? I doubt it and in fact have personally talked to hundreds of Africans who will tell you without much prodding that life in their country was much better during the days of European colonialism. Aid programs do not work unless the people delivering the aid are in the same boat as the recipients. If the countries who provide aid are not willing to send their aid workers into the recipient country and leave them there then it is much more humane for all involved to do nothing, to spend not one penny, to leave people to their own devices to fend for themselves and figure out how to join modernity on their own terms.  Throwing billions into countries ruled by tyrants does nothing but increase human misery and mayhem; conditions which I’m firmly against as a matter of principle.

Before landing to pick me up in Zaranj our pilots have to sweep the runway to clear out the feral dogs. They do this by flying down the runway at full power – at the end of the field they reduce power and climb while turning right until they almost stall then they drop the left wing, kick out the landing gear and set down on the runway. It is a super cool move which happens fast and is scary to the uninitiated. There are few things in life which are more fun then being flown around by African bush pilots

The Aid business is now a deadly business according to the New York Times in a long detailed story about NGO’s  located right down the street from us. The Times, like all media except the Toronto Star, ignores our operational success and implementation savvy because it runs counter to their narrative. You would think our success at accomplishing all projects on time and on budget in the most kinetic provinces would garner some attention in the US media but it hasn’t. The only reporter to recognize what we were accomplishing and write about it was the Toronto Star’s Mitch Potter who wrote about my buddy Panjwaii Tim and his Kandahar operation.

From the linked New York Times article:

Among the contracted aid groups working for coalition government programs, which nearly always employ armed guards and work in fortified compounds or from military bases, the body count has been particularly severe. Eighty aid contractors employed by the United States Agency for International Development were killed and 220 wounded from January through early November of this year. (In the same period, 410 American soldiers and  Marines died.)

The aid contractors were attacked on average 55 times a month  a seven-fold increase over 2009, Mr. Gast said. By contrast, 20 people employed by charitable and humanitarian groups, which refuse to use armed guards or work with the military, were killed during the first nine months of this year.

The article goes on to point out that Doctors Without Borders has a compound in Lashkar Gah which has never been attacked unlike the heavily fortified IRD compound which is right down the street.  That’s a good point, sort of, as I too think the heavily fortified compounds are a waste of money and invite attack from armed actors of various stripes. I live right behind the Doctors Without Borders compound and our compound is more modest and inconspicuous. Unlike our Doctor neighbors every expat bedroom is a mini armory/ammunition supply point. We don’t have wire lacing the top of our walls but we have plenty on our side of the wall out of view of the public. I pity the fool who jumps into our compound because he’s landing on top of triple strand concertina which will slow him long enough for the dogs to get into action.

Here is what really irritates me about the New York Times piece:

Mr. Watson agrees that the lines are often blurred. It makes it difficult for us in the humanitarian community to demonstrate to those on the other side of the conflict that we strive to be neutral intermediaries, he said.

The only “neutral intermediaries” Afghanistan has seen in modern times was the medical team headed by Dan Terry and Tom Little who accounted for 10 of the 20 humanitarian group members that were killed this year.  Unlike Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders and all the armed knuckleheads like me running around the country, Tom and Dan lived here, were fluent in local languages, were never armed, and were seen by all sides as being neutral. Yet they were gunned down in cold blood by Islamic insurgents affiliated with the Taliban. The Taliban once believed in in neutral intermediaries which is why Tom Little and Dan Terry lived and worked in Afghanistan during the Taliban reign. Now the Taliban clearly do not respect neutral intermediaries which was proven beyond a doubt to myself and the other expats Free Ranging beyond the wire by the murder of Tom Little and Dan Terry.

The Governor of Nimroz Province Abdul Karim Brahui, my super Provincial Manager Bashir and I opening up the Kang district canal which will bring irrigation to the district for the first time in 40 years. Will projects like this help?  I think they might but don’t really know.  What I care about is that we do what we say we are going to do without wasting millions of donor dollars to do it. The international NGO community seems to specialize in administering  ineffective aid at the margins. They want to be perceived by all sides as “neutral intermediaries” which makes motivates their international staff while giving them a false sense of security. But they do not have the staying power or religious based motivation that sustained Dan Terry and his wife for 30 years and thus the results they produce are as transitory as they are.

If the true neutral intermediaries are no longer safe in Afghanistan then the only way “aid” is going to be accomplished is by aid workers who can protect themselves. Which is what we do but what nobody else (in the aid game) wants to do (because hiring former military guys to deliver aid is like giving fish bicycles or something) despite the fact it is the only way to get things done.

Qala Fath is an old abandoned fortress city which sits on top of a huge aquifer of drinking water out in the middle of the Nimroz desert. As is typical none of the locals seem to know anything regarding it origins or age. It is a safe guess it was one of the many fortress cities which sprung up along the Silk Road. I wanted to explore the ruins but the local police insisted there were mines around them. I asked who put them there and they said the Godless Soviets. I replied there was no way the Sov’s were operating this close to the Iranian border so then the blame shifted to the Taliban. I think the real problem was it was too close to evening and any delay would have left us in the bad lands when darkness fell. Not that the Taliban are known to be effective night fighters mind you. I’ll be back someday soon to look around this place.

The ineptitude of our Taliban advisories is one reason why the military portion of the surge is working so well.  Another reason is that we have (under the radar) eased up the restrictions on the use of firepower. As I mentioned in past posts the Marines down south have no problems with the ROE and they shoot HIMARS and run tac air daily.  Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room has blogged on the HIMAR  but unlike his observations it seemed to me that shooting  HIMARS was easier for the Marines then working in Tac Air.  Regardless it is clear that the military has turned a corner and is prevailing on the southern field of battle.  For a retired infantry guy like me it is great to see but it is also irrelevant.

The reason our current military success is meaningless is because our other governmental agencies insist on working through the government in Kabul despite a decade of experience proving the central government is not going to function like a western government. The other problem that every senior decision maker involved with this endeavor also knows is that the people of Afghanistan will not accept a government installed and maintained by infidels as legitimate. It’s one of those inconvenient truths that is not talked about in polite company.

Under promise and over deliver – explaining to the Governor Abdul Karim Brahui that we can’t control the way USAID awards projects.  The  Governor is a good, honest, brave man and an effective advocate for the people of Nimroz province who can’t understand why the Marines can spend 50K in fuel and flight hours to visit him but not find the cash to give him a working budget the fix the problems the Marines come to visit him about. 

It occurs to me that a rational approach towards Afghanistan would mandate we spend more time and effort bolstering leaders like Governor Abdul Karim Brahui  while simultaneously ignoring and marginalizing the central government in Kabul.  That is the only way (as I see it) that we can compliment the military success we are seeing in the South.  But the big boys in the aid racket don’t want effective solutions; they want giant multi-million dollar contracts and despite a 10-year history of failure they will get them. Those fools will continue pissing away a kings fortune daily while accomplishing little. That is not right, it is not fair, it pisses me off but I’ll you this; it is the truth.

29 Replies to “Neutral Intermediaries”

  1. Okay, first of all, I loved the parts about Michigan, you not being able to see the color rose, and the rescuing deer from frozen creeks. Haaaa!! Hilarious!

    Second of all, you make such great points and I love your posts! It is all so frustrating. As I’ve mentioned before, my husband is near Kabul and works with the police. Every time I talk to him he is upset about the utter waste of money that goes on over there and how nothing important is really getting done. He also can’t believe how much lying, exaggeration, and corruption there is. It is truly disheartening for all of us who had to say goodbye to their loved ones to go “make a difference” over there, only to see that the leadership isn’t truly willing to do what really needs to be done to make that difference. It should be an outrage to everyone that after this many years, SO MUCH money, and so many lives lost that Afghanistan is still soooo far from self-sufficiency.

    Thanks so much for all the info. Your posts are always a great read…even if I feel more frustrated by seeing the truth about what’s going on over there. Have a Merry Christmas!!!

  2. “If the countries who provide aid are not willing to send their aid workers into the recipient country and leave them there then it is much more humane for all involved to do nothing, to spend not one penny, to leave people to their own devices to fend for themselves and figure out how to join modernity on their own terms.”

    I absolutely agree. My friend has worked for the UN in the DRC for 8 years. And guess what? The situation over there still stinks, and the rapes have only increased, not decreased. Clearly, life was better in Colonial times, though you’d be hard pressed to get any politically correct western-educated academics to admit this.

    Yesterday, I wrote on my blog that after 9 years, we seemed to have very little understanding of Afghan culture, and that few soldiers have mastered the rudiments of any of the languages. I was told that it was the result of in-and-out deployments, but truthfully? I think it’s a mindset problem that is an extension of the same that permeates American life that bigger and more corporate is better.

    It isn’t, and that has never been the truth. Sure, it looks better but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the guy at the bottom is reaps the least benefit. And the truth is that we cannot keep this war going on. What should have been a quick strike, along with heavy efforts along the line of what you are doing, has turned into a cash cow for hands on both sides of the street.

    To add more insult, according to Ms. Sparky reports that Fluor doesn’t even give a shit if their workers get Christmas dinner or eat MREs as they did at Thanksgiving. The Fluor family alone could pony up and send in their private chefs from Newport Beach. They have gotten wealthy from this war.

    I’m still very sad about the massacre of the ten health care workers. And I too call BS to the NY Times article. It also flies in the face of what Sarah Chayes wrote several years ago in her book.

  3. Thanks for writing about the plight of the Fluor employees in Afghanistan. They deserve so much better than this. When the DoD decided to go with the LOGCAP program, I’m pretty certain they were looking for “support” not servants.

  4. Tim good to hear from you. Your post raises some of the very points that i feel about. posting negative comments about aid workers, contractors,and staff are the reason for thing not working in Afghanistan.See it posted all the time. The blame game come to mine, thats what burns my butt.Would like to tour that old fort with you. must shut up now.

  5. Dear Tim!

    Once more, you hit the nail. Thank you for your work on your blog. It’s always a great and important read for me. I know Africa since a long time and pretty well. You are correct with your compartion. In the 2010 I thought a lot about on Africa and made this compartion too. I wish more people would learn from Africa and I am so sure that Africa is once more the common place for warfares. Anyway ….

    I wish you and your family Merry Christmas and a happy New Year ! Thank you ….

  6. It does appear that the Marines in Helmand Province are doing the very thing that Tim suggests: working directly with Locals to build up their security and political institutions while marginalizing and ignoring the Karzai kleptocrats.

    Go Marines!

  7. The only thing I can ask of you, Tim, is that you write more often. This is solid gold, and I have come to expect nothing less from you. Your writing is much clearer in the past few posts, as well – keep it up big fella!

  8. “I’m not advocating for the return of the colonial system..”

    You say this, but when one reads your article, what other “system of government” do you think will work while being the most efficient?

    Like I have previously posted, when our “dear leaders” decided to “marry” the Peace Corps with our Military, we created a non-workable monster.

    Note how delighted these elected leaders are now that our military must welcome with open arms volunteers who spend more time haranguing us all on their sexual orientation, rather than working to create the most effective and efficient military known to modern civilization.

    Hidden hatreds working their evil you say!

    We have been “feminized” in ways most cannot see: One giant teat for all to suckle forever…or until the milk runs out!

    This article of yours suggests the milk may be running out, sooner rather than later.

    Right now the game is “musical chairs” after which we will switch to “hot potato” for our end game.

    Bet me…

  9. There was never any evidence to point to a positive outcome in Afghanistan either from the history of Afghanistan or the history of COIN executed by foreigners post WW2. You can have all of the minor tactical victories you want but if your strategy is flawed then you’re done. Luckily the Taliban, so far, don’t have the weapons (ATGW, SAM) needed to turn a debacle into a route.

  10. In regards to security models, specifically for companies, I need to concur with what you have said completely. There are so lots of options in the marketplace, it really is vital for any professional to know what is most effectivefor his or her situation along with particular construction. The insights you are offering can be a good support to businesses as well as security professionals alike. Many thanks once more!

  11. Here is another corker:

    I may concede certain small points to him, but overall the author is out of touch with reality. The problem is that those trying to deliver aid in the COIN environment, if they are really trying, are usually too big of pussies to deliver it in the manner which works. Some spoiled Masters Degree kid who won’t leave the safe house isn’t much good no matter how smart he thinks he is (he probably thought it would look cool on his FaceBook that he was going to save the world until he saw that it was a lot of work and he might get dirty). So I argue that the aid needs to be delivered by hardcore outside-the-wire operators to be effective, not by those promoting a more pacifist/apologist approach by using tree-huggers. And I’ll bet that these same hardcore operators actually care more about the locals and about doing a good job (even though they don’t often admit or promote it) than the Sally Struthers-esque posers from the apologist aid community. And the NSP the biggest success? Give me a F*CKING BREAK; shows that he has no idea what he is talking about. Although there are small pockets of success in Northern Afghanistan (Return On Investment marginal I’ll bet if studied objectively), NSP has been one of the single biggest factors in creating the corruption regimes which have propagated the insurgency.

    Maybe Sting will come and do a concert in the Kandahar Football Stadium to promote woman’s rights, hahahaha.

  12. Lesson in leadership

    A couple of months ago, when I told General Krulak, the former Commandant of the Marine Corps, now the chair of the Naval Academy Board of Visitors, that we were having General Mattis speak this evening, he said, Let me tell you a Jim Mattis story. General Krulak said, when he was Commandant of the Marine Corps, every year, starting about a week before Christmas, he and his wife would bake hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cookies. They would package them in small bundles.
    Then on Christmas day, he would load his vehicle. At about 4 a.m., General Krulak would drive himself to every Marine guard post in the Washington-Annapolis-Baltimore area and deliver a small package of Christmas cookies to whatever Marines were pulling guard duty that day. He said that one year, he had gone down to Quantico as one of his stops to deliver Christmas cookies to the Marines on guard duty. He went to the command center and gave a package to the lance corporal who was on duty.
    He asked, Who’s the officer of the day? The lance corporal said, Sir, it’s Brigadier General Mattis. And General Krulak said, No, no, no. I know who General Mattis is. I mean, who’s the officer of the day today, Christmas day? The lance corporal, feeling a little anxious, said, Sir, it is Brigadier General Mattis.
    General Krulak said that, about that time, he spotted in the back room a cot, or a daybed. He said, No, Lance Corporal. Who slept in that bed last night? The lance corporal said, Sir, it was Brigadier General Mattis.
    About that time, General Krulak said that General Mattis came in, in a duty uniform with a sword, and General Krulak said, Jim, what are you doing here on Christmas day? Why do you have duty? General Mattis told him that the young officer who was scheduled to have duty on Christmas day had a family, and General Mattis decided it was better for the young officer to spend Christmas Day with his family, and so he chose to have duty on Christmas Day.
    General Krulak said, That’s the kind of officer that Jim Mattis is.
    The story above was told by Dr. Albert C. Pierce, the Director of the Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics at The United States Naval Academy. He was introducing General James Mattis who gave a lecture on Ethical Challenges in Contemporary Conflict in the spring of 2006. This was taken from the transcript of that lecture.

    From the USNI blog

  13. MMM-hmmm, yes, agree with what I can understand. Until workers are willing to live, breathe, and play alongside the ones the profess to want to help, no change will happen.

  14. “The international community has spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the years in Africa without one iota of success at doing anything other then enriching vile, oppressive dictators while sentencing the average African to a life of misery, poverty and squalor.”

    For a full exposition of this, see Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo.

    Thanks for a fantastic blog, and Merry Christmas to babatim.

  15. Africa has and will continue to provide us with cheap natural resources. And really the West is a lot more interested in that than anything else. There are a billion people in Africa. Last year the US aid amount was tripled to 7 billion or 7 dollars per person for the year. Between 1999 and 2006 our aid usually was about 1 billion dollars or about a dollar per person per year. Generally about 50% of our aid goes for medical.
    And until our military is willing to live breathe and play alongside those they profess to want to help no change will happen either.

  16. 1. The truth is that decolonization of sub-Saharan Africa has been a disaster.
    2. The truth is people grabbing you and dragging you to their villages in the bush to be doctor, judge, social arbiter, etc -because you are a white man and they trust you.
    3. People on this side of the pond say that is demeaning.
    4. May be so.
    5. The truth is Europeans and Americans kissing up to despots because they put on coats and ties and an appearance of civility.
    6. The truth is a HIV epidemic that has the WHO wringing its hands in private -and no one else particularly concerned.
    7. The truth is watching South Africa slowly follow Zimbabwe into chaos and dissolution.
    8. Can’t speak to the effects of decolonization in Asia.
    9. The Eastern upperclass establishment, personified by FDR, demanded decolonization as one of the prices for American participation in WWII and support thereafter.
    10. Suppose their motives were commendable.
    11. You’ve listed, as have I, a raft of unintended consequences.
    12. Agree that the locals would be better off, had we done nothing, rather than support their current oppressors.
    13. Have difficulty translating my knowledge of Africa to SE Asia -or even North Africa.
    14. Have mentioned your commentary to people I know -and you are not unheard of.
    15. You are saying things they do not want to hear or that are irrelevant to their very narrow focus.
    16. OTOH your information is valuable -and unmatched by any official source I am aware of.
    17. Urge your readership to show their support and appreciation in concrete fashion.
    18. Please stay safe and motivated.
    V/R JWest

  17. So, here we are the day before the birthday of Jesus, I look out my window and wonder how our troops are doing in those foreign countries where Islam is the dominant, and I do mean dominant religion, surrounded by others from America who come with presents veneered as COIN, aid, etc. Soon new recruits may arrive to the wild cheers of our “diversity” wing of grand thinkers, to sprint about bringing peace and stability to peoples less fortunate than us.

    Alas, as our Dear Leader, Comrade Obama-Mao frolics on the beaches of Hawaii (again), our troops in harm’s way–those at the true “tip of the spear,” should rest assured that this commander in chief has “their backs” like no one ever did…according to him, this person who has dressed in muslim garb, bowed to placate other tyrants, and offered up sweet words of mystic meanings as only lawyer trained…military avoiding people seem to do in America.

    I know these grand plans of theirs will work, all I have to do is look at those cities who some 40 years ago witnessed the same efforts presented by those in the democratic party, coined as “urban renewal” etc. here in America. Some got rich, many stayed poor, no?

    Sure, those soldiers of words may have spawned our present “czars” or great heroes of legislation creating some 2500 plus pages of an health bill coming before our Congress where it seems few if any take the time to read the entire bill, much less argue while presenting those realities deeply hidden in lawyer like language to the American citzenry.

    Does it matter that our Constitution is just a few pages?

    As that cute bull dike of nude security scanning requirements at airports, secretary of homeland security (don’t you get the real irony of this?), goes to Arizona to offer up wisdoms via her “special dog and pony show” all the while pleading that her main man, a fine metrosexual fellow, has done more to help the Border Agents of America fight those who come across into our country illegally than any administration previously ever did…yet we discover the dead agent’s family members mumble about “hollow words and meanings” in response as they bury their loved one.

    It is always a smart move to let the fox guard the chicken coop; just ask any fox you may encounter!

    For those of us who have served in the American military, for those presently serving, I do have the most positive of thoughts during this special time of year: Be safe and know that there are millions of Americans, both men and women, who understand the real values within a military, and the true sacrifices that are made.

    We love each and every one of you for what you have done and for what you may come to do. For those that have fallen in battle, we honor their memory by seeking the truths which make this country, the United States of America, the best it can be, a home for the brave and the free!

    Merry Christmas and remember to thank Jesus for what he fought for…and gave to all of us!

  18. Great article, I too am no fan of the State Department, so I’ll counter with the thought that after almost 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, throughout the Wikileaks, you’ll not see one derogatory or joking comment about the culture, the people, (in general) or the country in their reports. Mostly just the facts as they wrote their reports at O’Dark Thirty. Yet, the Ambassadors, Diplomats and State Department functionaries, who are supposed to be diplomatic, evenhanded,and culturally sensitive broke protocols in their cables, calling their counterparts names, joking about them and in general showing very poor taste and judgement.

  19. Tim, you provide great inside reports, however, what can we do? join the military and exacerbate the problem by not being allowed to function flexibly? attempt to apply to State through the swamp that is DC bureaucracy? Did you ever take the foreign service test? what a joke and half that is.
    The restrepo documentary doesnt exactly instill confidence in the military route. can we not at least learn a couple greetings in another language? some area knowledge?
    you need people not solely motivated by money, have a passion for central Asia and willing to learn.
    when does your interviewing start? come on.

  20. Who is the big dude standing behind you over your right shoulder, in the last picture with the Gov.? His head is huge! Hob knobbing with the cheese now. cool.

  21. Hola, he estado mirando por el blog y no encuentro una forma de ponerme en contacto contigo. Me podrías decir una forma, por favor? Muchas gracias.

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