With most of the world’s attention focused unfolding events in the Mideast now is a good time to shed some light on the current ground-truth in Afghanistan. Sami the Finn is always a good place to start and he provides interesting perspective on the suicide bombing at the Finest supermarket in Kabul this past Friday (the original article can be found here).
In any case, Sami Kovanen, a senior analyst with Indicium Consulting in Kabul, which provides security information, warns that the assumption had to be that “this kind of attack will happen again.” Says Kovanen: “It’s a new kind of attack – in many ways the first direct attack against the whole international community, against civilians.” He adds, “There have been really specific reasons behind previous attacks. The attack on the Bektar guesthouse [in October 2009] targeted the U.N. during elections; the attack against the Indian guesthouse [in February 2010] targeted Indians. But [this one targeted] foreign civilians known to go shopping on Friday at this time. It was against us – regardless of who you are, which organization you’re working for or what your nationality is. So in that way it is really concerning.”
Sami is spot on – this is the first time suicide bombers have targeted outside the wire westerners. What is worse is that the Karzai government continues to make it hard for internationals working independent from the FOB’s and embassies to operate. Look at this latest decree:
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Office of the Presidential Spokesperson
January 27, 2011
The National Security Council Meeting was held in Presidential Palace led by Hamid Karzai, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Participants included the authorities of the security branches of the government.
At the beginning of the meeting, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi, Chief of the Transition Commission spoke in detail regarding the assessment of the Minister of Defence and ANA. After the extensive discussion, they decided the authorities of Afghan Security Forces should include the following topics in discussions with the United States and international organizations in order to expedite the transition process:
First, currently, the Ministry of Defence and all its equipment, supplies and total expenses are being furnished by the international community without any participation by the Ministry of Defence. From now on the Ministry of Defense will take the lead on these activities.
Second, in order to expedite the transition responsibilities, the Ministry of Defence needs to increase its technical, engineering, equipment, vehicles, aircraft, and heavy weapons. These needs should be furnished as possible.
Third, the ANA needs a large armory and logistics warehouse for each corps. All ANA corps should establish these facilities and the necessary long-term goods should be stocked there.
Fourth, the government of Afghanistan agrees with the increase of ANA and ANP personnel, but that these increases should be implemented with the condition that the expenses and equipment should be paid for by the international community.
Fifth, Director of National Security, Chief of the Transition Commission, and the Minister of Defence has the presidential directive to begin talks with the authorities of the international community and the United States and submit the result of their work in the next National Security Council meeting.
Sixth, National Security Advisor and Minister of the Interior discussed the dissolution of private security companies. Their report says that 16 private companies in charge of security of embassies, diplomatic locations and international companies committed serious violations of the law including without proper armor vehicle licenses, employment of foreign personnel without registering with the government, and using diplomatic vehicles.
The tone of this decree is typical – Dari doesn’t translate well into English so the wording is awkward but notice what is being said. At the same time he is demanding an expansion of his security forces and the money with which to do this he is also finalizing laws which will drive out the vast majority of internationals currently working outside the wire.
There is nothing we can about the Karzai Government because we need him just as much as he needs us. The entire military mission is predicated upon “providing support to GoIRA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)” and words in mission statements have meanings. When the military is told to support the host nation government it supports the host nation government. But the Karzai government is so dysfunctional that it has turned our counterinsurgency strategy into a cruel farce. Dexter Filkins filed an excellent story on this last week showing to all who read this blog why he gets paid big bucks to explain things and I don’t. From the Flikins piece:
The larger fear, at least among some American officials, is that the Obama Administration will decide to do nothing. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed on the investigation in January. But the findings are considered so sensitive that almost no one; generals, diplomats, the investigators themselves are willing to talk about it publicly. After months of sparring with the Karzai administration, the Obama Administration, in its public rhetoric, appears to be relegating the issue of corruption to a lower tier of concern, despite the widespread belief that the corruption in Karzai’s government degrades its reputation and helps fuel recruitment for the Taliban insurgency. We have to work with these people, the senior NATO officer told me.
We can’t fix the Karazai problem because of one decision made years ago in a manner nobody understands but one in which the US Department of State played the key role. That decision was the adoption of the SNTV electoral system. SNTV stands for single non-transferable vote and it is one way to ensure that opposition political parties cannot be formed or sustained. Afghanistan went to the SNTV system after some sort of back room deal was cut between Karzai and our ambassador at that time Zalimay Khalizad. Khalizad is an Afghan-American, fluent in the local languages who served here as Ambassador before being sent to Iraq to be the ambassador in 2005. He did not last long in Baghdad and is now heading his own consulting agency at a time when an Arabic/Pashto/Dari speaking US Ambassador would be of great use to the administration. I don’t know why he is on the outs but his part in creating the SNTV system, which Karzai will be using to stay in power for years to come, is reason enough to banish him from the halls of power.
The SNTV system makes every election a lottery with so many candidates running for each available office that winning can only be due to luck or electoral fixing. Guess which is the more popular option here? The story behind SNTV is fascinating but not well known or understood. One of the best journalist working the AFPAK beat today, Matthieu Aikins spent months uncovering it; his piece was published in Harpers last December. You can download a PDF copy of the article here and this too is worth reading in order to understand just how screwed up the political system in Afghanistan is, how it got that way, why we can’t change it and who is to blame. And here it is; the money quote:
In May of 2004, at a meeting held in the residence of Jean Arnault, who was then the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, and attended by most of the senior members of the diplomatic community in Kabul, Khalilzad arrived late and declared, simply, I’ve spoken with the president, and it’s going to be SNTV.
Just like that our efforts to “fix what we broke” (paraphrasing a vastly overrated Colin Powell) were doomed to failure. Holding shura’s with village elders where you promise them security while improving their lives through the vehicle of GiROA is a joke nobody laughs at.
Fixing the government and improving its ability to service the population is not going to happen and that failure is not a military failure. The military has been tasked to do much more then it is designed, equipped and trained to do but being the military they are making progress with a minimal amount of pissing and moaning about it. Its not fair, not right, not smart, but it is the way it is. That doesn’t mean we still can’t find an acceptable end-state. We can do that easily by focusing on the army and the army only. A strong army will create a governing coalition between army officers and government bureaucrats because that, my friends, is the model used in most of this part of the world. Bureaucratic Authoritarianism may not be the best model but I see no other way out.
We can bond with members of the Afghan military because we have years of fighting side by side with each other and that kind bond is hard to break. We cannot “bond” with Afghan government bureaucrats because there is no daily or habitual close contact between the Americans locked down in their embassy and their Afghan counterparts.
In the big scheme of things running the Taliban out of their southern hunting grounds is not going to solve that many problems. But if we concentrate on the military while continuing to fund and lavish attention on the Major Crimes Task Force while never deviating from our anti corruption message we could end up finding an acceptable end-state. Doing that requires solid vision, leadership, and planning from on high but that is currently a bridge too far for our President or his Department of State.
I’ve said for years the only question worth asking is if we (the international community) will learn one damn thing from this folly. Just one thing would be better than nothing but years of observation of our government at work leads me to believe we cannot expect even one positive, no bullshit lesson to be learned from our time in this forgotten land. That will cost us downstream.