Nov 29, 2009

TTP in Afghanistan

TTP in Afghanistan

After six weeks in Afghanistan, those slight differences between the branches of our Armed Forces finally became noticeable. For the sake of all you deskbound strategists, and in an attempt to avoid writing something serious today, I’ve taken a few minutes to summarize these differences for you:

1 – Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan that includes killing everyone.
2 – Have a back-up plan, with same goal
3 – Anything worth shooting is worth shooting at least twice. Ammo is cheap; your
life is not.
4 – Do not carry any handgun whose caliber does not start with a ‘4’
5 – It’s not cheating if you live. Cheat often.
6 – Marine Artillery; Reach out and touch someone with H.E.
6 – No one remembers what caliber, stance, or tactics you used; they’ll only
remember who lived and who didn’t.

1 – Walk 50 miles carrying 75 lbs to capture HVT’s
2 – Curse bitterly when Army Higher refuses permission to kill HVT’s because ISAF
doesn’t want to hurt Taliban’s feelings.
3 – Walk out 50 miles hoping Air Force doesn’t mistake you for an HVT

1 – Look cool in sunglasses
2 – Stuff washcloth down speedo to impress (the Afghans love this!)
3 – Imitate Marines

US ARMY Rules:
1 - Curse bitterly when ordered off FOB into the field.
2 – Inspect XBOX and Play Stations, assume your rifle will clean itself
3 – Practice falling back on chowhall if attacked.
4 – Check on ice cream supplies; ammunition will take care of itself.

1 – Adjust temps on air conditioner in private trailer
2 – Enjoy a cocktail
3 – Drop bombs. Let someone else wonder how those targets Nellis identified as HVT’s
turned into women and children
4 – Worry about making 1330 tee-time
5 – Wonder who lost those pesky nuclear weapons again
6 – Enjoy a cocktail

US NAVY Rules:
1 – Go to Sea
2 - Drink coffee
3 - Deploy Marines

Nov 24, 2009

Obama: I'll Finish the Job

Obama Promises to 'Finish the Job' in Afghanistan
Tues, 12:58 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Signaling an imminent decision on Afghanistan troop levels, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he intends to ''finish the job'' and destroy terrorist networks in the region.

The president said he would announce his decision on how many additional soldiers to deploy to Afghanistan after Thanksgiving.

''I feel confident that when the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, that they will be supportive,'' he said.

Obama held his 10th and final war council meeting Monday night to assess his Afghanistan strategy in advance of his troop decision. He commented Tuesday during a brief news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was at the White House for a state visit.

''It is in our strategic interests, in our national security interest to make sure that al-Qaida and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively in those areas,'' Obama said. ''We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and de stroy their networks.''

''It is my intention to finish the job,'' he said of the war in Afghanistan that has been going on for eight years -- since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Nov 18, 2009

Corruption: Afghan Style

Afghan minister accused of receiving huge bribe
‘Only God can stop this corruption’ competitor says of government practices

The Washington Post
Nov . 18, 2009

KABUL - The Afghan minister of mines accepted a roughly $30 million bribe to award the country's largest development project to a Chinese mining firm, according to a U.S. official who is familiar with military intelligence reports.

The allegation, if proved true, would mark one of the most brazen examples of corruption yet disclosed in a country where the problem has become so pervasive that it is now at the heart of Obama administration doubts over Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reliability as a partner. The question of whether Karzai can address his government's graft and cronyism looms large as he prepares for his inauguration Thursday for a new term, and as President Obama completes a months-long strategy review that will define the future of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after eight years of war.

Karzai is coming under intense international pressure to clear his cabinet of ministers who have reaped huge profits through bribery and kickback schemes. Although he announced a new anti-corruption unit this week, the president has been reluctant to fire scandal-tainted ministers in the past, and it is unclear whether he is ready to do so now. Meanwhile, Afghans' perceptions that they are ruled by a thieving class have weakened support for the government and bolstered sympathy for the Taliban insurgency.

In the case of the minister of mines, there is a "high degree of certainty," the U.S. official said, that the alleged payment to Mohammad Ibrahim Adel was made in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, within a month of December 2007, when the state-run China Metallurgical Group Corp. received the contract for a $2.9 billion project to extract copper from the Aynak deposit in Logar province. Aynak is considered one of the largest unexploited copper deposits in the world.

Issue gains urgency
The selection of the Chinese firm, known as MCC, has angered some Afghan and American officials who worked on the bidding process with Adel. They say he was biased toward the company and did not give a fair hearing to the proposals of Western firms. But the issue has also gained urgency because the ministry is reviewing offers for another massive mining deal -- this time for an iron ore deposit west of Kabul known as Haji Gak -- for which MCC is the front-runner.

"This guy has done this already; we're in the same situation again," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In an interview, Adel denied repeatedly that he has received any bribes or illicit payments during his three-year-old tenure as minister and said that MCC won the contract after a fair review process. The Chinese company's investment -- including plans to build a railroad and a 400-megawatt power plant, and to make an $808 million bonus payment to the Afghan government -- far exceeded that of other firms, Adel said.

"I am responsible for the revenue and benefit of our people," Adel said. "All the time I'm following the law and the legislation for the benefit of the people."

The performance of the Mines Ministry under Adel typifies the weakness of Karzai's government. Afghanistan's wealth of mineral resources represents a potential bright spot in an otherwise feeble economy. Flush with copper, iron, marble, gold and gemstones, the mining sector could become a major source of revenue for the country.

But today, no major mines are functioning, and current and former U.S. and Afghan officials said incompetence and corruption have hindered the industry's development and frightened away potential investors.

"There is a pattern of improprieties that have gone on. We do know that the World Bank procedures, and the government of Afghanistan procedures, were badly breached repeatedly," said one former American adviser to the ministry. "There is every reason to believe there were probably gratuities exchanged."

Adel trained as a mining engineer in what was then the Soviet city of Leningrad, and his autocratic style has alienated current and former Afghan and American officials who have worked with him. It also has prompted widespread allegations that he or his deputies have received payments to award lucrative contracts to allies.

$25 million in a cardboard box
The first major contract of Adel's tenure was to privatize the Ghori cement factory, the country's only functioning cement plant, set in the limestone hills of Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan. The former mines minister, Mir Mohammad Sediq, said that Mahmoud Karzai, the head of the Afghan Investment Co. and the brother of the Afghan president, approached him, asking to take over the factory.

President Karzai replaced Sediq and installed Adel as minister in March 2006. Adel moved quickly on the cement proposal. A competitor for the project, the Aria Zamin company, said Adel used his influence to deny the firm a fair chance. The company's representative in the bidding, Nasir Khisrow Parsi, said that in the final days of the bidding process, Adel told him his company needed to present $25 million in cash to the ministry as a guaranty to show that the firm was serious.

"I told the minister, 'This violates the rules of the process. This is totally wrong,' " Parsi recalled. "In a country like Afghanistan, a person cannot carry even $100,000 from one place to another."

But Mahmoud Karzai's Afghan Investment Co. (AIC) came up with the money. The cash for the guaranty was carried in a cardboard box, flanked by gunmen, and placed on a desk in the ministry's headquarters in Kabul, officials said. One former deputy minister who witnessed the spectacle feared violence, but the deal went smoothly and AIC won the right to rehabilitate and expand the factory.

Adel defended the process but acknowledged that he has changed his procedures. "It was unusual. It was our first bidding," he said.

‘Only God can stop this corruption’
To Parsi, it was a blatant example of influence peddling in the ministry.

"They can do whatever they want," said Parsi, who now works in the geology department of the Mines Ministry. "The whole ministry is corrupt. No one is clean there. I don't see how this is going to end. Only God can stop this corruption."

Mahmoud Karzai could not be reached for comment. Adel said he exerted no influence over the ministry's decision. "If Mahmoud comes here, he has to sit there 30 minutes or one hour waiting for me," Adel said in his office.

The contract called for a massive increase in production -- from the 40,000 tons produced this year to 3 million tons -- by refurbishing the functioning plant, finishing construction on a second, adjacent factory, and building a third. But on a recent visit to the factory, the grounds were quiet and nearly abandoned. A manager blamed technical problems.

The work on the Aynak copper mine, in the high desert terrain of Logar province, has also gone slowly. The Chinese company has fallen about a year to 18 months behind schedule. The railroad project has not started. The company has complained about security threats from neighboring villages, despite an on-site force of more than 1,500 Afghan national policemen.

The deposit is estimated to hold enough copper to generate more than $200 million a year in government royalties, an amount equivalent to about a third of Afghanistan's budget last year, according to a report on the project by James R. Yeager, an American geologist who served as a ministry adviser.

Yeager's report criticized what he called a "murky and insufficient tender process" led by a "strong-willed minister unrelenting in his preference to see this award through with Asian partners." In ministry meetings to evaluate the bids, which included proposals from American and Canadian firms, Adel was a dominant force, several officials said.

"Anytime somebody brought up anything, he would squelch it," Yeager said in an interview. "We never really had any discussion."

Nov 16, 2009

ROTC for Civilian Service

ROTC for civilian service

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Washington Post, Nov 16, 2009

Imagine a time when government work was exciting, widely admired and much sought-after.

It seems an outlandish thought at a moment when you cannot turn on your television without hearing government spoken of as almost an alien creature. It is cast as far removed from the lives of average Americans and more likely to destroy the achievements of private citizens than to accomplish anything worthwhile.

True, we don't apply our anti-government sentiments to at least one group of Americans who draw government paychecks: our men and women in uniform. All the polls show they are, deservedly, held in high esteem. But civilians who do the daily work of government are more likely to be referred to as "bureaucrats," "timeservers," and various unprintable names than as public servants.

This has not always been the American way. There were important eras in our history when citizens in large numbers were drawn to government service with a sense of mission and exhilaration. The New Deal was certainly such a time, as were the days of the New Frontier and (though it is unjustly derided now) the Great Society.

They came in part -- take note, President Obama -- because they were inspired by leaders who made it a point to call them into government. Caroline Kennedy has said that when she was growing up, "hardly a day went by when someone didn't come up to us and say: 'Your father changed my life. I went into public service because he asked me.' "

But inspiration is not enough. The military, after all, does not rely solely on patriotic feelings to build its force, and neither should the civilian parts of government. One of the most powerful incentives the military has is the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which offers assistance to those seeking higher education. It's time for a civilian ROTC.

That's the idea of a bipartisan group of senators and House members, who are proposing to create a Roosevelt Scholars program, named after Teddy Roosevelt. Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) have introduced a bill in the House, and a similar measure is expected in the Senate this week from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

Although there is sentiment to include undergraduates in the program, the House bill is aimed at graduate students because the federal government has a special demand for highly qualified employees who are otherwise attracted (and heavily recruited) by the private sector. In exchange for generous scholarships in fields such as engineering, information technology, foreign languages and public health, the scholars would commit to three to five years of service in an agency of the federal government.

"With the aging of the boomers and those who responded to Kennedy's call to service, we need to replenish the government workforce," says Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service.

Stier, a one-man evangelizing squad on behalf of government service, notes that the government must fill 273,000 "mission-critical" positions in the next three years. This will require vast improvements in the way government recruits and a new willingness on its part to invest in its workforce.

The military, Stier says, gets roughly 40 percent of its officer corps through the ROTC. It makes sense to undertake a comparable investment in the civil service.

In the small and underappreciated world of those who care passionately about improving government's performance and prestige, there are competing visions of how to achieve this. One group of activists and legislators has been pushing to create a public service academy, modeled after the military academies, to prepare a new generation of leaders in government.

It's a good idea and would send another powerful signal that government work is and should be valued. But with the extraordinary constraints on the federal budget, the prospects of the large investment that would be required to build a new institution are not exactly rosy. A civilian ROTC would be a good first step. The Roosevelt program would have the benefit of drawing on the entire higher education system's capacity to produce specialists.

The Roosevelt program could also be an antidote to two debilitating trends in our politics. It would push back against the tendency of politicians to deride government (an odd habit, since politicians are themselves engaged in government service). And it might open the way for a bipartisan achievement at a time when such endeavors are in very short supply.

Nov 12, 2009

An Officer's Outrage Over Fort Hood

An Officer's Outrage Over Fort Hood
By Major Shawn Keller
November 12, 2009

As an officer in the United States Army, I'm angry for so many reasons over what happened at Ft. Hood. I'm angry that twelve of my fellow soldiers and a contractor were murdered. I'm angry that over thirty people have suffered life altering injuries from which they will never fully recover. I'm angry that the lives of so many families have been forever ruined. I'm angry that this happened on an Army post on American soil where soldiers should be safe. And I'm angry that the murderer was a terrorist who masqueraded as an Army officer for half a dozen years.

But as angry as I am at what happened, I'm even angrier that it was allowed to happen. Apparently, there was no shortage of warning signs that Hasan identified more with Islamic Jihadists than he did with the US Army. From speeches, writings, conversations, affiliations and postings on Jihadist websites, there were more than enough dots to connect that should have exposed Hasan as someone inclined to attack innocent people in the furtherance of a political, religious and ideological agenda. There were more than enough red flags raised that, at a minimum, should have gotten Hasan kicked out of the Army.

But just like September 11, those agencies and individuals charged with keeping America and Americans safe failed to connect the dots that would have saved lives. Jihadist rhetoric espoused by Hasan was categorically dismissed out of submissiveness to the concepts of tolerance and diversity. The Army as an institution has been neutered by decades of political correctness and the leaders in Hasan's chain-of-command failed to act accordingly out of fear of being labeled anti-Muslim and receiving a negative evaluation report. The counter-terrorism agencies knew Hasan was communicating with Al-Qaeda and dismissed it as academic research instead of delving deeper into the probability that a terrorist had infiltrated the ranks.

Even four hours after Hasan stood on a desk yelling Allahu Akbar! and opened fire, the FBI stated that they were not investigating the attack as an act of terrorism even as there were still reports of other gunmen on the loose. Meanwhile, the Army continues to dismiss it as a "tragedy" and an "isolated incident by a lone gunman" while the media has invented the psychological condition of post-traumatic stress disorder by proxy. There is more concern for promoting the appropriate information operation campaign and maintaining the illusion of safety than there is for actually exposing the weaknesses and faults in the system that allowed this to happen. We're even being told that damage to the Army's efforts at diversity would be a greater tragedy than the murder of the twelve soldiers -- how ironic the week of Veterans' Day.

This has nothing to do with being anti-Islamic. After numerous tours to Iraq and working with countless cultural advisors on Ft. Bragg, I know dozens of Muslims who I respect and admire greatly. This has everything to do with force protection and security being trumped by the concepts of political correctness and diversity. This has everything to do with a hypocritical system and culture that breeds timidity and dismissiveness in the interest of career advancement. If I preached a white-supremacist ideology or described Timothy McVeigh as a hero to the cause of freedom and liberty, how long do you think I would still be in the military drawing a salary, receiving educational benefits and getting promoted like Hasan did?

Hasan's radical ideology grew to the point that he committed mass murder because too many leaders were too afraid to lead out of fear of harming their career or the image of the Army. If those leaders don't have the intestinal fortitude, moral conviction or personal courage to stand up, speak up and protect soldiers, then retire, resign or get out of the way and let somebody else do it for you.

Shawn Keller is a Major in the United States Army stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Nov 10, 2009

Bringing Him Home

Kandahar, Afghanistan. They call it a “Dignified Transfer,” which is Pentagon-ese for bringing home the body of one of our young men.

Two days ago I flew here from Camp Bastion on a cargo flight. The plane was virtually empty; five passengers and me, the small Air Force crew, and covered by an American flag, the remains of one of our troops killed in Helmand Province. The military’s goal is to bring our dead back home within 48 hours, and this was the first leg of such a journey.

While I know his identity and how he died, those details, and whether he is Marine or Army, is immaterial here. I didn’t know him personally, but after 10 embeds, I’ve met hundreds of young men like him; under 25, proud of his unit, usually a couple of tattoo’s, enthusiastic, friendly, will share his last bottle of water with you, and wants me to tell the American public that ‘we’re doing some good things here.”

Usually flights into Kandahar or Bagram are lively as the troops and private contractors are heading home; people are reading paperbacks, listening to their IPods, or trying to talk. But not today; the only sound was that of the plane’s engines as most of our group had their heads down and I watched one of the Air Force crew adjust the flag over the young man.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the flag. Unlike 99% of the media who cover the war, I’m not a detached observer; my son is active-service, with multiple deployments under his belt and another coming up, and I know too many Marines in this age group not to be affected by this young man’s sad trip home. I imagined my son or one of his friends coming home the same way, and I wondered, as do many of us parents of deployed sons, how I’d react if they came and knocked on my front door.

After we landed, our plane came to a halt in a corner of the airfield, away from the daily bustle of troops, contractors, and cargo pallets, and the rear of the plane opened to reveal a small honor guard of Marines- Army – Air Force assembled to ready him for his final flight home. As our small group prepared to walk off the plane through a forward hatch, a Marine Chief Warrant Officer and I lagged behind to pay our respects to the young man; the Gunner removing his Kevlar and me, a non-practicing Roman Catholic, doing a sign of the cross before the Air Force crew gently pushed us to depart.

I wanted to stay and watch the ceremony, but with one of the crew shaking his head, I grabbed my bag and hurried to catch up to our group. Walking to the terminal all I could think about was how fiercely proud I hope his family is of him. Oh young man, you’ll be missed.

Semper Fi.