The Pentagon, to secure supply lines, is effectively making payments to warlords in Afghanistan. Not only is that undermining the central government (as in by reinforcing competing centers of power), but it also appears to be helping to fund the insurgents.
Now before you put that overview in the “You cannot make this stuff up” category, actually, it’s the reverse. This is a completely predictable outcome given the situation in Afghanistan, which is that the US, like the Soviets before us, controls only the cities, and is in completely hostile territory elsewhere.
Remember, for all practical purposes, there is no infrastructure in Afghanistan. As reader Crocodile Chuck pointed out, “The entire military supply chain is flown in: equipment, materiel, food, fuel. It’s like staging a war on the moon.” So if you want to secure passage across the countryside, say to move munitions or troops, you need the cooperation of the not so friendly locals. The warlords aren’t above taking bribes, but the officialdom has somehow managed to harbor the illusion that paying money to people who are hostile to our occupation is likely to result in the funds being used against us. Bloomberg gives an overview:
Contractors on a $2.1 billion job trucking U.S. supplies into Afghanistan are paying millions of dollars in protection money to warlords controlling their routes, according to a congressional report.
Contractors told congressional investigators they believe that, in turn, “the highway warlords make protection payments to insurgents” who are fighting the U.S., though there wasn’t direct evidence backing that claim..
Yves here. That “wasn’t direct evidence” looks like someone desperately trying to find a fig leaf. Back to the piece:
The eight contractors who carry food, fuel, ammunition and other goods under the Afghan Host-Nation Trucking Contract are expected to provide for their own security without U.S. military escorts.
This has led to an ad-hoc system where the principal private security subcontractors are “warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority,” the report said…
The trucking contracts cover 70 percent of the U.S. overland supply chain that typically starts in Pakistan, moving in convoys of as many as 300 trucks through Pashtun tribal lands to U.S.-controlled distribution hubs near Bagram Airfield and Kandahar Airfield.
Yves here. The Associated Press reported that the Afghan “security firms” could be getting as much as $4 million a week from the trucking contractors for protection.
The part that is a wee bit misleading is the suggestion that military escorts would end the need for payoffs. It is going to be interesting to see what happens if this inquiry does indeed put an end to the bribes, because the result may well be much more serious problems with resupply. An article in the Boston Globe noted:
“While is it important that we continue to do all we can to combat illicit financial flows, setting up an alternative to Afghan private security contracts — such as having US troops escort the goods — would be costly and entail additional dangers,’’ said Jeremy Pam, guest scholar at US Institute of Peace.
As we pointed out in an earlier post, the sudden touting of the presence of a lotta minerals in Afghanistan (which it turns out was not news, except maybe to the chump American public) appeared to be an effort to bolster a military campaign that is going not at all well. We cited our sometimes guest poster Richard Kline, who pointed to an unintentionally damning piece in the Christian Science Monitor and provided this take:
Here are a few points in takeaway, directly from statements of joes in the 12th infantry a few miles outside Kandahar.
1) They absolutely do _not_ control the countryside.
2) The Taliban engage them—when they want to, where they want to, as they want to—not the other way around.
3) The occupiers are engaged in an attritional contest where everywhere they go is now mined and they lose a steady, bloody drip of casualties anytime they move.
4) The Taliban have received heavy reinforcements from outside the region which the occupiers are unable in any meaningful way to interdict.
5) The Taliban can, and do, kill anyone who cooperates in any remote way with the occupation, and neither the occupation nor its regime can do anything about this whatsoever.
6) The operational objective of this particular unit was, in effect, to ‘inconvenience the manueverability’ of the Taliban units.
7) The operational objective of their regional command (in Kandahar) was ‘to control the big cities so that they (the Taliban) would have to come to terms with us.’
And keep in mind, this is all taking place at the height of The Surge II in the region with maximum deployment of assets declared as the primary objective of the present occupation campaigning season.
There is a word for this configuration of conditions: defeat. This is why Stan McChrystal is re-polishing his shiny balls: he and his are completely immobilized, have lost any operational initiative that they may have had, can’t do a damn thing about it, and are now trying to keep the large population centers hostage to some kind of settlement. This looks highly like the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, minus the saturation bombing but with far more boots on the ground. This looks amazingly like the Indochina dumb-a-thon; even the kind of rhetoric used by the guys in the article I mention would be entirely in place, trying to paint a picture of failure as one where the occupation is ‘in control and on plan’ by milspeak fuzziness and omission, much of it the unintentional result of what is left when candor is excluded.
The problem, as Kline pointed out later in comments, is that the US has chosen not to understand the nature of this engagement:
….this is a Pashtun war against a widely detested occupation. We’re not fighting the largely mythical al-Qaida, imperialist talking points nothwithstanding: we’re fighting the people who live on the ground, and their immediate cousins who live over the crestline….
The Taliban has demonstrated, deep support from a plurality of the Pashtuns of Afghanistan on its worst day. That day is behind us. They likely have majority support now, and have backing in areas where one never would have expected that in a generation such as the North Slope. All most as importantly, the Taliban completely dominate the security of the countryside: no one whom they dislike survives, at this point. No one turns them in and survives. No one takes $29 of wampum and an iPod from the occupiers and survives. Sure, the Taliban would rather make nice and have strong support, but the demonstrated fact, in _multiple current reports_ is that the insurgency dominates the locals totally. The US can do nothing about this. Stan McChrystal thought he had a sepoy army and collaborationist bureaucracy read to roll to handle the countryside once he ‘manhandled’ Those People’ out of the way; he has now been disabused of that notion; nothing of the sort exists, OR WILL EXIST…
The war is lost, I said. Now, ‘lost’ is a relative term….The Taliban cannot, yet, eject the occupation; it may be that they never can on their own, as they are now. The occupation cannot defeat the Taliban, and the cost for staying in the Great Game only gets higher as the insurgency gets better and broader. I mentioned several analogous conflicts for the present state of conditions describing the war in the Stans. I left out the best one, though: South Lebanon. Israel had all the air one could ever want, vast ‘technological superiority,’ held every town, had a better force ratio _by far_ than the occupation has or will ever have in the Stans, and operated in terrain generally more favorable to an occupier than that of Afghanistan, and snatch-and-grabbed ‘leaders’ profusely—and left with their tails between their legs. The tactics used by the insurgency in South Lebanon are those exactly being used in Afghanistan, and that is 100% no coincidence, and not simply because they worked there. The Israelis couldn’t win in Lebanon anymore than we can win in Afghanistan, and got tired of the expense of non-losing, not least because the insurgency there were gradually getting better weapons, raising the costs, and had generally outfought the occupiers huddled in their iron coffins…
Strategically,the situation is exactly the same [as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan]: the Soviets held the cities, but not the countryside, not ever. The present Taliban-led insurgency is far more effective than the mujahideen ever were, and operationally active in more of the countryside, this despite the fact that the US has significantly more ground in place than the Soviets ever did.
Yves here. Other factoids strongly suggest our little adventure (actually, technically a NATO operation, as reader aet pointed out) is not going swimmingly. The UK wants out. A story last week in Der Spiegel (hat tip reader Swedish Lex) similarly indicated that Germany is thinking about exiting:
The belief that things will end well in Afghanistan is dwindling in Germany. An increasing number of security experts recommend an orderly withdrawal and even those who were involved in sending the Bundeswehr on the mission are now voicing doubts about ultimate success….
Asked if everything is going well in Afghanistan, [former Defense Minister Peter] Struck bursts out with, “No!” Asked if the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, are where they had hoped to be, he exclaims, “No, of course not!” He can clearly remember the days following Sept. 11, 2001. Struck was chairman of the SPD’s parliamentary group when then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder declared Germany’s full solidarity with the United States. This statement effectively meant Germany would be going to Afghanistan. “One year, then we’d be back out, that’s what we thought back then,” Struck says, poking at his fish, before adding, “We thoroughly deceived ourselves.”…
The price is soaring higher and higher, in terms of both human lives and finances. Officially, the mission costs Germany €1 billion ($1.2 billion) per year, but experts place the true costs at three times that amount, which would make it 10 percent of the country’s defense budget. Official data has the war in Afghanistan costing Germany over €6 billion so far.
Yves here. I wonder how long the drip drip drip of lack of progress in Afghanistan, plus continuing budget pressures in the US, will lead us to find a graceful exit. Unfortunately, having put our prestige on the lines, I suspect it will not be soon.