Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

“Ghost” armies of Iraq and Afghanistan continue a long tradition

January 12, 2015

There have been recent reports about large numbers of “ghost” employees in the military and police forces of Iraq and Afghanistan, who exist on paper to extract (or account for) large amounts of external funding.

The Iraqi Army was recently revealed to have 50,000 “ghost” soldiers who conducted “ghost” exercises with “ghost” ammunition. But these soldiers were not like Aragorn’s Army of the Dead who swept aside the forces of Mordor. Instead, they melted away into their nothingness when faced by the ISIS fighters in Mosul in June last year.

 

The Unz Review: The Iraqi army includes 50,000 “ghost soldiers” who do not exist, but their officers receive their salaries fraudulently according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “The Prime Minister revealed the existence of 50,000 fictitious names,” said a statement after a thorough headcount during the latest salary payments. 

The Iraqi army has long been notorious for being wholly corrupt with officers invariably paying for their jobs in order to make money either through drawing the salaries of non-existent soldiers or through various other scams. One Iraqi politician told The Independent a year ago that Iraqi officers “are not soldiers, they are investors”. In the years before the defeat of the army in Mosul in June by a much smaller force from Isis, Iraqi units never conducted training exercises. At the time of Isis’s Mosul offensive, government forces in Mosul were meant to total 60,000 soldiers and federal police but the real figure was probably closer to 20,000. …..

….. Another source of earnings for officers are checkpoints on the roads which act like customs barriers on national frontiers. All goods being transported have to pay a tariff and this will again go into the pockets of the officer corps. These will have paid highly for promotion, with the bribe for becoming a colonel $200,000 (£127,000) and a divisional commander $2m. This money would usually be borrowed and paid back out earnings.

There have been similar scams in Afghanistan.

The GuardianEach year, foreign donors pay hundreds of millions of dollars to fund salaries for members of the Afghan national police. According to a US government watchdog, however, there is little proof of where the money ends up.

In a report released on Monday, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar) writes that much of that money may in fact be bankrolling “ghost workers” – fictional employees created to enrich police chiefs.

Business Insider: The U.S. may be unwittingly doling out checks to “ghost workers” of the Afghan National Police who don’t even exist, according to an alert letter sent from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The letter alleges payment of salaries to non-existent members of the police force, and comes as just the latest in a string of fraud, waste, and abuse exposed by SIGAR under the leadership of John Sopko. …… The letter follows a previous report from SIGAR that found $6.3 million in payments going to Afghan police to fix broken vehicles, many of which had been out of service for over a year or had even been destroyed. …….. Previous reports found the Pentagon paid $12.8 million for equipment that went completely unused, records being shredded of $201 million in fuel purchases for the Afghan National Army, and millions from the U.S. military actually ending up in the hands of the Taliban, among many others.

But the use of these “virtual” employees is nothing new. It was probably first invented by the construction industry and construction probably became an industry as early as in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt and the temples of Babylon some 4 -5,000 years ago. (It is perhaps fitting since Old Babylon lay close to present day Baghdad).

The construction industry uses “ghost” workers primarily for the following reasons:

  1. to milk funds for publicly funded projects – especially for job creation projects,
  2. to avoid minimum wage laws,
  3. to avoid taxes or compulsory employee contributions

Construction sites with their large numbers of transient workers are notoriously difficult to check. Even “ghost” sites with “ghost” workers are not unknown. Very often these construction workers are paid daily and in cash. The use of ghost workers then allows the conversion of project funds into untraceable cash, accumulated in slush funds, for various nefarious purposes.

In recent times the growth of the NGO’s acting as contractors, who often get their funding from charities or public monies, has led to the padding of employee numbers and fictitious payrolls.  Even during the Ebola outbreak, local politicians were busy milking the funds available in Sierra Leone with over 6,000 “ghost” workers. So much so that the British government refused to channel its funds through local organisations.

According to report, this is the first time that the British Government has openly condemned the Sierra Leone Government publicly for alleged misuse of the former’s support to the latter. This development, according to report, took place on Monday 8thDecember, 2014. On the same day, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a news release expressing massive corruption and fraud in the National Ebola Response Center (NERC). The Association expressed worries over the widespread of corruption in the handling of the Ebola Funds by authorities in charge. SLAJ was particularly concerned about the disclosures of the NERC’s CEO’s revelation that some 6,000 ghost names were have been discovered in the weekly payment voucher for healthcare workers in the frontline, and the strikes by healthcare workers negatively impacting on the fight against the Ebola.

I first heard about “ghost” locums in the NHS in the UK as a student in the 1960s. In Japan it was obligatory to use local construction crews for the construction and erection of power plant equipment and we were required to hire the entire crew. My best estimates were that the crews – on paper – contained about 20% more names than ever appeared on site. In the US I found that “unionised” power plant sites always needed between 10- 20% more construction workers than non-unionised sites (always through contractors of course). It was a similar story on sites in India and Africa. Through the 1990s it was a lucrative business to start an NGO with funding from abroad (and probably still is). Often the funding was based on covering all “approved” (but ghostly) personnel costs and covering external purchases for approved projects. But here the “head” of the NGO was essentially the owner of an “enterprise”.

“Ghosts” are not going away anytime soon.

Measuring success in Afghanistan

November 12, 2014

Land being used for opium cultivation has risen from less than 100,000 hectares before the war in 2001 to about 225,000 hectares this year!

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan

BBC:

Cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan has hit new records this year as Nato pulls out combat troops. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said opium production was up by 17% since last year. Its Afghan Opium Survey 2014 said the area under poppy cultivation had risen by 7% to cover 224,000 hectares.

UNODC head Yury Fedotov warned there was a serious risk Afghanistan could become a narco-state, following the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Most poppies are still grown in southern Helmand province, where British troops were stationed until October.

Where Iraq goes today, Afghanistan will go tomorrow

June 14, 2014

History will come to see the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq as an Axis of Evil.

The developments in Iraq are clearly showing the way for what is going to happen in Afghanistan. Barack Obama’s risk aversion and his desperation to disentangle the US from the quagmire that Bush led them into, is increasingly looking like an abdication. If the Bush-Blair objectives for the sexed-up invasion of Iraq were

  • to redefine the country,
  • to help create a new Kurdistan,
  • to permit Sunni extremists to establish an own state – Sunnistan,
  • permit an Iran backed Shia state to be Iran’s buffer against the Sunni and
  • to get hundreds of thousands of people killed (including many thousands of US and allied troops,
  • to create a precedent and a vision for Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia

then the entire adventure has been a spectacular success with the final phases being completed by Barack Obama. If the purpose was to combat modern terrorism then it has been an abject failure. In fact Bush and Blair and Obama have done more to increase terrorism than any rabid Mullah could have.

The Ralph Peters imagined map of a better Middle East in his book Never Quit the Fightof 2006 is looking increasingly prescient and real.

Turkey better get used to the idea loosing a chunk of Eastern Turkey to an integrated Kurdistan. Iran will be reshaped and Pakistan will have to accept a new state of a Free Baluchistan in the west. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will splinter into many pieces.

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

Ralph-Peters-Remapped-Middle-East

As Ralph Peters wrote in his Blood Borders article for the Armed Forces Journal:

A just alignment in the region would leave Iraq’s three Sunni-majority provinces as a truncated state that might eventually choose to unify with a Syria that loses its littoral to a Mediterranean-oriented Greater Lebanon: Phoenecia reborn. The Shia south of old Iraq would form the basis of an Arab Shia State rimming much of the Persian Gulf. Jordan would retain its current territory, with some southward expansion at Saudi expense. For its part, the unnatural state of Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan.

A root cause of the broad stagnation in the Muslim world is the Saudi royal family’s treatment of Mecca and Medina as their fiefdom. With Islam’s holiest shrines under the police-state control of one of the world’s most bigoted and oppressive regimes — a regime that commands vast, unearned oil wealth — the Saudis have been able to project their Wahhabi vision of a disciplinarian, intolerant faith far beyond their borders. The rise of the Saudis to wealth and, consequently, influence has been the worst thing to happen to the Muslim world as a whole since the time of the Prophet, and the worst thing to happen to Arabs since the Ottoman (if not the Mongol) conquest. ……

…….. True justice — which we might not like — would also give Saudi Arabia’s coastal oil fields to the Shia Arabs who populate that subregion, while a southeastern quadrant would go to Yemen. Confined to a rump Saudi Homelands Independent Territory around Riyadh, the House of Saud would be capable of far less mischief toward Islam and the world.

Iran, a state with madcap boundaries, would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State and Free Baluchistan, but would gain the provinces around Herat in today’s Afghanistan — a region with a historical and linguistic affinity for Persia. Iran would, in effect, become an ethnic Persian state again, with the most difficult question being whether or not it should keep the port of Bandar Abbas or surrender it to the Arab Shia State.

What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren (the point of this exercise is not to draw maps as we would like them but as local populations would prefer them). Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining “natural” Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi.

The abdication of Barack Obama ensures that all the lives lost in Iraq will have been in vain. And that Afghanistan will go the way of Iraq.The Middle East is going to keep the world on tenterhooks for the next 50 years at least.

Afghan opium harvest reaches record high and Western troops prepare to withdraw – after a job well done?

November 13, 2013

This Afghan war started on 7th October 2001. Ostensibly the US, NATO and Western allies invaded to dismantle the Al Qaida infrastructure, remove the Taliban from power and to eradicate their support base by winning hearts and minds.

Twelve years on, about 10,000 Afghan security forces and about 5,000 allied forces (including contractors) have been killed. The numbers of Taliban and other Islamic fighters killed is believed to be many more than the 15,000 allied losses – perhaps as many as 30,000. Around 18,000 civilians have also lost their lives. The Taliban are still around and apparently gaining strength. I am not sure whether the intention was to destroy the drug trade or whether it was secretly to secure drug supplies. In any event the opium harvest has never been as high before.

History will have to tell us if this was a job well done or something else.

Reuters: Afghan opium crop hits record high ahead of Western withdrawal

Afghan opium cultivation has hit a record high as international forces prepare to leave the country, the United Nations said on Wednesday, with concern that profits will go to warlords jockeying for power ahead of a presidential election next year. The expansion of poppy to 209,000 hectares (516,000 acres), will embarrass Afghanistan’s aid donors after more than 10 years of efforts to wean farmers off the crop, fight corruption and cut links between drugs and the Taliban insurgency. …..

The area under poppy is 36 percent higher than in 2012, and eclipses the previous record set in 2007, when 193,000 hectares (477,000 acres) were cultivated, the U.N. anti-drugs agency said in a report. Total output is estimated at 5,500 tonnes of opium, up 49 percent from 3,700 tonnes in 2012. Farm-gate profits are expected to approach $1 billion, or 4 percent of gross domestic product. Some of those profits will be funneled off by the Taliban to fuel their insurgency. …… 

A kg of opium costs some $200 at the farm-gate. This produces about 100 g of pure heroin. The street price of heroin is about $170 per gram (2012 prices) for typically 40% pure heroin (75% is considered high). The $200 dollars for the 1 kg of opium is thus marked-up to about $40,000 as street-heroin. If the profits at the farm-gates are $1 billion, it can be expected that the profits on the streets from the processed drugs must be of the order of 50 – 100 times greater.

A steady profit stream of $50 – 100 billion per year clearly will – and does –  cause many to salivate.

The Spoils of War:

Each kg. of opium produces 100 grams of pure heroin. The US retail prices for heroin (with a low level of purity) is, according to UNODC of the order of $172 a gram. The price per gram of pure heroin is substantially higher.

The profits are largely reaped at the level of the international wholesale and retail markets of heroin as well as in the process of money laundering in Western banking institutions. 

The revenues derived from the global trade in heroin constitute a multibillion dollar bonanza for financial institutions and organized crime.

Nine civilians including children killed by NATO – but it’s OK, it wasn’t by gas

September 8, 2013

An acceptable form of killing since it was not by gas. No red lines crossed here.

The Guardian:

Afghan officials have said an apparent Nato air strike has killed 15 people – nine of them civilians, including women and children – in an eastern province where the Taliban remain strong. Nato said 10 militants had died in the strike, and that it had no reports of any civilian deaths.

Civilian deaths in Nato operations have long been a sore point between the Afghan government and the US-led troops in the country, and they have been a major factor in the animosity many Afghans feel towards foreign forces. Conflicting accounts of who or how many died also are common, especially when remote, dangerous regions are involved and access by independent observers is restricted. …

… The Kunar province police chief Abdul Habib Sayed Khaili said the air strike had hit a pickup truck carrying the women and children in Qoro village soon after three Arab and three Afghan militants boarded it on Saturday evening. He said some reports had called it a drone strike, but that Afghan officials had been unable to confirm that. Of the 15 dead, four were women, four were children and one was the driver, the police official said.

The Watapur district chief Zalmai Yousefi confirmed the air strike. He also said 15 people had been killed, including women and children.

The Nato spokeswoman 1st Lieutenant AnnMarie Annicelli confirmed that the military alliance had carried out a “precision strike” that killed 10 “enemy forces”, but that it had received no reports of any civilians dying in the air strike. Annicelli had no immediate details on who exactly the dead were or what prompted the strike.

10 young schoolgirls killed by landmine

December 17, 2012

This was today.

AFP – Ten young girls were killed when a landmine exploded Monday while they were collecting firewood in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, officials said. 

The girls, aged between nine and 11, died when one of them accidentally struck the old mine with an axe, Chaparhar district governor Mohammad Sediq Dawlatzai told AFP.

Nangarhar, Afghanistan or Newtown, Connecticut — No difference really for the children and their parents and families and communities.

But what should I make of  the “lavish” media coverage in the one case and the non-coverage in the other? or when  private grief is intruded upon while an outpouring of public grief seems stage-managed for TV cameras?

Swedish officers were killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan

March 2, 2011

From Svenska Dagbladet: On 7th February last year two Swedish officers Gunnar Andersson and John Palmlöv and their Afghan interpreter Mohammad Shahab Ayoulay were killed in an exchange of fire in the village of Gurgi Tappeh, about 35 kilometers from the Swedish Afghanistan headquarters in Mazar-i-Sharif. An Afghan man dressed in police uniform opened fire against the Swedes and the two officers, their interpreter and the attacker were all killed.

Kapten Johan Palmlöv, 28 år och löjtnant Gunnar Andersson, 31 år stupade i februari förra året vid en attack i Afghanistan.
 Flaggor på halvstång på Camp Northern Lights efter attacken.

Capt.John Palmlöv, Lt. Gunnar Andersson, and flags at half mast at Camp Northern Lights. FOTO: FÖRSVARSMAKTEN OCH SCANPIX

On 25 March last year, the Swedish Military said that it could not be ruled out that the Swedish officers and the interpreter had been hit by  stray Swedish bullets but that the three were killed in the initial hail of bullets. Despite promises of transparency the military investigation and that of the Stockholm Prosecutors Office have been stamped “Secret”.

But yesterday a TV4 News broadcast showed that their  review of the autopsy report and of the military’s confidential report proves beyond all reasonable doubt that it was Swedish ammunition that killed the officers and their interpreter. The autopsy report from the medical centre in Solna and the Armed Forces’ own secret investigation show that there is no evidence that it was the Afghan man’s Russian ammunition which hit the Swedes. From the wounds in the bodies, the shot trajectories show that they must have been fired from a height of 4 metres and could only have come from the Swedish armoured car on the side of the road according to TV 4 News.

A clear case of “friendly fire” and most likely a tragic mistake. But it is not very clear as to why the military and the government and the prosecutor’s office will not reveal or even comment on the results of their investigations. If it was a tragic mistake and caused by panic and some incompetence by one (or more) of the dead officers’ comrades then perhaps the secrecy is just to protect the identity of these soldiers for what has been judged to be a mistake.

But perhaps not. The terms “collateral damage” and “friendly fire” are synonymous – always – with a certain lack of competence. I do not imply that they are unavoidable but just their occurrence is proof of some lack of competence. Sometimes these terms are used to cover-up a level of incompetence which is much higher than it should be. It is quite conceivable that the fault is institutional either in the Swedish Rules of Engagement or in the training of the soldiers or in their management and leadership. The use of confidentiality in this case suggests that the investigations did find some level of institutional incompetence.

There is also the unlikely scenario that the fire was from “friendly guns” but that the shooting was “unfriendly”. Very unlikely of course, but cases of unpopular officers being killed by the “friendly fire” of their soldiers are not unknown. And such cases are usually surrounded by intense secrecy.



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