This is Part One of a 4-part series built around The General, a legendary Afghan officer we previously introduced in a run-down of the cast of characters that Geoffrey Ingersoll is following while embedded at FOB Delaram. ~ Eloise & Robert
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll
The office. Wall to wall red carpet. Two couches. There’s a big screen TV, and on it is “Raising Arizona.” You know, that classic, the one they never show anymore on cable, the one about the sterile cop and the ex-con who steal a baby from a wealthy family.
There’s green tea on the table, little twisty-wrapper caramel candies on each saucer, and on the far wall a big photo of Hamid Karzai looms over an enormous desk, topped with a layer of black reflective glass.
Brigadier General Abdul Wasea (pronounced, “Wa-Say”), commander of the 2nd Afghan Army Brigade in northern Helmand and Nimroz, is sitting next to me on the couch, one leg folded up underneath the other.
He issues a few orders, and the last remaining officers scurry out the door.
Then he turns toward me.
“So?” He says.
Wasea started off his career in 1983 as an Infantry and Artillery Officer with the Mujahadin, fighting the Russians up in the mountains.
“They invaded, killed 2 million people, filled our schools with communist propaganda, they tried to take over. So it was the Holy War, you know?” He says to me, “We really believed that.”
I ask him the difference between how the Russians conducted war versus the Americans.
“The Russians, these people, they try to kill me, my people. No different than the Taliban. The Taliban is no good, they are not true Muslims. They distort the teaching of Muhammed in order to fit their business model. It is all about business, these wars.”
Then it’s about business for the Americans, and for Karzai?
He smiles, “This Army, the Afghanistan Army, one of my goals is to make them an unpolitical army. We had major problem with political officers in the beginning, but slowly we are getting better.”
I should have known he wouldn’t comment on Kabul’s current “administration” of the army.
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll
About as far as he’ll go is to say, “You know, as I say, bureaucracy is corruption and corruption is bureaucracy. Like the Army needs more good leadership, this country needs more good governance.”
He continues, “It’s hard to get representatives of the Ministry of defence or the Ministry of Interior to visit out here, to see what’s going on. I can go tell them, but do they ever come? No.”
Probably because they’re busy handling the convoluted nature of the private side of the conflict. By “private,” I mean contracts and contractors.
The war has certainly been lucrative for the companies supplying our troops, both US and Afghan. Rifles, M16s, machine guns, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and Ford Rangers, shitloads, of Ford Rangers.
In just this last year’s contract, Ford has delivered 30,000 of its Ford Ranger “Light Tactical Vehicle,” with 10,000 more to finish.
That’s nothing, Ford delivered 234,183 LTV’s in fiscal year 2010.
Like I said, shitloads.
The funding goes through the Afghan Security Forces Fund, which Congress backs financially, through Obama’s recommendations; for 2010 his recommendation came to $9.8 billion, and in 2011 $12.2 billion. But it’s not fair that we American taxpayers get all the credit, 40 other nations in NATO pooled together to pitch in $100 million too.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), specifically the Ministry of defence (MoD), allocates these funds under “advisement” of something called NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) and, most importantly, the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan.
In other words, American diplomatic and military advisers.
But it’s not like Ford has no competition. In January 2012, a company called Oshkosh threw it’s hat in the LTV bidding war.
As a kid, I used to think Oshkosh made the clothes I wore. Now, all grown up, I’ve realised there’s another Oshkosh, and it competes to provide our troops with incredibly expensive, incredibly tough all-terrain vehicles.
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll
Because of the war, Afghanistan spends about $17 billion a year. As for growth, Afghanistan takes in about $2 billion per year. Revenue, specifically from something other than poppy (used to make Opium), is still in the infancy of its development, despite 11 years of American involvement.
The people in Afghanistan, citizens as well as military, tell me that countries like Pakistan and Iran are invested in the continued instability of their country, largely to develop a growing trade differential, and so an international dependence.
“All the money we get, from American aid or from earning it privately in business, it goes into importing from Pakistan and Iran,” says one prominent Kabul business owner on condition of anonymity. “We don’t make anything here, and all the money flows into those two countries. The rest of it goes to the guys at the top, the ones sitting at the executive levels of pre-existing power structures.”
“It’s like the Americans came to build a house, and they started with roof,” he says.
At one point during the conversation, I remember leaning forward to grab the ketchup, and as I turned it over I noticed, no kidding, a “Made in Pakistan” label on the bottom.
Pakistan and Iran fought a proxy war here in the early 90s through various mujahadic tribes, a campaign championed eventually by Ahmad Shah Massoud, the “Hero of Afghanistan.” His success was short-lived, defeated then by the Taliban, who stripped anything useful out of the country and sold it to Pakistan.
But there is hope.
Recently China and Russia started winning development contracts for oil and mining. Undoubtedly the subcontracts will go to American firms such as Haliburton and KBR, like in Iraq, but that’s beside the point.
As a part of these contracts, both countries have agreed to build significant pieces of infrastructure. Railways, electricity, running water. And, unlike the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the others like it, these foreign companies have a vested interest: the exploitation and export of rare earth minerals and fossil fuels, for astronomical profit (GIRoA estimates about 3Tn dollars in unearthed assets, the US estimates about 2Tn).
China’s only projected problem with the development is continued security. They, of course, make no promises of personnel dedicated to that task, and understandably so, since the American military subsists in no small part due to China’s continued “investment” in American debt.
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll
One thing I noticed while talking to the young soldiers in the ANA, is that a large group of them grew up in either Pakistan or Iran. Their parents were refugees from one war or another. “We never had a childhood,” says one officer, a major, who stayed in Afghanistan. “We spent our childhoods in war, and then later, when we got older, we were the young men fighting the war.”
A fair amount of these soldiers, especially the ones who have children of their own, say they’ll leave if things get worse after the American exodus. Yes, the next generation’s outcome is certainly in flux, to say the least, despite the declared wealth hidden beneath and within the dirt of Afghanistan.
So I guess it’s like that movie, the one I noticed on Wasea’s TV, “Raising Arizona,” the one about the ex-con and the sterile cop stealing the baby from a wealthy family.
(What’s not so cut and dry is who is playing the role of the ex-con, and who is playing the role of the impotent cop. Companies in a bidding war? Military bureaucracy? Who knows.)
But there is one conclusion: Afghanistan’s wealth may be certain, but the future of its children is not.
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