Join Date: Aug 2004
Local Time: 03:38 PM
A long but excellent update on the progress of reconstruction efforts from today's New York Times
(I've cut out a lot; you can read the full article
here). While undeniably painting a rather depressing picture, it also does a good job of conveying just how formidably complicated the many obstacles are, and of pointing out that the US is far from alone in having failed to consistently respond adequately.
Obviously, this doesn't really address NATO's ongoing military offensive against the Taliban ("Operation Medusa")--you can find any number of articles on that easily, though.
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan -- ...This spring and summer, the slow and methodical siege of this southern provincial capital intensified. The Taliban and their allies set up road checkpoints, burned 20 trucks and slowed the flow of supplies to reconstruction projects. All told, in surrounding Helmand Province, 5 teachers, one judge and scores of police officers have been killed. Dozens of schools and courts have been shuttered, according to Afghan officials. “Our government is weak,” said Fowzea Olomi, a local women’s rights advocate whose driver was shot dead in May and who fears she is next. “Anarchy has come.”
When the Taliban fell nearly 5 years ago, Lashkar Gah seemed like fertile ground for the US-led effort to stabilize the country. For 30 years during the cold war, Americans carried out the largest development project in Afghanistan’s history here, building a modern capital with suburban-style tract homes, a giant hydroelectric dam and 300 miles of canals that made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. Afghans called this city “Little America.”
Today, "Little America" is the epicenter of a Taliban resurgence and an explosion in drug cultivation that has claimed the lives of 106 American and NATO soldiers this year and doubled American casualty rates countrywide. Across Afghanistan, roadside bomb attacks are up by 30%; suicide bombings have doubled. Statistically it is now nearly as dangerous to serve as an American soldier in Afghanistan as it is in Iraq.
...The problems began in early 2002, former Bush administration, UN and Afghan officials said, when the US and its allies failed to take advantage of a sweeping desire among Afghans for help from foreign countries. The Defense Department initially opposed a request by Colin L. Powell, then Secretary of State, and Afghanistan’s new leaders for a sizable peacekeeping force and deployed only 8000 American troops, but purely in a combat role. During the first 18 months after the invasion, the US-led coalition deployed no peacekeepers outside Kabul, leaving the security of provinces like Helmand to local Afghans. “Where the world, including the United States, came up short was on the security side,” said Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department. “That was the mistake which I believe is coming back to haunt the United States now.”
...The Taliban leadership, meanwhile, found safe haven in neighboring Pakistan. And Robert Grenier, the C.I.A.’s former top counterterrorism official and Islamabad station chief, said Pakistani officials largely turned a blind eye to Taliban commanders, who later seeped back across the border. In Helmand, the absence of security and government control enabled the province to become the largest heroin-producing area in Afghanistan...Led by a 160% increase in Helmand’s opium crop this year, Afghanistan’s overall production grew by 50% to a record 6,100 metric tons, UN officials said Saturday. Afghanistan now produces 92% of the world’s supply of opium poppy, the basis for heroin.
Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, defended the pace of progress, saying expectations among Afghans and others that the war-ravaged country could be quickly rebuilt were unrealistic...Despite an active insurgency, he said, 1.6 million Afghan girls are attending school, 730 miles of roads and 1000 schools, clinics and government buildings have been reconstructed, and the country has its first democratically elected president and Parliament. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the recent surge in violence was the result of the Afghan central government and NATO exerting their authority in remote areas, prompting retaliatory attacks from the Taliban, drug traffickers and warlords.
The return of more than 3 million Afghan refugees and the arrival of some foreign aid turned the country’s main cities into boom towns. But over time, the lack of construction in rural provinces fueled Taliban propaganda claims that Americans were enriching themselves and bringing only corruption to Afghanistan. In impoverished southern rural areas, small numbers of Afghans are openly collaborating with the Taliban. Other Afghans, who say they are unsure of the American commitment and disillusioned with Mr. Karzai, sit by and dare not resist them.
Rauzia Baloch, a 33-year-old teacher, was one of a half dozen women elected to Helmand’s provincial council last year. In December, the American government sent her on a study tour of the United States that included visits to Congress and a domestic violence shelter in Phoenix, and Thanksgiving dinner with a family in Indiana. When Ms. Baloch returned to Helmand, she found the Taliban assassinating government officials. “I learned a lot, but unfortunately the situation is not the same as in America,” she said. “We cannot do anything.”
...In 1994, residents welcomed the rise of the Taliban in Helmand’s remote villages and applauded when thieves had their hands chopped off on a local soccer field. Crime plummeted. For Ms. Olomi and other women, life fell apart. Her husband, who had gone to Russia to study medicine, never returned. Taliban religious police closed a girls’ school she had opened to support herself. Ms. Olomi, who had chosen her husband at the age of 25, watched helplessly as her daughter was forced by her husband’s brothers to marry a cousin at 13.
Hopes rose again in 2001, when American bombs drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Residents like Ms. Olomi said they dreamed of a second American-backed renaissance. As expectations soared in Lashkar Gah and across Afghanistan, division emerged in Washington over what role the US should play in rebuilding and securing the country.
During meetings in January and February 2002, Robert Finn, the first American ambassador to post-Taliban Afghanistan, proposed that the US undertake ambitious construction projects as a way to cement the loyalty of Afghans. Top among them was rebuilding a pulverized ring road linking Afghanistan’s major cities—a road Americans helped build during the cold war. “I argued for them to build the road and all I got was ‘no,’ ” Mr. Finn recalled. “It was just across the board in Washington: ‘We don’t do those kinds of projects anymore.’ ”
At the same time, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary Powell clashed over security issues, according to their aides. In a response to written questions, Mr. Powell said that in early 2002 he called for American troops to participate in the expansion of a 4000-soldier international peacekeeping force designed to bolster Mr. Karzai’s fledgling government. Mr. Haass, the former State Department official, said informal conversations with European officials led him to believe the US could recruit a force of 30,000 peacekeepers, half European, half American.
...Defense Department officials believed it was better to train local security forces. Over all, Pentagon officials hoped to minimize the number of American troops in the country to avoid stoking Afghans’ historic resistance to foreign occupation, said Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary for policy. Ali Ahmed Jalali, the country’s interior minister from 2002 to 2005, said Afghan resentment of foreign peacekeepers was “a myth.” After 10 years of internecine civil war, he said, Afghans yearned for someone to step in. “They could not help themselves,” he said, referring to Afghans. “They were at war with themselves.”
James Dobbins, then the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan, said Mr. Powell was ultimately unable to win support from Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials. The 4000-soldier international peacekeeping force would not venture outside Kabul. The US deployed its 8000 soldiers separately, but they focused on capturing or killing Taliban and Qaeda members, not on peacekeeping or reconstruction. As an alternative, officials came up with a loosely organized system designed to empower Afghans to secure the country. The US would train a 70,000-soldier army. Japan would demobilize some 100,000 militia fighters. Britain would mount an antinarcotics program. Italy would carry out judicial reform. And Germany would train a 62,000-member police force.
On the ground in Afghanistan, problems arose immediately.
When Mr. Finn, the ambassador, reviewed the first Afghan National Army troops trained by the Americans in the summer of 2002, he was dismayed. “They were illiterate,” he said. “They didn’t know how to keep themselves clean. They were at a much lower level than people expected.” American military officials told him that local Afghan commanders sent them their worst conscripts. Mr. Dobbins, the former special envoy to Afghanistan, said Defense Department hopes that Afghans could quickly take responsibility for their own security proved unrealistic. “The reason we are there is that these are failed states,” said Mr. Dobbins, who has also served as special envoy to Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. “The thought that this can be quickly remedied has proved unjustified in most cases.”
The police were even more challenging. 70% of the existing 80,000 officers were illiterate. 80% lacked proper equipment and corruption was endemic. Afghan police did not patrol; they set up checkpoints and waited for residents to report crimes, with bribes often needed to do so. Yet in 2002 and 2003, Germany, the country responsible for police training, dispatched only 40 advisers. They reopened the Kabul police academy and began a program designed to graduate 3,500 senior officers in three years.
In Lashkar Gah, veteran policemen and judges who returned from living in exile during the reign of the Taliban were aghast at what they found. Only one-third of the province’s 3000 policemen were, in fact, trained. The rest, including the provincial police chief, were former guerrilla fighters who punished members of other tribes and turned a blind eye toward rogues from their own. “They did not know about the law,” said Abdul Shakoor, a veteran police lieutenant. “They had their tribal ideas.”
Abdul Waheed Afghani, then a 67-year-old retired judge who had been in exile in Saudi Arabia, said the judicial system was no better. When he looked for judges to send to each of the province’s 13 districts, he found only three people with judicial training. He asked for help from Kabul, but received no response. “I have given reports to many branches of the government,” he said. “But no one has helped me.”
Helmand Province’s voluble young governor, Sher Muhammad Akhund, was largely left to do as he pleased. The son of a famed local commander who fought the Soviets, Mr. Akhund entered Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2001 at Mr. Karzai’s request and won control of Helmand with the help of the Special Forces...As time passed, community leaders grew frustrated with Mr. Akhund. Haji Ahmad Shah, a wealthy local farmer, said Mr. Akhund initially refused to meet with him to discuss farmers’ problems. When he finally did, he ignored the complaints...In 2003, Mr. Akhund confiscated 200 shops owned by a local minority group, according to a State Department report. Outside the city, the governor doled out parcels of land to his relatives and tribe, according to residents...At the same time...[a]fter the fall of the Taliban, poppy growth had exploded in eastern and southern Afghanistan, fed by poverty, weak law enforcement and an epic, 5-year drought. Mr. Akhund vehemently denied rumors that he took a cut of the poppy trade, but foreign officials remained skeptical.
While corruption grew in Afghanistan, the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan and changed tactics, according to American officials. After being decimated in open battles with American troops through 2002, the Taliban began ambushing small groups of American soldiers and unarmed aid workers in 2003. Over time, aid groups scaled back or suspended reconstruction projects in the rural south and east.
In the summer of 2003, officials in Washington unveiled an overhaul of American policy in Afghanistan...Between 2003 and 2004, American assistance to Afghanistan increased from $962 million to $2.4 billion; the Afghanistan staff of the US aid agency doubled; and Washington dispatched an aggressive new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. At the same time, the American military, expanding its role beyond combat, deployed eight new Provincial Reconstruction Teams, mostly to volatile southern and eastern Afghanistan. The units tried to win the loyalty of Afghans by equipping local government offices and mounting small reconstruction projects.
In Helmand, a field commander in the new development effort was Charles Grader. The 72-year-old Massachusetts native was the last American to head the Afghanistan program before the 1979 Soviet invasion. Twenty-five years later, he was back, managing a $130 million US government contract to revitalize agriculture and slow the growth of poppy. Mr. Grader was a marker of how the American approach to development had changed since the 1970’s. No longer a government worker, he was now a private contractor paid $130,000 a year by Chemonics International, a for-profit consulting firm based in Washington. Instead of directing projects, the US aid agency hired companies like Chemonics, which farmed out work to subcontractors.
In June 2004, Mr. Grader drove into Lashkar Gah with 8 security guards and found a burgeoning city of 100,000 people that was a maze of new construction, shops and bustling open-air markets. But the prosperity was illusory. The boom was largely fueled by Helmand’s opium trade, which by then had been spreading across the province for two and a half years since the Taliban was defeated. On his first stop, Mr. Grader toured a demonstration farm bursting with cotton, pomegranates and other crops designed to show farmers they could make a legal living. Mr. Grader asked the Afghans who ran the farm what would persuade others to stop growing poppy. Their responses had little to do with agriculture. They said the biggest problem was poverty and corruption. Farmers, they said, no longer believed the government would punish them for growing poppy... A local farmer was more blunt. “We don’t have law. This is a warlord kingdom.”
Mr. Grader promised to create public works projects that would repair the province’s irrigation system and employ large numbers of farmers. Four months later he resigned after clashing with aid agency officials over the direction of the program. High turnover rates among both aid agency officials and contractors slowed the American effort, according to Afghan and American officials...In addition, a popular perception took hold that after foreign contractors and subcontractors took their cut of aid money, little cash was left for average Afghans. And local residents grew suspicious of the foreigners who lived in heavily guarded compounds with electric generators and satellite televisions while they lacked regular running water and electricity.
In October 2004, one of the eight new American military Provincial Reconstruction Teams arrived in Helmand. Over the next two years, the team spent $9.5 million to build, refurbish or equip 28 schools, two police stations, two orphanages, a prison, a hospital ward and 20 miles of roads. Just outside the American base, the US built a women’s job-training center for Ms. Olomi to run. The Americans provided dozens of computers and sewing machines and even set up a mock beauty salon so women could learn marketable skills.
...By the spring of 2005, the stepped-up American effort in Helmand was showing signs of being overmatched by the rising violence...the canal cleaning project—perhaps the Americans’ most successful undertaking in Helmand—was shut down over lack of security. Thousands of farmers were immediately out of work. Attacks also slowed repairs to the Kajaki dam.
Security had emerged as the largest single impediment to developing Helmand, but the country’s nascent army and police force were unable to deliver it. The first units from the new, American-trained Afghan National Army arrived in Helmand in 2005, but they comprised only several hundred soldiers and carried out few operations, according to local Afghan officials. A new provincial antinarcotics force was created that year, but it consisted of just 30 officers.
The long-delayed Japanese-led program to disarm militia fighters began in Helmand in 2005, but only several hundred assault rifles and machine guns were collected, according to the local police. Officials said vast numbers of weapons remain in Helmand and are being used by the Taliban and drug traffickers. Police training also continued to lag behind. After Germany failed to mount any training outside Kabul, the State Department hired DynCorp International, an Irving, Tex., firm, to recruit, train and deploy dozens of American police advisers in Afghanistan and build seven regional training centers....By mid-2004, the centers were operating 2- to-4-week training classes across Afghanistan. European officials said the training should be at least three months long...“I had 15 days’ training in Kandahar,” said Mr. Shakoor, the police lieutenant. “The things that they were teaching me I already knew.”
Corruption was also undermining progress. A 28-year-old police recruit who asked not to be identified because he feared retaliation said he was disappointed when he returned from training to his district in Helmand. His commander continued to take 50% of his salary, he said, and work with drug traffickers.
Jesse Valdez, 55, from Santa Cruz, Calif., had trained police officers in Bosnia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Steve Rubcic, 58, from Wyoming, had never been east of Wisconsin. When they arrived in October, security was so bad they could not visit any of the province’s 13 districts. In interviews, both said the Afghan police were eager for help and that they were making progress removing corrupt officials. Six weeks after they arrived, a small car bomb detonated outside the governor’s office several minutes before they arrived for a meeting...A month later, a suicide car bomb attack flipped their armored vehicle, but they survived. Both refused to leave...Brent Thompson, a 33-year-old former police officer from Dallas who heads the team, said American officials calculated that 6 Afghan policemen were dying for every soldier in the National Army who was killed.
As of early July, the training segment that involved police firing their rifles was on hold. Security problems had delayed the delivery of ammunition to Lashkar Gah, according to Mr. Thompson. During the training, Afghan officers pull the triggers on their rifles and pretend to fire.
On July 10, Helmand’s senior government officials, tribal elders and community leaders gathered for a public forum in Lashkar Gah entitled “Security, Reconstruction and Official Corruption.” For the next hour, the locals heaped scorn on the Afghan government. Speaker after speaker talked of dashed hopes...An enraged tribal leader in a white turban said the police released the murderers of his sons and brothers after receiving bribes. “Is this a government?” he thundered. “Anyone other than me would join the Taliban.”
This spring, American forces handed over responsibility for Helmand to the British military. More than 3,600 British troops, 10 times the troops the US deployed in Helmand, now patrol the increasingly violent province...The canal cleaning project has resumed, but on a much smaller scale—and with many fewer local workers—than originally planned...all repairs on the hydroelectric dam were suspended in July amid rising attacks. Nationwide, 90% of Afghans still lack regular electricity.
Since early 2005, both Afghan and foreign officials had urged Mr. Karzai to remove Mr. Akhund as Helmand’s governor. Last December, Mr. Karzai finally did...The new governor, an engineer and former UN employee, accepted the assignment on condition he have his own 150-man security force. This spring, Mr. Karzai fired the province’s police chief, but his replacement said he will make little headway stabilizing the province as long as the Taliban continues to have bases in neighboring Pakistan.
Mr. Afghani, the province’s chief judge, said Taliban attacks this spring have shut down courts in 11 of the province’s 13 districts. In June, he found an unexploded bomb in his car. In July, a suicide bomber killed four people in a Lashkar Gah court office.
On a recent afternoon, Ms. Olomi gave a reporter a tour of her women’s center, which was closed for security reasons after the killing of her driver in May. False rumors had been spread that the center’s female students were being taken to the local American military base and forced to have sex with soldiers. After the tour of the center, which had the feel of a museum, Ms. Olomi announced she was heading home and pulled out a burqa, the head-to-toe veil that became a symbol of Taliban oppression. Ms. Olomi shed her burqa after the group’s fall in 2001, but began wearing it again after her driver’s death to hide her identity from potential assassins...In Little America in 2006, the former instrument of her oppression was her means of survival.