December 23, 2009

Obama's Poppy Clock

President Obama has already got a taste of what it’s like to issue one policy in Afghanistan and watch the ground yield another. According the New York Times, Obama angrily met his staff one morning in September after staying up to read the strategy he issued in March.

Parts unmentioned failed to be implemented, which Obama attributed to the war’s downward trajectory. By the look of the State Department’s counter-narcotics study, drugs must have been an issue. Hillary Clinton might be as well.

The top finding: “The Department of State lacks a long-term strategy and a clear end state for its counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan, which hinders planning and prevents an accurate assessment of effectiveness.”

Disunity is in vogue.

The report found, “Despite the number of agencies and players involved in counter-narcotics activities, interagency coordination within Embassy Kabul is generally ad hoc and informal, with each agency focused mainly on its own efforts. This situation can result in a lack of synchronization of activities.”

Completing the trifecta, “Cooperation between Embassy Kabul and Embassy Islamabad is not well-developed and is limited mostly to information sharing. Coordination is lacking on key issues, such as increasing security along the lightly controlled, porous
border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

These absurd findings provide the perfect counterinsurgency lesson: even with top DEA officials hunting down opium traffickers and advanced surveillance technology recording every action in Afghanistan, Obama’s Titanic is sunk without a coherent political strategy and honest cooperation.

“Coordination among various agencies conducting counter-narcotics programs under chief of mission authority in Afghanistan is largely informal, unstructured, and personality dependent.”

It’s even worse with Pakistan: “Collaboration and coordination between Embassies Islamabad and Kabul on counter-narcotics matters are limited. Overall OIG found little evidence of coordination in such critical areas as the smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the smuggling of opium contraband out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports cities on the Arabian Sea.”

Pakistan simply doesn’t view the Afghan drug trade as a threat - or doesn’t want to stop it. Senior Embassy Islamabad officials told the OIG team, “there is no perceived connection between the narcotics industry and the insurgency in Pakistan.”

The OIG scoffed at this notion, adding, “While this may be true of the insurgencies in Pakistani areas bordering on Afghanistan, the drug industry is a transnational phenomenon. Insurgent interaction with the narcotics industry in Afghanistan, especially financially, certainly affects Pakistan, as does the cross-border flow of money, weapons, and fighters.”

Maybe Pakistan would be more helpful if America wasn’t breathing on its neck.

The report cautions against making judgments of success or failure. Opium production is down overall and in the number of provinces with no production, now at 20. Conversely, total opium production is only down to 125,000 tons from 160,000 + in peak years. So much is stashed away that prices are down. Even still, the average per capita income in Afghanistan is $600-700 a year. The UN estimates the average Afghan family involved in poppy earns around $6,500.

Without a responsible government and an alternate livelihood, no amount of security operations or crop eradication will reduce the number of growers to zero. Not new crops, but a brand new economy.

The report also found that private contractors working on counternarcotics programs, an increasing trend in Afghanistan, are "generally meeting the terms and conditions" of their contracts. Sounds like Haliburton/KBR in early Iraq. Some of these contracts were also, "poorly written, with overly optimistic goals, vague performance measures, and inadequate or non-specific deliverables."

Sounds like Haliburton/KBR.

“While there is adequate contract management in Washington, DC,” the report alerted, “there is a lack of in-country personnel and capacity to effectively monitor the performance of contractors and determine overall program success. As a result, contract and program management is primarily conducted from Washington DC, nearly 7,000 miles and 8.5 time zones from Kabul."

A recipe for success for Afghanistan, no doubt. How long did Obama say again? He definitely didn’t give a price, we only a trillion dollar tag shocked him during a private meeting.

The State Department says a new counternarcotics strategy and action plans are being prepared both in Washington DC and Afghanistan. After submitting its findings to Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, he responded by agreeing to every single point, but also that many of the errors were being corrected.

Ideally all of these workings would’ve been sorted out years ago, preferably right when Obama took office. Lack of effort does appear to be a problem. Complex problems they face, but White House officials have precious time to deliberate what the end game is. Obama's confidence is looking artificial.

“Based upon numerous interviews with officials from the Department, U.S. military, other U.S. Government agencies, the Afghan Government, and other donor governments, and a review of strategic planning documents, OIG concludes there is a lack of agreement on the overall desired end state for the counternarcotics program.”

So much so that the State Department has suspended funding for the counter-narcotics problem until further notice. Again Obama’s problem is the lack of political will he tacitly reinstalled in November.

Many officials interviewed, “stated that the lack of commitment and ambivalence on counternarcotics issues by Afghan Government leaders to take strong measures against the narcotics industry is a significant impediment to the overall success of the counternarcotics program.”

The mess lands on both Afghanistan and America: “While a larger role by the military in Afghanistan’s counternarcotics effort appears certain, the capabilities and resources military forces will provide are less certain. Furthermore, it is unclear how the myriad of embassy-led counternarcotics activities and programs will fit in with a new military-led strategy.”

"Finally, the long term operation of the Afghan counternarcotics effort – averaging a $550 million annual U.S. Government contribution since FY 2005 - is a matter of concern. This level of effort may not be sustainable in the long-term.”

Especially if the Taliban doesn’t depend so much on opium money as the Bush administration believed, as a US report earlier this year forced several officials to admit, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Special envoy Richard Holbrooke. No counter plan seems to have developed since.

President Obama is acting like he’s got time to kill in Afghanistan, or else knows he’s already running out of time.

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