Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wanted: Your Unwary, Yearning for a Job

Reminder: the U.S. is conducting a war in Afghanistan.

It's going badly, after a stroke of beginners' luck when we drove out an unpopular, restrictive and authoritarian regime of Taliban religious fanatics. The occupied White House in its enthusiasm for war powers, irrational exuberance, denuded troop strengths and sent everyone off to Iraq where their real ambitions lay.

Now the poppy trade is rebounding, as are the Taliban, and we are facing growing rejection by the population that we unaccountably keep bombing for their own good. We have a wonderful idea, now, to strengthen and ally ourselves with, oh, right, train - the discredited police.

Afghanistan's police are notorious for extorting money from civilians, protecting drug dealers and otherwise acting like "terrorists with badges," as one U.S. officer put it. The police sometimes go unpaid and must fend for themselves.

Until November, the police general in charge of this province had a roster that included more than 1,600 "ghost" policemen – someone was collecting their salaries, even though no one ever saw them. Half the fuel and food allotted to the police force was sold on the black market, according to Maj. Mike Basart, who commands the police training teams at Forward Operating Base Vulcan.

When police ran low on firewood or clothes, they went to the bazaar and took what they needed without paying. Cops would set up roadblocks and demand payments before anyone could pass.

"If police officers don't appear to the people as legitimate or professional, how can the government be regarded as professional or honest?" asked Maj. Gabe Barton, operations officer for the 2nd battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, which has responsibility for security in Deh Yak and the rest of Ghazni Province.

Does this begin to sound like our story line in Iraq, where our military claims we can't leave because it would mean that the regime we're propping up, and 'training', would dissolve. Without popular support and involvement, we're creating nothing more than a staged production for the purposes of misleading the press and the public.

There's no There there.

The U.S. embed team arrived at the Deh Yak station unannounced recently and found only 15 police officers on the job. Capt. Bailey mustered 12 of them to patrol down the village streets, only to turn back when Sgt. Farrelly reported that the Afghans had left the station unguarded.

In such cold weather, it's harder to persuade the police to stand guard all night in sentry towers. The U.S. team of embedded soldiers brought wood stoves and fuel for the towers but still had to roust guards out of their barracks beds to man the watch. They harangued police sergeants to keep blankets out of the guard towers because the police are prone to falling asleep.

An impromptu inspection of a remote observation outpost found a group of shivering Afghan police living in trenches and sandbagged huts in the grip of an ice fog that etched its white teeth in everything from eyebrows to engine blocks. Three of the police at this camp were fired recently for taking bribes but had yet to turn in their uniforms.

New York National Guard Pvt. Brendan Marino, a 32-year-old Brooklyn native working security for the team, said he guesses training the Afghan police will take many years to complete. But he's intrigued enough that he said he's considering coming back to Afghanistan as a civilian training contractor. (Emphasis added.)

IOW, our guys are there to get a step up into that well-paid job as a Contractor, while the soldiers are trying to get into position to make a living off that same racket - or the drug trade.

Democracy, national pride, freedom, if you remember all those reasons we made a war in the Middle East, forget them. It's a living.

337 days.

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Anonymous ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I left a comment at the Ignatius editorial you mentioned, Ruth.

ifthethunderdontgetya wrote:
"Obama has been sounding more like Edwards."


That's another reason for me to vote for Obama on March 4.
2/17/2008 12:14:00 PM

And since I'm in Ohio, this might actually count for something!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You Brave Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces. Your sacrifices are not in vain. Back home our prayers and thoughts are with you. God Bless You and Keep You Safe.A Soldier's Mother

6:44 AM  
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