So How’s That Coalition Thing Working Out in Afghanistan?

Short Answer: It’s been 15+ years of coalition and the Taliban are still there, the Afghan government in Kabul is even more corrupt, and most of Afghanistan is as economically decrepit as ever.

A report, “Lessons From the Coalition,” emerged from a conference co-hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (yes, we have one, it is part of the State Department and doesn’t do much but organize events in Washington.) The conference brought together representatives from eleven major donor nations, the EU, UN, World Bank, and NATO to share common experiences and lessons from the Afghan reconstruction effort.

Here’s what they concluded:

  • The confluence of conflicting goals and divided actors led to a situation in which countries were often pursuing disparate and sometimes ill-defined missions in Afghanistan. In fact, many nations were unclear as to what they were trying to achieve in Afghanistan.
  • Many countries were primarily motivated by their alliance commitments to the United States, rather than specific strategic goals related to Afghanistan, and were often more focused on what was happening in Washington than in Kabul.
  • Conference participants were critical of instances when military forces undertook development work, indicating their efforts often ended up costing more and being less effective than those of their civilian counterparts.
  • Inability to understand the local context led to projects that unintentionally benefited corrupt officials, threatened local governance, led to escalating violence, sabotage of the project itself, and wasted resources.
  • Development projects did not buy security. Participants believed that when development projects occurred in insecure places, the projects either benefited the insurgency or insurgents increased violence to counteract any potential gains.
  • One participant referred to the regular turnover of personnel as an “annual lobotomy.”
  • Conditions placed on funds were often not credible, as donors were ultimately unwilling to withhold funds that were essential to preventing the collapse of the Afghan government. Afghan officials were aware of these limitations and were able to call donors’ bluffs. When faced with a donor’s conditions, Afghan officials could often obtain funding from another donor.

But, hey, I’m sure they all meant well in their efforts. Hell, someone should write a book about that so no one repeats the same mistakes in the next war.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent. Reprinted from the his blog with permission.

4 thoughts on “So How’s That Coalition Thing Working Out in Afghanistan?”

  1. Canada certainly stopped mentioning the ‘hoo haw’ it told the troops about them being there to get the little girls into schools. Even they figured that $20 billion was wasted accomplishing little for them and even less for little girls.

    Canada was one of the last coalition allies to pull up stakes. All that are left now are some Germans, less Italians and a ‘robust’ contingent from wannabe ‘ally’ Georgia. The ‘coalition’ is America, itself and the US of A.

  2. I remember the halfway point on that 15 years plus… The US troops were bogged down in Iraq and the only real koalition of the killing troop presence in Afghan territory were the Canadians and French. And of course the opinion mongers in the US were still insisting on restaurants call their offerings “Freedom fries” and “Freedom Toast”. My French teachers both in High School and college told me that in France they do have fried potatoes and even the toast, but the terms french toast, fries, dressing etc are foreign abstractions that they don’t share. The college professor did, however, note that they do have French Kisses.
    I use the phrase “I remember” because 1) we’re consistently modified by 2) people who want us to not remember the bull they want to unleash on us later because 3) they’re not as imaginative as they wish and recycling older lies is more convenient.

  3. One of the most incredibly ridiculous excercises in stupidity was the shipping of National Guard Troops from places like Kansas to teach the local Afghans about farming. The Afghans had been raising livestock, growing fruits, vegetables and grain for thousands of years before the US was even a country. I wrote a scathing letter to Senator Boozman and he and an Oklahoma Senator made a quick trip to stop that charade. As part of that stupidity, a USDA ag specialist would go visit villages but always accompanied by two choppers full of Blackwater guards. Remember Eric Prince?

    1. I can’t forget Blackwater. Summer of ’07 I accompanied my lady, a VietNam agent orange widow, to Peterson AFB where she was to give over some VA paperwork and to get her Dependent ID card . Rode the city bus to the front gate. Some security guards BUT NOT Air Force SPs, (they looked like hippies compared to the real thing, hair below the earlobes, three-day stubble, no insignia, rank or name tags, stuff an Air Force SP would be relieved of duty and prosecuted under Article 15 if he showed up for work like that) allowed her to proceed to the Admin office but not me, my ID wasn’t good for them. Two hours later she came out from the base, crying… the ass-hats had told her she was wrong to do what her VA representative had told her to do, you know, go to the nearest base and get her I.D. done. Instead of being helpful they threatened to imprison her on Patriot Act.

      But they were Contractors. Blackwater.

      There was a similar occurrence in Okinawa protest by American vets, the guard at the gate kept trying to get information on them, and was also a Contractor. That was a week or so ago.

      They remind me eerily of Railroad Police. The ones who can not only arrest you but prosecute you In Their Own Private courts for crossing or walking on railroad right-of-way anyplace other than a designated crossing. Unlike the city cops or the sheriff they don’t have to pretend they’re not corporate minions. In a designated combat zone they have carte blanc, french for “blank warrant” and immunity from prosecution no matter how badly they screw up.

      So, what if they’re given war-zone powers officially, in the U.S.?

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