Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

Today’s Killjoy: Jack Healy

SCUD-2 of the Afghan National Army

Image via Wikipedia

So I’m sipping on my Nescafe and re-reading In My Time, hoping that somehow the words of Mr. Cheney can illuminate the darkness that so many try to make this place out to be, when I saw this piece in the New York Times. (Thanks to @Scoot_K  for posting the link.) Since I love reading good news about Afghanistan (and folks, there is so much of it, just ask any PAO), I was hoping for some of that this morning, but was sorely disappointed. It seems that Mr. Healy has some doubts about the ability of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to fully sustain itself and the new equipment it’s being issued.

In fact, in a startling turn of events, some naysayer at the Defense Department made this assessment back in June:

In June, the Defense Department’s inspector general found serious problems with a $247 million contract to oversee equipment for the Afghan National Army as well as to train Afghans in maintenance. When auditors visited storage warehouses across the country, they were unable to find $30 million worth of repair parts.

Well, since other programs have suffered from serious problems with oversight, I think it’s highly like that $30 million in repair parts was probably just an overage in ordering, anyway. The DoD’s IG just didn’t account for the fact that once items arrive here in Afghanistan, they undergo a massive reallocation process in distribution that, to an untrained Western eye, looks a lot like theft, corruption, and incompetence.

What’s really going on is that the individuals responsible for those parts are just making sure that the ANA doesn’t have too many, and they’re just getting rid of the excess.  It’s really a marvel of efficiency that the US would do well to adopt. We can learn so much here. Mr. Healy wasn’t done, though: he wanted to further fan the flames of criticism by quoting even more from the IG’s report (can’t he just leave well enough alone?):

They also found deep flaws in equipment-training programs. Afghan commanders were not providing enough students, and the programs themselves were too complicated, too long and ill-suited to classrooms of largely uneducated soldiers.

“We were unable to observe training at four of the nine sites that we visited, because A.N.A. commanders did not provide students for the classes,” the auditors said.

I find this hard to believe on a level that’s almost preposterous. LTG Caldwell was just recently a guest at the weekly ISAF press briefing, and I feel the need to share some of his quotes so the readers of Mr. Healy’s rainy day nonsense can really understand what’s going on here in Afghanistan:

“Over the last two years, we have been able to put in place schools, get the required trainers and actually train over 50,000 officers and noncommissioned officers that are now, today, in the Afghan Police, Army and Air Force,” said Caldwell.

See? NTM-A has put the required trainers into place. There is absolutely no requirement that there be trainees, as well. To expect that sort of unrealistic level of trainer/trainee ratio after the fact is just pointless, really. Obviously, too, the IG team wasn’t there on a training day. Otherwise, if 44% of sites weren’t doing any training at all, it would be really hard…even impossible…to actually train 50,000 people in the timeframe that LTG Caldwell is reporting. And, since I’ve come to realize that LTG Caldwell and the NTM-A are always right about what’s really happening here, well, I’d suggest the IG go back and count again. As to being “largely uneducated,” well sir:

During the last year and a half, 134,000 recruits have completed the mandatory literacy training that has been incorporated into their basic training requirements, Caldwell added.

As is well known among those that really care about the ANSF, they are absolutely required to be able to read at a first grade level. I don’t understand the concern: if that ANA soldier can now read at a first grade level, there should be no reason why he can’t understand training that a high school graduate in the United States would be able to comprehend. I know that our fine American service member has had almost 13 years of schooling before they’re ever expected to do similar training, but, thanks to NTM-A’s highly accelerated training process, I’m sure those fine instructors can’t get uneducated Afghan recruits up to speed in just a few weeks. It’s quality, not quantity, after all.

So, to Mr. Healy and all those just trying to find the negative here in Afghanistan, please remember: It’s always sunny in Kabul!

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