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Valdai 2017: Reactions from a newbie

Russian Military Reform - Mon, 30/10/2017 - 12:28

I promised a readout of my impressions of the Valdai Club meeting. This was the first time I had been invited to attend this event and I was curious to get a sense of both the content of the discussions and the atmosphere. The four day conference was held at a Gazprom-owned mountain resort an hour outside of Sochi, though after the first day we had virtually no opportunities to go outside, much less leave the compound. When I decided to take a walk in the hills during the lunch break on the last day of the conference, I was very nicely told by the guard at the gate in the fence that the gate was closed for the day (almost certainly because that was the day that Vladimir Putin was supposed to appear). That was very indicative of the setup. Having a conference in a beautiful mountain resort is very nice, but it’s also a good way to keep the participants from wandering off or seeing anything the organizers might not want them to see.

1) I had not realized just how little of the conference would be on Russia. The theme was “Creative Destruction: Will a New World Order Emerge from the Current Conflicts?” The individual panels within that theme were all on grand topics such as man vs. nature or rich vs. poor. There was one panel on “the conflict between differing geopolitical worldviews,” where most of the panelists ended up either spouting self-serving formulations of the “China just wants to share its prosperity with the world” variety or seemed bizarrely naïve, such as one European speaker arguing that Britain would not leave the European Union and Europe would be just fine. A Russian scholar talked about how the US and Russia were engaged in a new Cold War that was even worse than the old one and of course this was America’s fault. The one exception was a prominent American IR scholar, who tried to bring some sense to the proceedings, but with limited success.

The surreal nature of the choice of panel topics was highlighted by the special panel on US domestic politics. First, its presence on the program highlighted the absence of a panel on Russian domestic politics. Second, the speakers included a senior Russian diplomat and two highly respected American experts on Russian politics. Absent were any experts on US politics, which lent the proceedings a slightly odd air, even as the participants did their best to explain the Trump presidency to the audience.

The best panel was another special panel – on the Russian revolution in honor of its 100th anniversary, with five top historians giving their interpretations of the meaning and impact of the revolution on Russia and the world. Overall, though, it seemed odd to gather a large number of experts on Russia just to have them discuss big conceptual issues such as climate change and poverty on which they were experts. As a result, the most interesting discussions I had were in the corridors and in the bar, where there were plenty of opportunities to interact with and learn from both Western and Russian colleagues.

2) The meetings with Russian officials are usually the highlight of the event, yet they seemed to be somewhat disengaged. The senior officials who came to speak with us included Sergei Lavrov, Sergey Kislyak, Igor Shuvalov, Vyacheslav Volodin, German Gref and, of course, Vladimir Putin himself. The dominant theme of all the meetings was that the United States had betrayed Russia’s trust in the 1990s. As Putin said when asked about any mistakes Russia had made in its relations with the United States, our greatest mistake was that we trusted you too much and your greatest mistake was that you took our trust as weakness. The video and transcript of the Putin speech are widely available, so I won’t go over the content in detail. Putin’s attitude was perhaps more interesting than the content of his speech and answers to questions. He seemed disinterested and disengaged. The answers he gave were rote. Some attendees who had been present at Valdai last year indicated that some of the answers were virtually verbatim repeats of things he had said the year before. Given that Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov had promised a “major announcement” from Putin at Valdai, the audience members were left wondering if they had missed something.

Putin clearly wanted to really hammer home the double standards argument that he has been making vis-à-vis the West (and particularly the United States) for years now. He spent an inordinate amount of time on a minute relitigation of the ICJ court case affirming Kosovo’s declaration of independence, pulling out a folder with printouts of the decision and of the reactions to it of various Western governments, which he spent a good 10 minutes reading out loud. He went on a little tirade about Ukrainian nationalism, though he seemed to conflate Petliura and Bandera in the process.

The most interesting thing about his speech was perhaps the conclusion. In response to moderator Fyodor Lukyanov’s tongue in cheek closing comment about how Valdai would miss Putin if he stopped attending because he was no longer president, he asked “will you not invite me if I’m not president?” and followed up with a joke about an oligarch who discovers that he has lost all his money and tells his wife that they will have to sell the fancy cars and houses and move back to the old apartment in Moscow. When the oligarch asks her if she will still love him, she says “yes and I will miss you very much.” The implication was that Putin very much recognizes that his status derives from his position and that leaving the position is fraught with the threat of great personal losses for him. The joke was perhaps the only time when Putin allowed a glimpse of his actual views on the world or his role in it, going beyond the by now stale script of how Russia didn’t want to be opposed to the West but had been forced into the position after being repeatedly betrayed by the United States.

The other officials all spoke off the record, but the impression they gave was not a particularly positive one. Lavrov was smart and cynical as usual. Shuvalov seemed to have dropped the “I am a good pro-Western liberal” act and was just acting like a post-Soviet bureaucrat defending his government’s policies. Volodin was, if anything, worse. As my colleague Rawi Abdelal put it, if Shuvalov looked like he had come from 1994, Volodin seemed to have arrived directly from 1974. He lost his cool on a couple of occasions, including in responding to a question about Navalny, and his scowl was really a sight to behold (see below). Gref seemed to have taken over the role of good Western liberal from Shuvalov, giving a slick presentation about various disruptive 21st century technologies and their potential impacts on Russia in general and on Sberbank in particular. The audience members’ level of interest in the presentation was inversely proportional to their familiarity with the technologies being discussed. Gref came off as a neophyte who had just discovered these new scientific developments that he mostly but not completely understood but thought were really really important and couldn’t wait to share them with everyone.

3) Finally, it’s worth briefly addressing the optics of the event. The parts of the event that involved Russian officials were clearly highly choreographed. The first few questions to Putin gave all signs of being pre-arranged softballs asked by known members of the “Russia understanders” camp. It was quite noticeable that the moderator of the Putin Q&A avoided calling on Americans until the very end, when he did call on Toby Gati. The Lavrov and Putin meetings were slightly odd in another way, as rather than taking the stage alone to address the audience and answer their questions, they were instead on panels with other speakers (colloquially called “side dishes”), who gave short presentations and then sat more or less uncomfortably as the audience addressed their questions to the Russian officials while ignoring them. The Putin panel included Hamid Karzai and Jack Ma (Alibaba CEO), as well as a representative of the Nobel Research Institute. I imagine these are not people who are used to being ignored for long periods of time. Also, there was a gala awards dinner the first evening, emceed by Sofiko Shevardnadze. It all seemed a bit too forced and too loud, like amateurs trying to put on the Oscars and ending up with something more like a small town’s annual good citizen award ceremony. It would probably be best to drop this event, or at least tone it down, as I overheard a lot of participants making uncomplimentary remarks about it afterwards.

There’s always a lively debate in the United States about whether one should attend Valdai. This was the first year I was invited, but I have always thought that for those of us who study Russian politics, it is our job to take any and all opportunities to gain a better understanding of the country and of its leadership. Activists may take a different position, eschewing any signs of “collaboration” in what is clearly a staged and choreographed event. While I wish there were more panels focusing more directly on Russian politics and foreign policy, seeing Putin, Lavrov, et al in action was worthwhile in and of itself. I’ll certainly go back if invited again, since it would be useful to compare the messaging pre- and post-2018 elections.


Education, an Ideal Corrupted: An assessment of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) - Sun, 29/10/2017 - 03:00

The Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), an independent anti-corruption body in Afghanistan, recently released its ‘vulnerability to corruption’ assessment of the Ministry of Education. The assessment points to 36 different types of corruption within the education sector, highlighting that corruption has become endemic in the last 10 to 15 years and that malpractice is systemic within the ministry. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica summarises the report’s findings and recommendations and concludes that this is the first eye-opening report on corruption produced by an Afghan institution.

Education in Afghanistan has frequently been touted as one of the more successful development assistance interventions in the country in the last 15 years. This narrative may have reached a cathartic turn, now. A 170-page vulnerability to corruption assessment of the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) (full report available here), released on Thursday 26 October in Kabul by the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC)(1), identified systematic practices of corruption within the ministry that “ranged from school-level issues, such as bribes to modify school certificates, through to ministry-level issues such as corruption in school construction and in textbook distribution.” Put simply, this rather grim read indicates that the entire education sector is either corrupt or vulnerable to corruption. In particular, the report highlights the issue of the “country-wide appointment of teachers on the basis of influence, or nepotism and bribery,” which, according to the MEC, emerged as the most serious issue.

The study was undertaken at the request of then acting-education minister Asadullah Hanif Balkhi in July 2016 (Balkhi lost a vote of confidence in parliament in November 2016, although continued in his post at the request of the president, see AAN’s analysis here.) This is the second time that Balkhi has shaken the ministry to its core. The first time was when, in December 2016, he publicly disputed the number of school-age pupils in Afghanistan given by his predecessor (at over 11 million), stating that the real number was significantly lower (Balkhi contended the figure was closer to just over six million – see this AAN analysis).

The MEC assessment is also the first comprehensive evaluation of corruption within the Ministry of Education. It was carried out in Kabul and nine other provinces (Badakhshan, Balkh, Faryab, Ghazni, Herat, Khost, Bamyan, Panjshir and Nangrahar) and included an assessment of 138 schools. (2) The assessment highlights 36 different types of corruption within the ministry and provides over sixty recommendations. The MEC, in its press release, made a blasting statement: “Taken together, [the 36 types of corruption] constitute a corruption of the very ideal of education in Afghanistan,”

The MEC’s main findings

  1. The Education sector as a corrupt job market

According to the MEC report, the education ministry is the single largest employer in the civil sector. In 2015, the civil service (which was supposed to be reformed, see this 2016 AREU study: was estimated to employ over 400,000 people. The MoE, with its 262,000 staff (of whom 216,000 are teachers, according to the MoE’s Human Resources Department), constituted 68 per cent of its total and is a job market susceptible to corruption.

MEC interviews conducted across the sector confirmed that “Corruption related to the appointment of teachers was the principal issue reported by over 90 per cent of the interviewees.” It further notes (page 24):

This result was replicated across all six tiers of interviewees [see endnote 2], all schools and all provinces. The comments all referred to nepotism, favoritism and preference by MoE staff and preference by influential persons, including Members of Parliament (MPs) […] The MEC interviews found that the pressure for MoE to subvert its procedures to employ relatives, friends and favored individuals is relentless and ubiquitous, reported by literally hundreds of interviewees. The most frequent pressure comes from MPs. Interviewees reported MPs intervening at all levels of hiring and promotion, and in the placing of teachers in desirable locations. (pages 24 and 25)

Additionally, the MEC found that payments-for-appointment were widespread throughout the sector:

A widespread practice of payment-for-appointment has now become entrenched, requiring an average of between [Afghani] 50,000 to 70,000 (about USD 800 to 1,000) from the applicant. The amount varies depending on the attractiveness of the position. This has also meant that some teachers have been forced to seek additional work outside of school to feed themselves and their families because they have had to pay the equivalent of one or two year’s salary to secure a teaching position. (pages 25-6)

In Afghanistan, stable, full-time employment is hard to come by. According to official Afghan government statistics, of the 7.2 million Afghans who have a job, only 19 per cent have job security, leaving 81 per cent to worry about the permanence of their positions. Statistics indicate that over 26 per cent of young people qualified to work are unemployed. According to the MEC’s findings, the high number of teacher unemployment (some 75 per cent of Teacher Training College graduates are unable to find work) is likely due, in large part, to this corruption. There are widespread related problems, such as a corrupt system of examinations, payment being required to obtain a teaching position, corrupt recruitment procedures, teachers paying to stay on beyond retirement age, gender bias and teachers demanding bribes. (Verbal and physical abuse of children is also listed as another major problem.) In conclusion, the MEC noted that corruption in teachers’ appointments is the single most dangerous practice threatening students’ education, as parents and communities at large have lost confidence in the system (before the war, teaching was a highly respected profession).

The MEC also found that corrupt recruitment practices often, if not always, entail nepotism and favouritism, or, as the report stated: “applicants who are not from among a particular affiliation – family, tribal, political – will generally be unsuccessful in gaining an actual appointment.” In addition, a lack of reliable records coupled with non-transparent recruitment processes and an absence of performance management, renders the system particularly vulnerable to corrupt practices.

  1. 2. Textbooks as subversion of development assistance

The ministry has been wholly reliant on donor support to print and deliver textbooks to schools across Afghanistan since 2002. For example, USAID has provided support for printing and distributing over 130 million primary and secondary grade textbooks in Afghanistan since then. Between 2003 and 2015, Denmark contributed to the financing of a total of 144.8 million textbooks benefitting a minimum of eight million students (see this 2017 DANIDA – Denmark’s Development Cooperation evaluation report of the education sector). DANIDA also financed storage for textbooks: in total, 38 warehouses and 17 containers were financed to prevent textbook damage (each warehouse accommodating between 800,000 to 1,2 million textbooks). Until 2010, however, the main issue was with the procurement of printing services:

For example, a single Afghan publishing company won five out of six textbook procurement tenders between 2004 and 2010, despite not meeting the contractual obligations to print the books in-country. The DPs [development partners] most involved in textbook procurement – USAID and DANIDA – have implemented measures to improve procurement procedures and minimize corrupt practices at the highest level, though further problems have emerged down the supply line. (page 63)

These “further problems” included books initially delivered to Kabul not being distributed to provincial and district warehouses or on to schools. And, yet, since the books are financed by the development assistance funds, they are meant to be distributed free of charge. MEC researchers observed that:

A stark reality which consistently confronted the MVCA researchers in the field, has been the absence of textbooks in classrooms. It was common to observe very few textbooks at all, and those present were often of poor quality, old and shabby, or poorly produced photocopies of long-lost originals. Therefore many of these textbooks are not aligned to reflect the curriculum modifications and frequently for many subjects, a single book was observed being shared among three students. […] Usually the books that students receive from school are old black and white versions whereas new books, of good quality, and full-color, are available in the local bazaar. In some schools, or in places where students have a close relationship with teachers or the school principal, they get a complete set of books – while other students in the same classes and schools have to buy their books. In the cities, all the books are usually available in the market, but in the villages and rural areas, some books are not available, so the students ask the school administration to provide the books for them, reportedly to no avail. (pages 62 and 63)

As parts of the curriculum have undergone several revisions, each revision has required new textbooks to be printed. This has enabled further, extensive corruption, especially in the distribution of textbooks since 2010, as new prints have been required more often. Students all across the country, MEC found, have to buy their own textbooks, which are meant to be free.

  1. Unmanageable ministry

The Ministry of Education is so large and so bogged down in corruption that it is almost unmanageable in the Afghan context, the MEC concluded.

Being a highly centralized system, the source of most of the problems – and the solutions – is to be found at the heart of the system, with the Ministry and the officials in Kabul. The problems of extensive nepotism, weak controls, inefficient and corruption-prone procedures and policies are all well-known and are long-standing, dating back at least 15 years. (page 73)

The MEC further reported that the MoE’s Payroll Department was unable to provide an accurate figure of the number of people it had paid in the last three months. (page 24) Furthermore, salaries continue to be paid in cash in most provinces, which increases the risk of corruption. (There has been a similar problem with the police and armed forces, although it is being tackled – see AAN’s previous analysis on the reform of the Ministry of Interior).

Procurement procedures also continue to be susceptible to corruption. This causes delays for most projects, with some left incomplete for years. The MEC noted that improved external verification of school construction, including by donors, was required.

There are no checks or balances in the MoE, the anti-corruption committee found. One recommendation highlighted the need for “routine, independent inspection of the quality of education in the schools. At present school quality inspection is ineffective and not independent.”

  1. A lack of reliable records

As AAN reported earlier in 2017, there are no reliable records and many inconsistencies in Afghan education statistics (with the number of students nationwide counted as anything between six to ten million). This discrepancy in itself may indicate widespread corruption throughout the sector, as it allows for the manipulation of development assistance and practices based on inaccurate numbers and baselines. The data collected by the MEC for the 138 schools it visited showed that official numbers were 23 per cent higher than the number of students actually attending. (The MEC only obtained official data for 88 schools of the 138 it visited). The committee carefully concluded that:

This data sample is too small for any generalizable conclusions. However, given that MEC did not analyses the most insecure provinces, where the attendance is likely to be still lower than enrolment, this finding therefore needs urgent attention by those reviewing EMIS [Education Management Information System] data quality.

The MEC further indicated that the quality of the data gathered by EMIS at both the district and provincial levels was questionable and that a lack of reliable data impedes planning. The anti-corruption committee warned that “owing to unreliable data processing, the central database cannot be populated accurately,” and that “the absence of accurate data has facilitated the generation of ‘ghost schools,’ ‘ghost pupils’ and ‘ghost teachers’” – as reported by AAN in this 2013 analysis.

  1. Corrupt adult literacy programmes

The anti-corruption committee further found that adult literacy programmes were substantially corrupted:

Feedback from interviewees was widespread that these programs were often non-existent in the Provinces. Officers in the Deputy Ministry for Literacy themselves acknowledged many challenges and vulnerabilities in the implementation of the programs and poor coordination between MoE and MoLSAMD [Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled]. Weak oversight led to problems in multiple locations, including improper implementation, collusion to hide the absence of any implementation, inappropriate and fraudulent participants, and numerous ‘ghost’ program sites. (page 60)

Additionally, the Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET) run by the MoE had an outdated curriculum that was unrelated to the employment market. The MEC’s researchers found that some teachers in this field were also corrupt and that many teachers in the MoE-run programmes were incompetent. The report noted that TVET programmes run by non-governmental organisations, both local and international, were of a much higher quality than the MoE programmes.

  1. Other issues

The MEC’s detailed report highlights a number of other issues that hamper the reliability of the education sector. To list a few, the professional capacity of officers at the MoE to conduct performance management is generally regarded as low; the proportion of committed teachers is reported to be declining; and the frequent alterations to the curriculum enable further corruption. According to the MEC, this means that the curriculum “is beyond the competence of many teachers,” and because of this, “they have to resort to dishonest methods to help the students get through the exams.”

This inevitably leads to a low level of education and a general loss of trust among communities in their education providers.

MEC recommendations

The MEC’s recommendations (of which there are 66) are structured in ten categories, which, among other things, call for local responsibility, institutional reforms, legal reforms, increased transparency and better enforcement. At the local level, the MEC calls on school communities to bear the primary responsibility for selecting their teachers, instead of the corrupt MoE’s provincial departments. Institutional reform, according to the MEC, should entail a reduction of the size and scope of the MoE, in order to make it more manageable and less vulnerable to corruption. This would include reforming the mechanism for selecting teachers and a revision of the size of the curriculum. A successful change of the MoE, according to MEC’s recommendation would be a two-fold approach, which requires, at the local level, community-led appointments of teachers and, at the central-level, to establish a full-time task force with strong cabinet backing as well as a clear metric by which to measure success in cleaning up teachers’ appointments. The anti-corruption committee also suggests that the Technical Vocational Education & Training be an autonomous entity outside of the MoE.

In terms of legal changes, the MEC recommended that the “MoE leadership make and implement a new policy of actively challenging and reacting to corruption.” A positive step for immediate change would include the establishment of an independent complaints body tasked with investigating corruption within the MoE, as well as increased visibility and local accountability regarding teachers’ appointments. Regarding the international community, the MEC recommended that donors quickly signal their support for a new focus on anti-corruption and on independent oversight as the basis for raising the quality of education. The MEC also recommended improvements to Education Management Information System (EMIS) and the human resources systems, independent oversight, increased transparency, greater enforcement (which would mean that the Attorney General’s Office actively take up the backlog of MoE corruption cases), and market-based alternatives, such as vouchers, for the purchase of textbooks by students and parents).

Sound recommendations, but to what end?

The MEC’s report stands out as the clearest and most blunt assessment of corruption in Afghanistan’s education sector so far. Previous reports, among them most prominently the reports of the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, have detailed some corrupt practices within the ministry, but none has captured the extent and magnitude of corruption in education as the MEC report has done.

Some of the report’s excellent recommendations rightly call for immediate action. But the report leaves the reader wondering how much can be repaired and how quickly, given the scale and depth of the corruption within the ministry. World Bank corruption experts, for example, have shown (page 11) that such institutional transformation takes decades. Given the role of political patronage in teachers’ appointments and other elements of politicisation in the educational system (see this AREU report: and AAN here), a solution to these problems requires not only political will, but enormous courage. Whether the Afghan government can muster such political courage to prioritise these issues remains uncertain.

The report has one advantage, however: unlike an earlier report by a president-appointed fact-finding mission, the results of which were not allowed to be published (see here), the MEC’s report is publicly available and everyone – students, parents, teachers, parliament members and donors – has the chance to read what is wrong in the Afghan education system, as well as how it could, potentially, be put right.

 

Edited by Sari Kouvo and Thomas Ruttig

 

 

(1) The MEC is an independent agency created in 2010 set up following the London Conference commitments. It was established based on Presidential Decree 61/2010, which primarily regulated the establishment of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption, and, in Article 8, the establishment of a Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, “within the framework of this Office, consisting of the national and international experts on the field of fighting corruption.” The Committee, Article 8 stated, is “required to assist governmental organs in determining effective development benchmarks and, with the necessary monitoring and evaluations, provide six-month report to the president, national assembly, international community and the public regarding activities on fighting against corruption at the national level as well as on assistance of the international community and donors.”

On 18 September 2016, the Afghan president issued Presidential Decree No. 115/2016, which changed the legal status, duties, scope of activities and authorities of the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. A new presidential decree gave the MEC a truly independent status, with its own “limited tashkil (organizational structure and staffing).” It also stipulated in Article 3 that “all the government organizations and international institutions, while offering their full cooperation, are obliged to provide the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee with the statistics and information needed for the evaluation, and implement the recommendations of the Committee and regularly report the state of implementation of these recommendations to the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee.”

The MEC’s central structure – a committee – still includes both national and international experts, notably three national and three international commissioners. While national experts are directly appointed by the president, all international appointments are subject to presidential approval.

(2) The MEC carried out 542 interviews with five groups of people: ministry officials (109), provincial education officials (126); training colleges (76), teachers (93), parents and students (125), development partners and others (22). It also conducted 160 focus group discussions.

Categories: Defence`s Feeds

CIA-proxy militias, CIA-drones in Afghanistan: “Hunt and kill” déjà vu

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) - Thu, 26/10/2017 - 10:38

Reporting from the United States has said that the CIA is expanding its operations in Afghanistan, running Afghan militias to “hunt and kill” Taleban and “poised” to start flying armed drones. The CIA has run Afghan militias in the past; they were notorious for human rights abuses and for not being subject to the state justice system or Afghan government. Up till now, only the US military has flown drones offensively in Afghanistan. For Washington, the only ‘advantage’ the CIA might bring over the military would be secrecy and lack of accountability, says AAN’s Kate Clark, as she looks at what an expansion of CIA operations might mean for Afghanistan.

The New York Times has given a detailed, well-sourced – and rather gushing – account of the CIA’s planned expansion of its operations in Afghanistan. Deploying dehumanising language with apparent relish, the paper describes the CIA using Afghan militias to ‘hunt’ (the word is used five times in the piece) and kill Taleban. The newspaper reports CIA director Mike Pompeo as saying, “We can’t perform our mission if we’re not aggressive…This is unforgiving, relentless. You pick the word. Every minute, we have to be focused on crushing our enemies.” The paper details two tactics the CIA is keen to pursue:

  • Counterterrorism pursuit teams or CTPTs. The CIA is reported to be currently running these teams to “hunt and kill Taliban militants across the country” and “hunt[ing] Taleban bomb makers including using night raids.” The teams, the paper says, “are managed by CIA paramilitary officers from the agency’s Special Activities Division and operatives from the National Directorate of Security [NDS] and include elite American troops from the Joint Special Operations Command and contractors. The majority of the forces, however, are Afghan militiamen.”
  • Flying drones in offensive operations inside Afghanistan. Up till now, the CIA has only flown drones from Afghanistan across the border to strike targets in the Pakistani tribal areas. However, according to The New York Times, the CIA has been pushing for authorisation to fly drones inside Afghanistan and is now “poised” to do this.

The CIA’s use of militias

Afghan militias, operating outside an Afghan government chain of command, have been used by international forces, especially US Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the CIA since 2001. It has often been debatable who was running whom. Militias set up by or fighting alongside international forces (often called ‘campaign forces’) have frequently used their alliance to pursue personal or factional goals – including targeting rivals and carrying out crime – as well as often gaining a fierce reputation for fighting Taleban. (For more detail on militias, see here). Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPTs) were examples of this type of militia. The name was first used publicly by Bob Woodward in his 2010 book “Obama’s Wars”. He described them as:

… the CIA’s 3000-man covert army in Afghanistan. Called CTPT for Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, the army consisted mostly of Afghans, the cream of the crop in the CIA’s opinion. These pursuit teams were a paid, trained and functioning part of the CIA that was authorised by President Bush. The teams conducted operations designed to kill or capture Taleban insurgents, but also often went into [the Pakistani] tribal areas to pacify and win support.

According to Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press’ intelligence correspondent in 2010, “the 3,000-strong Afghan teams are used for surveillance and long-range reconnaissance missions and some have trained at CIA facilities in the United States.” They have also been involved in night raids and detentions. In 2009, Dozier said, they had been the subject of a turf war between US Special Operations Forces and CIA over who would control them; the CIA won. (Other US newspaper reports on the teams can be read here and here.)

The CTPTs tended to follow the pattern of being aggressive enemies of the Taleban and perpetrators of crimes and egregious human rights abuses against civilians and detainees. Their close working relationship with US forces meant they were able to operate with virtual impunity from the Afghan justice system, as can be seen by looking at some of the individual units.

Khost Protection Force

The Khost Protection Force, reportedly still active and still under CIA control, emerged out of a militia which was notionally the 25th Division in the Afghan Military Forces – the latter term was used to describe the various militia and factional forces from the Northern Alliance and those loyal to pro-US Pashtun commanders which came under Ministry of Defence control in 2001/02 and were funded by the US before the creation of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The 25th Division had a high proportion of former members of the PDPA army. It was spared Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) because of its good links to the US military.

Allegations against the Khost Protection Force are long-standing. These include extrajudicial killing, torture and beating of civilians, sometimes in the presence of US advisers (see here and here)and unlawful detentions. In 2014, UNAMA found that five detainees who had been arrested by the Khost Protection Force together with international military forces and detained at the US Camp Chapman base in Khost were subjected to ill-treatment by the force. In December 2015, US newspaper reporting alleged that six civilians had been killed during Khost Protection Force-led raids on homes in the province in the presence of American advisers and that the group was still unlawfully detaining and abusing detainees, UNAMA’s 2016 mid-year report cited particular concerns about the number of civilian casualties caused by the Khost Protection Force and called for its integration into regular ANSF chains of command and accountability.

Afghan Security Guards

This Counterterrorism Pursuit Team operated in Paktika province and was commanded by Commander Azizullah, an ethnic Tajik in an overwhelmingly Pashtun province. An investigation by reporter Jules Cavendish described the Afghan Security Guards as existing to “protect Firebase Lilley, a remote outpost in eastern Paktika province that doubles as a listening post for the CIA and a training hub for some of the agency’s 3,000 private troops (known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams).” The Afghan Security Guards’ main job though, he said, was “killing Taleban.” 

Cavendish and later Human Rights Watch, both with access to two internal United Nations reports, detailed at least nine well-documented and established incidents perpetrated by the Afghan Security Guards from 2008 to early 2010 including extrajudicial killing of civilians, possible examples of collective punishment or retaliatory killing, summary execution of detainees in custody, detaining young boys and reportedly sexually abusing them and frequent thefts and beatings during night raids. (1) No disciplinary or criminal measures were ever reported as having been taken against Azizullah or the forces under his command. Indeed, in 2011, the Afghan Security Guards was folded into the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and Azizullah was appointed chief of the provincial ALP. This means that his forces are probably largely intact and in situ.

Kandahar Strike Force (KSF) 

The KSF operated out of the old house in Kandahar of former Taleban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, re-named Camp Gecko. Its chain of command appeared to be an informal arrangement, by-passing the ministries of interior and defence, and answering to the US SOF and/or CIA, as well as to Ahmad Wali Karzai, the late brother of former president Karzai. Jules Cavendish, again at the forefront of investigations (see here and here), described how KSF recruits were cherry-picked from regular Afghan army units and trained by US SOF at Camp Gecko:

‘Foreign military advisers at the camp taught hand-to-hand combat and put new recruits through ambush training, as well as teaching them English, said [former leader Atal] Afghanzai. Everyone, he said, from the cook to the Special Forces advisers, was ‘working for OGA somehow’: an acronym standing for ‘other government agencies’ and generally used to refer to the CIA. ‘We had day raids, night raids. Any time we received intel from the NDS [Afghanistan’s security service] that there were 10, 20, 50 insurgents gathering in a house or a garden, we’d launch an op.’ 

The 400-strong group fought well, but according also to The Wall Street Journal and reports on the torture of security detainees by the Open Societies Foundation and Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and UNAMA, it was abusive. Allegations included extrajudicial killings, unlawful detentions and extreme beatings and brutality during night raids and severe beatings amounting to torture at Camp Gecko.

The group’s de facto impunity for alleged crime and abuses partly ended when forty KSF soldiers stormed Kandahar police station in 2009 and killed the provincial police chief, Matiullah Qahteh, apparently in revenge for a murdered KSF fighter. KSF leader, Atal Afghanzai and 38 others were convicted of this murder, a rare example, reported Cavendish, of “the Afghan judiciary coming down on a US bankrolled mercenary – and likely only happened because Afghanzai and his men killed a well-connected Afghan police commander in broad daylight.” There has been little reporting on the KSF since 2013 when public pressure, in particular the detention and abuse of a student, may have forced the group to disband.

The NDS 0-4 Team, Kunar

In 2013, there were two disastrous raids in the Shigal Valley in Kunar which brought to light the existence of the ‘0-4 unit’, a 1200-strong force that was nominally NDS. However, then Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizy told The Guardian the force was actually a CIA proxy: “Some of them are said to be working with the NDS, but they are not armed by the NDS, not paid by the NDS, and not sent to operations by the NDS. Sometimes they only inform the NDS minutes before the operation.” During two raids in Shigal on 7 February and 13 April 2013 when seven or eight CIA paramilitaries accompanied about 75 men from the unit, the CIA called in air strikes which killed nine and 17 civilians, respectively. There were indications that those on the ground knew when they requested the second strike that there were civilians in the house they were targeting, but called it in anyway (potentially in breach of the Laws of War); it followed the killing of a CIA agent by insurgents. (Read AAN analysis here).

In the wake of the strikes in Kunar, the National Security Council ordered the disbandment of all militias run by international forces. President Karzai had already banned such groups in February 2013. (2)

Militias currently operating

Earlier this year, AAN and GPPi wrote that, out of the various CTP teams, only the Khost Protection Force appeared still to be active – and to be still under CIA command and linked to Camp Chapman. The Afghan Security Guards in Paktika had been rolled into the ALP programme and the Kandahar Strike Force appeared to have been disbanded. Yet, the recent piece by The New York Times refers to the CTPTs in the present tense and says that, after the withdrawal of most international forces in 2014, they “continued to conduct missions in Afghan cities and in the surrounding countryside, and with greater autonomy.” Some more detail from the newspaper as to who they are referring to would be useful here. The Times says the units are “managed” by CIA and NDS operatives, but the experience of NDS 0-4 highlights the possibility that Afghan oversight can be in name only. It also said contractors are part of the teams.

Some digging has produced a few other possible examples of CTPTs currently operating. NDS 0-4, we were told, now consisting of 250 men trained by US Special Forces appears still to be active, and working with (for?) the CIA still, with a zone of responsibility extending into southern Nuristan. NDS’s 0-2 brigade in Nangrahar would be another possible unit worth looking into. In a recent incident, a night raid reportedly with international air support in Mohmand Dara district on a house occupied by people displaced by the conflict in Achin, ended with what relatives said were seven dead civilians. Voice of America journalist, Zabihullah Ghazi, named the 0-4 unit as involved, although the 0-2 unit would seem more likely given the location. Relatives and neighbours brought the dead bodies to Mohmand Dara district headquarters in protest and blocked the Jalalabad to Torkham highway on 24 October 2017.

Finally, it seems possible that some of Kandahar Provincial Police Chief Abdul Razeq’s forces in Kandahar are formally designated as CTPTs to allow for operations on the other side of the border. Razeq has been reported to run limited campaigns into Pakistan – mostly for assassinations.

The problems with militia forces

Militia forces have a long and troubled history in Afghanistan. Unless reigned in by tight command and control, they tend to be abusive. Militias that answer to foreign powers and lie outside Afghan state control have had a particularly poor record since 2001. Those giving the orders on the US side have tended to have very short-term, narrow goals. The definition of ‘security’ for local Afghans and the Afghan state, for example, is likely to be much broader than just killing Taleban and would include a desire not to be exposed to abusive militias or see state sovereignty eroded by them. The Karzai administration was mistrustful of such militias because they undermined state power, with some limited exceptions, such as the Kandahar Strike Force, which answered not only to the US SOF and CIA, but to the president’s brother, Ahmad Wali (himself named as a CIA proxy). For the US military or CIA, a militia’s raison d’être would be killing Taleban, while the abuse of civilians might be an unpleasant, but unavoidable side effect. This view was put into words by a Green Beret captain, known as Matt, speaking to Jules Cavendish in 2011 as he tried to justify why they worked with militias whose behaviour “insults Western sensibilities [sic].”

“There are no good guys by our standards. There is no standard to begin with. There is no justice system or rule of law to hold people accountable,” Matt says. “The Taliban are not horribly bad and the Afghan farmer is not an innocent victim.” 

In this moral twilight, refusing to work with paramilitaries accused of rights abuses accomplishes nothing, he argues. Instead, as relationships develop, so do the possibilities for altering the “moral calculus” of the Afghan fighters.   

“I don’t like this reality,” says Matt. “But I do not have the power to make Afghans conduct themselves like Americans in matters of politics and warfare. I can only influence it over time.” The alternative is to “go home now.”

Abuses can also, of course, drive rebellion. This was the conclusion of the leaked UNAMA report about Azizullah’s offenses against the population in Paktika. (3)

CIA drones and secrecy in conflict

The other obvious problem with the CIA running militias or flying drones is the secrecy the agency operates under. Different US legislation governs the CIA and the military. The CIA, as opposed to the military, has extensive license to run secret programmes and the government is legally restricted from providing information about them. Up till now, only the US military has flown drones in Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, the CIA is now about to start doing so. As AAN reported in 2016, this issue is not straightforward:

There have been reports of ‘turf fighting’ between the Pentagon and CIA over who should control the programme, but mainly reports of a high degree of operational cooperation, for example in kill/capture operations in Yemen, Iraq and cross-border strikes from Afghanistan into Pakistan, and of air force pilots flying drones on behalf of the CIA. Last year [2015], a general shift from the CIA to JSOC [the US military Joint Special Operations Forces Command] carrying out drone strikes was reported.

Robert Chesney of the US law and national security website, Lawfare, has said that “in terms of practicalities…the operations themselves may still be hybrid, involving both military and CIA surveillance and intelligence.” Who issues the final order may not be so important, he thinks.

However, there are concerns about the CIA’s lack of accountability and transparency in Afghanistan, at least (for discussion, see here and here and here). For Washington, the only benefit the CIA might have over the military in flying drones would be the extra secrecy. This was important, for example, in the drone strikes carried out in neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas; the CIA was chosen to fly drones from Afghanistan into Pakistan, it seems, because the agency’s secrecy allowed Islamabad to pretend that it was hostile to American attacks on its territory. However, the US is fighting a ‘declared war’ in Afghanistan (in US terms, it is an “area of active hostilities”) which means, for example, that air sorties and munitions dropped are reported.

The US military has certainly become less transparent about its operations in Afghanistan since pre-2014, but it is still far more accountable to Afghan policy makers, MPs and official watchdogs than the CIA, and the media and NGOs can, at least, contact it. Moreover, it is the CIA’s secrecy, whether it comes to authorising drone strikes or running proxy militias, that makes it dangerous.

We do not know whether agency operatives get training in the Laws of Armed Conflict – unlike the military which publishes its training and legal manuals – or whether agents are disciplined for breaching them. We do not know what the CIA tells its proxies they can or cannot do. Unlike the foreign military and Afghan intelligence, police, army and detention centres, as far as we know, the CIA does not open its doors to the official watchdogs, such as UNAMA’s human rights team, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the AIHRC. Nor does it engage in dialogue on issues such as whether it adheres to the Geneva Conventions when it conducts hostilities. An official from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) told AAN, it does not and cannot scrutinise US funding of the NDS because the funding comes from the CIA. The only monitoring of the agency is in the United States and is domestic, through the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

Philip Alston, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, writing in 2011 about the CIA’s use of lethal force when carrying out targeted killings by drone or in ‘kill/capture’ missions, has said the agency is effectively unaccountable:

Assertions by Obama administration officials, as well as by many scholars, that these operations comply with international standards are undermined by the total absence of any forms of credible transparency or verifiable accountability. The CIA’s internal control mechanisms, including its Inspector-General, have had no discernible impact; executive control mechanisms have either not been activated at all or have ignored the issue; congressional oversight has given a ‘free pass’ to the CIA in this area; judicial review has been effectively precluded; and external oversight has been reduced to media coverage which is all too often dependent on information leaked by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no meaningful domestic accountability for a burgeoning program of international killing.

The CIA’s secrecy and lack of accountability makes abuses and breaches of the Laws of War more likely to happen. At the same time, the lack of accountability means the United States, in Alston’s words, “cannot possibly satisfy its obligations under international law to ensure accountability for its use of lethal force, either under [International Human Rights Law] or [International Humanitarian Law – the Laws of War].” Significant also is that, looking at the CIA’s record over many decades of operating in Afghanistan, it has shown itself to be consistently short-termist and ready to accept or even embrace abuse for the ‘greater good’. (4)

The CIA’s role in the context of Washington’s military strategy

The New York Times reported Pompeo saying that President Trump had “authorized the agency to ‘take risks’ in its efforts to combat insurgents ‘as long as they made sense,’ with an overall goal ‘to make the C.I.A. faster and more aggressive.’” The belligerent posturing of the CIA director appears to be part of a wider US narrative, with the tone set by Trump when he announced his Afghan military strategy on 21 August 2017 as “killing terrorists… not nation-building [sic].” General John Nicholson, commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, has since promised that “a tidal wave of air power is on the horizon” and “this is the beginning of the end for the Taliban.” (5) For all the bold words of the US, though, even Trump does not claim that ‘victory’ involves defeating the Taleban:

“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.” (emphasis added)

Trump acknowledged that “Military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan or stop the terrorist threat arising in that country” and that, “strategically applied force aims to create the conditions for a political process to achieve a lasting peace.” The New York Times also reported in its piece on CIA militias that there is a “tacit acknowledgment that to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table — a key component of Mr. Trump’s strategy for the country — the United States will need to aggressively fight the insurgents.”

Afghanistan has been here before. During the surge (2009-12) when President Obama raised US troop levels to more than 100,000, the US military believed it could solve the country’s insurgency by killing Taleban. A great deal of energy, creativity, thought, money and lives went into that fighting. Efforts to find a negotiated end to the conflict were, by contrast, meagre, despite then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton casting US strategy as “fight, talk, build” (in 2009, she had accepted that some Taleban could be talked to. In 2011, security correspondent for The Wire, Spencer Ackerman reported, “Obama’s generals promised that it would whup the Taliban into suing for peace,” but all the surge did was “rescue Afghanistan from the brink of total failure.”

Since then, the Taleban adapted and, in the lead up to the withdrawal of most international forces, themselves ‘surged’ and have steadily taken territory and threatened population centres since then, taking (and losing) Kunduz city in 2015 and 2016 and almost taking Lashkargah in Helmand, Tirin Kot in Uruzgan and Farah city in 2016. The US in support of the ANSF may be able to push the Taleban back again (see analysis here), but virtually no-one expects a military victory by either side. Despite that, as of yet, there has still been no significant attempt to, as Trump put it, begin a “political process to achieve a lasting peace.” Rather, as the American intervention in Afghanistan enters its seventeenth year, the CIA like the US military is, as reported by The New York Times, preparing to intensify its efforts:

One senior American official acknowledged that the scope of the new directive would require more manpower, and that it would take time to build up the number of officers and teams to carry out those missions in Afghanistan. But the official insisted that the agency was committed to using its new authority to ramp up its strikes in parallel with increased military air and ground operations.

This reader is left with a strong sense of déjà vu, not just with America’s strategy and rhetoric, but with the prospect of the CIA once again trying out the failed tactics of the past.

 

 

(1) The leaked UNAMA southeast region report, as reported by Human Rights Watch, included to particularly horrific accounts of extrajudicial killings, one clearly against civilians and the other appearing to be a form of retaliatory or collective punishment. Nine civilians, including three children (six to ten years old) were reportedly killed in early 2009 in Barmal district. Then, later that year, in September/October 2009, UNAMA documented a retaliatory raid, led by Azizullah, against a village in Barmal where there was a clash between the Afghan Security Guards and insurgents. During the raid, forces shot and killed three men working in nearby farm areas (for no apparent reason) and “then strapped [the] bodies [of the three men] to the hood of vehicles and drove through Margha Mandi bazaar, announcing that they were terrorists. The bodies were kept for eight days until they started to decompose, at which point they were returned to their families.”

(2) Later in 2013, there was a new scandal when it was revealed that 17 detainees had been killed, possibly after torture, between 2012 and 2013 in Nerkh in Wardak province (see reports (here and here). The perpetrators were either militiamen affiliated with or direct auxiliaries of US Special Operations Forces, or members of the SOF themselves (see also AAN analysis). One translator was charged and sentenced. After repeated denials of wrong-doing, on 17 July 2013, the US military said it was launching a criminal investigation after the UN and ICRC had supplied it with fresh evidence. It has yet to release its findings.

(3) Human Rights Watch quoted the 2010 report as saying:

 We see significant indications that the unintended consequences of employing someone like Commander Azizullah may be the growing hostility of large parts of the population due to his behavior towards the local people both on and off duty.

(4) As AAN wrote in 2013:

From its inception, the agency has never been solely, or even mainly, an intelligence gathering body. Rather it has focussed resources and personnel on running covert operations, often of a military nature. In Afghanistan, its record is long and dubious, going back to its funding of the 1980s jihad through the ‘deniable’ conduit of the Pakistani Islamist military dictator General Zia ul-Haq and the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. By subcontracting its support for the Afghan anti-Soviet resistance, the CIA gave Pakistan a free hand to favour and build up Islamist forces and marginalise non-Islamist forces. Zia was also able to cream off funds: CIA dollars helped pay for the immeasurable strengthening of the ISI, the forced lurch of the army to the jihadist right and a huge Islamist madrassa building programme.

In the CIA’s second bite at the Afghan cherry, after the 9/11 attacks, it was given new orders by President George W Bush in a top secret directive issued on 17 September 2011, in the words of Tim Weiner, ‘to hunt, capture, imprison and interrogate suspects around the world… set[ting] no limits on what the agency could do.’ The CIA would go on to arm proxy forces in Afghanistan. These, incidentally, were always either treated as if they did not exist by the various disarmament programmes of DDR and DIAG, or were units of the old army such as in Khost which were officially disarmed, but kept on as Campaign Forces. The CIA also set up a global detention and rendition programme in which torture and associated abuses were perpetrated, with Afghanistan acting as one of the hubs (for details see this report).  

For more details about the impact of CIA detentions and torture on Afghans and Afghanistan, including how the abuse helped fuel the Taleban insurgency, see here.

(5) Trump has lifted some restrictions on the US military on the ground and in the air, with one result being a sharp rise in air strikes, following earlier steady increases, as targeting conditions were loosened. Civilian casualties have also risen. See details and AAN analysis here.

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Achleitner Carrier

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Austrian Achleitner Carrier Light Utility Vehicle
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Afghanistan to receive six more Super Tucanos

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Jane's Defense News - Wed, 25/10/2017 - 04:00
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Low serviceability leads to Bulgarian pilots refusing to fly MiG-29s

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Jane's Defense News - Wed, 25/10/2017 - 04:00
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UK re-approves ‘new munitions capability’ for Saudi Arabia

Jane's Defense News - Wed, 25/10/2017 - 04:00
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Defence companies refuse to co-operate with UK over charging watchdog

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F-35 increasingly driving Lockheed profitability

Jane's Defense News - Wed, 25/10/2017 - 03:00
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QinetiQ inducts Firejet target to CATS service

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