Greg Mortenson teaching Army new tactics of winning hearts and minds as both lose on the ground
Female power takes over US Army policy in history’s biggest quicksand, but can it overcome male doubledealing in millions to trillions of dollars?
If Army wives can redirect a juggernaut, why can’t Michele?
UPDATE: Wikileaks sends heat missile into US policymaking
The NYTimes sees fit today (Jul 18 Sun) to carry on the top left front page of its presumably well read Sunday edition a story by Elizabeth Bumiller on an Unlikely Tutor Giving Military Afghan Advice.
Turns out the tutor is Greg Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea”, and builder of more than 130 mostly girl schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the US Army under McChrystal has been paying a lot of attention to his ideas for the past year. The story gives the impression that “Three Cups of Tea” is now the unofficial army manual on how to achieve victory in Afghanistan ie how to leave it to the Afghanis without the Taliban taking over again. Mortenson’s answer, as we noted in an earlier post, is to educate the better half of Afghanistan, its women. And who is the group behind this sudden enlightenment after eight years of floundering in a military quicksand which has swallowed every other conqueror in history? Army wives:
“We will move through this and if I’m not involved in the years ahead, will take tremendous comfort in knowing people like you are helping Afghans build a future,” General McChrystal wrote to Mr. Mortenson in an e-mail message, as he traveled from Kabul to Washington. The note landed in Mr. Mortenson’s inbox shortly after 1 a.m. Eastern time on June 23. Nine hours later, the general walked into the Oval Office to be fired by President Obama.
The e-mail message was in response to a note of support from Mr. Mortenson. It reflected his broad and deepening relationship with the United States military, whose leaders have increasingly turned to Mr. Mortenson, once a shaggy mountaineer, to help translate the theory of counterinsurgency into tribal realities on the ground.
In the past year, Mr. Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute, responsible for the construction of more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly for girls, have set up some three dozen meetings between General McChrystal or his senior staff members and village elders across Afghanistan.
The collaboration, which grew in part out of the popularity of “Three Cups of Tea” among military wives who told their husbands to read it, extends to the office of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Last summer, Admiral Mullen attended the opening of one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Pushghar, a remote village in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.
Mr. Mortenson — who for a time lived out of his car in Berkeley, Calif. — has also spoken at dozens of military bases, seen his book go on required reading lists for senior American military commanders and had lunch with Gen. David H. Petraeus, General McChrystal’s replacement. On Friday he was in Tampa to meet with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command.
Mr. Mortenson, 52, thinks there is no military solution in Afghanistan — he says the education of girls is the real long-term fix — so he has been startled by the Defense Department’s embrace.
“I never, ever expected it,” Mr. Mortenson, a former Army medic, said in a telephone interview last week from Florida, where he had paused between military briefings, book talks for a sequel, “Stones into Schools,” and fund-raising appearances for his institute.
Mr. Mortenson, who said he had accepted no money from the military and had no contractual relationship with the Defense Department, was initially critical of the armed forces in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as “laptop warriors” who appeared, he said, indifferent to the civilian casualties inflicted by the American bombardment of Afghanistan.
In its early days “Three Cups of Tea,” the story of Mr. Mortenson’s efforts to build schools in Pakistan, was largely ignored by the military, and for that matter by most everyone else. Written with a journalist, David Oliver Relin, and published in hardcover by Viking in March 2006, the book had only modest sales. Most major newspapers, including this one, did not review it.
But the book’s message of the importance of girls’ education caught on when women’s book clubs, church groups and high schools began snapping up the less expensive paperback published in January 2007.
Sales to date are at four million copies in 41 countries, and the book’s yarn is well known: disoriented after a 1993 failed attempt on Pakistan’s K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, Mr. Mortenson took a wrong turn into the village of Korphe, was nursed back to health by the villagers and, in gratitude, vowed to build them a school.
He returned to Pakistan a year later with a $12,000 donation from a Silicon Valley benefactor and spent most of it on school construction materials in the city of Rawalpindi — only to be told he could not get his cargo to Korphe without first building a bridge.
The story of that bridge, Mr. Mortenson’s relationships with Pakistanis, and the schools that followed appealed so much to one military spouse that in the fall of 2007 she sent the book to her husband, Christopher D. Kolenda, at that time a lieutenant colonel commanding 700 American soldiers on the Pakistan border.
Colonel Kolenda knew well the instructions about building relationships with elders that were in the Army and Marine Corps’ new counterinsurgency manual, which had been released in late 2006. But “Three Cups of Tea” brought the lessons to life.
“It was practical, and it told real stories of real people,” said Colonel Kolenda, now a top adviser at the Kabul headquarters for the International Security Assistance Force, in an interview at the Pentagon last week.
Colonel Kolenda was among the first in the military to reach out to Mr. Mortenson, and by June 2008 the Central Asia Institute had built a school near Colonel Kolenda’s base. By the summer of 2009, Mr. Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with Colonel Kolenda, village elders and at times President Obama’s new commander, General McChrystal. (By then at least two more military wives — Deborah Mullen and Holly Petraeus — had told their husbands to read “Three Cups of Tea.”)
As Colonel Kolenda tells it, Mr. Mortenson and his Afghan partner on the ground, Wakil Karimi, were the American high command’s primary conduits for reaching out to elders outside the “Kabul bubble.”
As Mr. Mortenson tells it, the Afghan elders were often blunt with General McChrystal, as in a meeting last October when one of them said that he had traveled all the way from his province because he needed weapons, not conversation.
“He said, ‘Are you going to give them to me or am I going to sit here and listen to you talk?’ ” Mr. Mortenson recalled. The high command replied, Mr. Mortenson said, that they were making an assessment of what he needed. “And he said, ‘Well, you’ve already been here eight years, ” Mr. Mortenson recalled.
Despite the rough edges, Colonel Kolenda said the meetings helped the American high command settle on central parts of its strategy — the imperative to avoid civilian casualties, in particular, which the elders consistently and angrily denounced during the sessions — and also smoothed relations between the elders and commanders.
For Mr. Mortenson’s part, his growing relationship with the military convinced him that it had learned the importance of understanding Afghan culture and of developing ties with elders across the country, and was willing to admit past mistakes.
At the end of this month, Mr. Mortenson, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., with his wife, Tara Bishop, and two children, is going back for the rest of the summer to Afghanistan, where to maintain credibility he now has to make it clear to Afghans and a number of aid organizations that he has no formal connection to the American military.
Mr. Mortenson acknowledges that his solution in Afghanistan, girls’ education, will take a generation and more. “But Al Qaeda and the Taliban are looking at it long range over generations,” he said. “And we’re looking at it in terms of annual fiscal cycles and presidential elections.”
To turn the US Army in a new direction after eight years is quite a feat, and here we learn it was achieved by the wives atop the Army power structure ie the spouses of Christopher D. Kolenda, then commanding 700 American soldiers on the Pakistan border, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and General David H. Petraeus, now the Army commander in Afghanistan. Note that the actual first names of only the last two, Deborah and Holly, are mentioned by the Times female reporter, which seems odd.
Why doesn’t Mrs Kolenda deserve respect as the initiator of a vast expansion of US Army objectives in Afghanistan? Colonel Kolenda certainly took her point, judging from his piece in the Weekly Standard in October, 2008, How to Win in Afghanistan:It’s time to adjust the strategy.. At least, he included a reference to “Local governments desperately need to draw on the expertise of civilian partners from the international community to develop durable systems relevant to everyday life” amid his hard nosed assessment of spoiler factors in “winning” in Afghanistan including a dysfunctional timber trade and tax system.
The $200 billion pork barrel
How to win the war in Afghanistan is none of the business of this blog, of course, though we celebrate any advance in releasing the energies of the better half of the population of the world, which Greg Mortenson’s school building is part of.
But the influence of money on the behavior of large systems is our business, in that the influx of money into science from the post World War II federal funding of scientific research to the Wall Street exploitation of breakthroughs in biotechnology and medicine seem to us to account for much of the misbehavior we witness today in scientific leadership, since funding has become the first order of business in almost every field.
How does Afghanistan look from this point of view? A lost cause, we would say, unless things change. According to David Samuels in Harpers August issue, Barack and Hamid’s Excellent Adventure: Afghanistan’s president visits the White House , gigantic sums are being pocketed and dispensed as the powers involved cooperate in a clandestine game that has little to do with the headline stories we read in New York:
“Is your brother a CIA agent?”
The question refers to Hamid Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is regularly portrayed in the American press as a corrupt drug lord who charges huge fees for allowing trucks full of opium to cross the bridges over the Helmand River to Kandahar. Last fall, President Obama duly warned that he expected Karzai to establish tough new anti-corruption laws and remove his brother from the government of a country into which the United States would soon be sending 30,000 additional troops. Never mind that Afghanistan produces an estimated 90 percent of the world’s supply of opium; and that the Taliban pays Wali Karzai to ship opium through the territories he governs; and that the U.S. Army, under the ill-fated General Stanley McChrystal, relies on Wali Karzai for logistical support and subcontracts special tasks, which include killing people, to gunmen under his direct control; and that as a courtesy we no longer destroy the poppy crop; and that Wali Karzai happens to be the CIA’s landlord in Kandahar, renting them Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s old villa. After a few months of back-and-forth, the message got through, and on March 30 the New York Times reported that “Afghan and American officials have decided that the president’s brother will be allowed to stay in place,” quoting a senior NATO official as saying that Wali Karzai could be a big help to the ongoing American reconstruction effort. “One thing, he is a successful businessman,” the official said. “He can create jobs.”….
…an interview with former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, an arrogant creep who was forced out of his job as deputy U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and chose to express his unvarnished opinion of Karzai. “He can be very emotional, act impulsively,” said Galbraith, who repeated the word “emotional” three times in the course of the interview. In case viewers didn’t get the gossip-page code, Galbraith explained that “some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports,” leading a reporter to ask State Department spokesman Philip Crowley the next morning whether the United States had any reason to believe that Karzai was “like, hiding out in the basement of the palace doing bong hits, or something worse.” …
Eikenberry, a tall man in a good suit who used to be a lieutenant general, was opposed to the surge, because the Afghan government—whose ministers he knows better than any other American in the room does—was corrupt and unable to run the country effectively. Having spent more than twenty hours on a plane with Karzai and his ministers circumnavigating clouds of volcanic ash, Eikenberry is now even better equipped to evaluate the men in whose pockets much of America’s $276-billion investment in Afghanistan now resides. Appearing at a news conference in the White House briefing room on Monday, Eikenberry was asked whether his opinion of Karzai had changed. “President Karzai is the—he’s the elected president of Afghanistan,” Eikenberry said, falling back on the military man’s necessary obeisance to the idiocy of legal authority….
The fact that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate has been supplying the Taliban and even helping to plan attacks on Afghan and American forces is another inconvenient fact of the war that the leader of the free world would prefer not to deal with….
Yet there can be little doubt that a major source of money for the insurgency comes from payments made by elected Afghan officials and Wardak’s army, meaning that America is funding both sides in what is very clearly an Afghan civil war.
Cont. (much more)
A case in point is a recent scandal involving the defense minister’s own son, Hamed Wardak, a Rhodes scholar and class valedictorian at Georgetown University; his transportation company, NCL Holdings, won a $360-million Pentagon contract despite the fact that it wasn’t registered with the Afghan government and didn’t own any trucks. “Those accusations are without merit,” the defense minister responds, adding, correctly, that his son’s company has received the highest possible marks from the Pentagon.
I ask the minister about whether, in general terms, the logistics systems shared by the U.S. Army and the ANA might be susceptible to some form of graft. I note that Watan Risk Management and Compass Security, the two major companies that escort supply convoys across the country, are known to pay large bribes to the Taliban and even to stage attacks on convoys in order to raise their rates. Although the fee varies according to the number of trucks and what they are carrying, the average bribe required not to get shot at is reportedly somewhere around $800 per truck. Both companies are owned by relatives of President Karzai. A report published last year by the Center on International Cooperation at New York University estimated that the United States and its allies spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on payments to private security and trucking companies.
“We have a very good logistics system,” Wardak answers. “It works exceptionally well. There is proper institutional control. Accusations to the contrary are without any merit.”
To make him feel better, I ask whether girls’ schools are still being burned down in Afghanistan. “That does happen very regularly,” he assures me. Over the past year, he says, there have been approximately 600 attacks on schools that have resulted in the partial or complete destruction of their facilities.
The interior minister, Haneef Atmar, a tall, ascetic-looking man who walks with a cane and is known as one of the few competent ministers in Karzai’s cabinet, tells me that although corruption is indeed a problem, he has instituted a “zero-tolerance” policy for payments from contractors to the Taliban. He gives me his email address so we can talk further and then introduces me to a no-nonsense-looking military type named Kevin. “Kevin is my adviser,” he says. It turns out that every member of the Afghan cabinet has a minder who “controls” that minister, a locution that the minders not only do not avoid but in fact seem eager to stress, as in, “I control the minister of mines.” I ask Atmar when this meeting was planned, and he tells me, “About three weeks ago,” confirming my impression that this visit was more or less arranged on the fly, after someone in the administration determined that Karzai had outfoxed them. As it turns out, Atmar’s announcement of a zero-tolerance policy on payments to the Taliban is premature: he will be unceremoniously fired by President Karzai shortly after the cabinet returns to Kabul.
The State Department desk man for Afghanistan informs me that if I want a meeting with the minister of mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, he will be appearing later at the Chamber of Commerce. Huge deposits of minerals including iron, copper, and lithium have been found in Afghanistan over the past few years. Last year, a contract for the Aynak copper deposit, thought to be worth some $88 billion, was awarded to a Chinese company in exchange for what American intelligence officials told the Washington Post was a $30-million bribe paid to Shahrani’s predecessor, Mohammed Ibrahim Adel, who was reported to be a close friend of Mohammed Karzai, one of the president’s brothers.
The problem with building anything in Afghanistan, the men tell me, is ensuring a consistent supply of fuel. There’s an eleven-inch pipeline that the Red Army built, and everything else needs to be trucked in, which means payoffs to the security companies and the local police, who are worse than the Taliban. I talk to a young American-born Afghan who grew up in Virginia and is now working in Afghanistan for an organization called SEIF, which was set up by CARE with funding from USAID. His job is to help small and mid-level entrepreneurs build packing plants in the countryside for dried fruit and nuts. I ask him how he thinks the war is going. “People in the rural areas are not happy with the last five or six years,” he explains. “They see billions of dollars being pledged for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. They don’t understand why they don’t see any of that money, why they don’t have roads, they don’t have schools, why they are still living in a mud hut.”…
I ask Ambassador Wayne how it is possible for the Chinese to pick up an $88-billion copper mine in the middle of a country in which America has spent more than $200 billion to no apparent purpose. “First is that the package that was put together was very massive,” he says, arching his eyebrows again. “Speaking frankly, there are all sorts of rumors about what else was happening.”
After the meeting, I ride with Minister Shahrani to the Willard Hotel, where we sit on pale yellow chintz-covered armchairs in a far corner of the lobby. In addition to the copper mine, he says, Afghanistan has the largest undeveloped iron-ore deposit in the world, for which bidding will soon ensue. “Everything will be done in the most transparent way possible,” he assures me. “We’re not Nigeria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
I try to imagine how that conversation goes. “So, you have already stolen billions of dollars, and you’ve deposited it in Geneva,” I say out loud, playing the role of Shahrani. “Be content with what you’ve stolen already. Please don’t steal more or the international community will be mad at us.” Shahrani smiles. The State Department minder—who has been sitting three feet away while pretending not to listen to us—looks up, but the minister waves him off. “No, let him ask questions,” he says. “All contracts will be made perfectly transparent,” he repeats, before launching into a long disquisition on the procedures and the road show for the iron-ore contracts, which will happen sometime this fall. The total worth of the additional unexploited mineral resources in Afghanistan may be between $1 trillion and $5 trillion. Whatever the real number is, it will provide plenty of incentive to keep fighting.
Ann Gearan of the AP, who has covered the State Department for years in the old-fashioned way, stands up to ask the Afghan president a final question. Is it really appropriate for the United States to be launching a major operation in Kandahar when the president is unable to remove his brother from office? Karzai nods politely. “Fortunately, officials who are elected by the people cannot be removed by the president,” he explains. The issues raised by the American press have now been understood better, he concludes, before stating firmly, “the issue is resolved.” Hillary Clinton turns her face toward the bright, shining lights. “I have nothing to add,” she says. The vision is real and ineluctable. America will win the hearts of the Afghan people by defeating the Taliban and educating women to go to the moon, and our president will be reelected at a cost of $6 billion per month and tens of thousands more lives, Afghan and American.
Sobering stuff. Also, somewhat disillusioning to all those that wish Greg Mortenson and his girls schools well.
After all, he built no fewer than 130 schools over several years in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the Taliban and other fighters have burnt down or crippled 600 in Afghanistan in the past year alone, so it would seem that the imagined transformation of Afghan society in support of the US Army might take a great deal longer than even a generation. Are the US Army prepared to stay the course? one might ask Colonel Kalenda.
Barack’s bedtime reading
So while we originally read the Times story as a heartening indication that perhaps our advice to the HIV/AIDS mythbusters to get to Michele somehow and let her insist that President Obama adjust US policy on AIDS in the right direction was not too wacky, we now realize that it may more difficult than it seems to actually change policy whatever success Michele has in getting Barack to make Peter Duesberg’s “Inventing the AIDS Virus” his bedtime reading.
After all, the amount invested so far in the totally spurious idea that HIV causes AIDS, a idea that is so scientifically silly it should be quickly rejected by any 14 year old who reads up on the topic, is calculated by some to exceed $400 billion, though the usual figure claimed in Vienna is half that.
WikiLeaks shoots heat seeking missile into Pentagon
Today (Jul 26 Mon) the Wikileaks release of 92,000 Army records, more than 200,000 pages of detailed description of battle events from January 2004 through December 2009, delivered a body blow to current Afghanistan war policy possibly equivalent to the Pentagon papers undermining of Vietnam, though the documents are not as secret. The texts make clear that the war has not been going even as well as claimed by the White House, and why after $300 billion spent by the US the Taliban are stronger than ever.
They confirm the corruption and incompetence of the Afghan government, its army and its police, probable Pakistani ISI (Interservices Intelligence) support for the Taliban, at least until recently, that insurgents of all kinds have continually multiplied beyond official estimates and are now apparently using heat seeking missiles (Manpads, not Stingers) successfully against US helicopters, as they did against the Soviets, police cruelty to civilians sometimes as sadistic as the Taliban, and Army disregard of the lives of civilians who may be in a target zone without any hope of fleeing.
At the time of writing the Pentagon is fuming that this must have been the work of Bradley Manning, the 22 year old intelligence analyst they have in custody for releasing the video of the helicopter attack in which the Reuters correspondent got shot (see previous post, Bullets vs books: Greg Mortenson and the un-infowars), but Wikipedia isn’t saying, of course.
The fundamental lesson for science here may be that what is needed for systematic scientific outrages such as the maintenance of the HIV/AIDS paradigm two decades after its expert debunking in top journals is a whistle blower who can expose internal memos and other correspondence which can give the game away to the public.
Unfortunately the only instance we know of where such a text was exposed was the incriminating memo written by some functionary at HHS asking why Peter Duesberg’s Cancer Research article in 1987, the one which first shot down the prima facie absurd HIV=AIDS claim, was not headed off at the pass ie not stopped before publication by intervention from the NIH or its agents.
Shortly after the Cancer Research paper appeared, a memo was sent from the office of the secretary of Health and Human Services, (HHS) with the words “MEDIA ALERT” that castigated the NIH for allowing the paper to have been published in the first place. “The article apparently went through the normal pre-publication process and should have been flagged at NIH,” it read. “This obviously has the potential to raise a lot of controversy…. I have already asked NIH public affairs to start digging into this.” The memo listed the few media outlets that had covered Duesberg’s review – primarily the New York Native, a gay weekly that has since gone out of business – and cited a few journalists by name it promised to check up on.
The notion that the NIH expects to vet every scientific paper in every cancer journal is surprising to people who think of science in the old fashioned, soft-fuzzy way. But to anybody who knows the system it is no surprise at all. The NIH exerts a militaristic control over the ideas that emanate from US government science, and the control extends to the media, who are rewarded and punished in accordance with their suspension of curiosity.
The NIH and all its branches are not only part of the “government,” they are part of the US military. Public Health has its roots in the military; the NIH began during World War I as an organization that solely focused on the health of soldiers. This remained its core mandate through World War II, after which it expanded to a more sweeping public health institution. Still, top NIH scientists hold military rank – the only openly stated one being the Surgeon General.
The NIH, UC Berkeley, the respectable science press, and needless to say the world’s many thousands of AIDS organizations choked on Duesberg like a bone lodged sideways in its throat. Ironically though, his achievements and reputation had lodged him deep in the system and it would take a while for them to expel him. (Celia Farber, The Passion of Peter Duesberg, at AIDS Wiki.)
Despite the fact that this notorious page has been displayed or at least quoted on the Web for years it seems to have made no difference at all to the success of HIV propagandists in selling the world on their lucrative idea, and that any challenge to it must be “dangerous” to the welfare of the public.
What is needed is 90,000 pages of such admissions but Alas there seems no chance of that. Although perhaps we should get in touch with Julian, just in case. He is reportedly miffed, however, that the copter killing video didn’t enough of a dent in the politics of Afghanistan’s civil war – for that is what it is now exposed to be – and that is why he released the current material, which is only part of the total, he states.
Meanwhile BradAss87 faces 52 years in prison.
From Huffington Post:
Jon Stewart Mocks Media for Wikileaks Reaction (Video) Watch for the final shot of Afghan soldiers smoking hits of opium before going on patrol with American soldiers one of whom complains it is impossible to get them to stop giggling.
From the Guardian:
Biting column by Simon Jenkins, A history of folly, from the Trojan horse to Afghanistan – By recording failure in meticulous detail, the leaked war logs bear devastating witness to our incompetence