The Best Defense

Corruption in Afghanistan: An introduction to one fine mess

By Gary Anderson

Best Defense office of foreign ethics

In 2004-5, I did a study on the future of the Taliban for Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, who was then the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan. After the 2001 U.S.-led intervention, the Taliban had appeared on the run, but three years later, they were making a comeback. What I found in the study was that the Karzai government was the chief enabler of the resurgent Taliban movement. Afghan governmental corruption and incompetence was making the Taliban look good in comparison, despite years of misrule when that organization was in power. As a commander, and later as the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry angered Afghan President Karzai by urging reform, and ultimately failed in his attempts to get Karzai to clean up his government in a meaningful way. Today, the Taliban are back in spades. This has damaged every aspect of the U.S. war effort because it affects security, governance, rule of law, and development. These are the pillars of coalition strategy in that unhappy country.

Corruption is exacerbated by the highly centralized Afghan form of government. All provincial (state) and district (county) officials are appointed by the central government in Kabul. On paper, there is nothing wrong with centralization. Many highly-developed democracies such as Japan have basically the same system. It even semi-works in Iraq. Those countries have good transportation and reliable communication systems. This allows the central government to control things that go on in governance in the provinces. None of that is true in Afghanistan. Consequently, it is nearly impossible for the Kabul government to closely monitor the performance of governance and development in the provinces, much less remove incompetent or corrupt officials.

The most pernicious corruption in our province was caused by the provincial commander of the Afghanistan National Police, the provincial prosecutor, and the director of public health. The head cop was a competent administrator, and kept the provincial capital relatively secure; however, he did so by hoarding personnel and resources badly needed by the outlying districts that he was supposed to be supervising. Outside the provincial capital, he was making a handy side-living running a protection racket for drug dealers and smugglers. Some of his handpicked appointees in my district were running extortion and burglary rings.

The prosecutor was making his money by encouraging defense lawyers from all over Afghanistan to send their wealthy clients to our province where he could guarantee light sentences or mere fines for serious offenses. The director of public health for the province, one Dr. Tariq, is a real piece of work. Over three years, he managed to misspend or divert $9 million dollars of World Bank funding, the vast majority of which was U.S.-provided.

While working at the district level, I had success in purging the worst of the bad cops in mid-level leadership positions by threatening to invite Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post to report on police corruption. This did cause the chief to replace to purge eight of them. It was a small start, but a start.

Once I got to the provincial capital as the governance advisor for the entire province, we caught a few breaks; they were caused, not by blatant corruption, but by gender issues. What finally did in the police chief was his reported rape of three female officers who had the gall to file complaints. Although they were eventually forced to retract their charges, a national uproar ensued, and the Afghan national government was embarrassed enough to reassign the top cop. However, to the best of my knowledge, he has not been held accountable for the rest of the corruption he fostered.

The prosecutor became a target because there was national level focus on the fact that many of his client protection scams were related to so-called "honor killings." In these crimes, husbands or other relatives kill a woman or girl for embarrassing the family by such heinous crimes as demanding a divorce or working outside of the house. The scrutiny was encouraged by us, and allowed our local national security directorate commander to organize a sting operation that finally jailed him. However, before he could go to trial, the former prosecutor used his connections to get permission to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj religious pilgrimage. To the best of my knowledge, he is still on the loose.

Despite our compiling a package on Dr. Tariq and sending it to Kabul, he is still on the job. One of the most appalling charges is that at least 11 women died in childbirth for lack of midwives that World Bank funding had provided for the hiring of such medical personnel in the last year alone.

Almost everyone in the province knew that all three of these characters were bad actors, but no one could do anything about it because they were hired and paid by Kabul. It took outside action by foreigners and the public glare of the media to do what little that we could. Until the Afghan government allows some form of local public review of provincial and district officials, the government of Afghanistan will be its own worst enemy.

Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was a district governance advisor in Afghanistan's Badghis Province. With transition of the district to Afghan security control, he became the provincial governance and rule of law advisor.


The Best Defense

It's time to cut off aid to both Palestine and Israel and act in our own interests

By Major Chris Heatherly

Best Defense guest columnist

"...and she loved a boy very, very much -- even more than she loved herself." -- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Many Americans read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein while growing up. Summarized, the story is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree whose self-sacrifice to please the boy is a recurrent theme. By book's end, the tree is reduced to little more than a lonely stump with nothing left to give. Although The Giving Tree is nearly 50 years old, the book's warning on the dangers of self-sacrifice are particularly apt when describing the current state of U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the United States does not address the manner and tone of this relationship to determine our irreducible interests, it risks sacrificing international influence and our own national priorities.

Fact: The United States provided nearly $3.1 billion to Israel in 2012.

Fact: The United States has provided $115 billion to Israel since its foundation in 1949.

Fact: The United States has provided over $4 billion to the Palestinians since they began limited self-governance in the 1990s.

Question: What, if anything, has this goodwill bought the United States and how have our own interests been furthered?

Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 U.S. sailors. Israel has conducted numerous espionage operations against the United States, gravely damaging U.S. national security. Amongst the known spying incidents, the case of Jonathan Pollard is particularly egregious. A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed tens of thousands of highly classified documents to Israel before his capture in 1985. Pollard received a life sentence for espionage in 1987. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger considered Pollard's actions so damaging that "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel." Since his conviction, Israel's government admitted to running Pollard as an agent, granted him Israeli citizenship, and has continually lobbied for his release.

Palestinian behavior towards the United States is no better. The Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, killing U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer. On 9/11, CNN and other media sources showed video of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks. Hamas, a U.S. and European Union designated terrorist organization, enjoys widespread political support from the Palestinian people and election to parliamentary seats.

American government support for Israel goes far beyond simple financial donations. The United States has employed its veto authority to block United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel over 40 times. (By comparison, China has used the veto authority just 8 times while Russia/Soviet Union together tallied 13.) In most of these instances, the United States has cast the sole vote of opposition. Additionally, the United States has deployed military assets and personnel to protect Israel against its neighbors. Such one-sided support has not gone unnoticed, especially in the Arab world. It generates widespread suspicion of American motives, interests, and actions in the Middle East and the greater Muslim street -- a trend that has occurred for decades.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to be truly interested in a lasting, peaceful solution to their decades-long struggle for territorial control. Israeli "settlers" build illegal settlements in Palestinian areas in violation of U.N. resolutions. Hamas fires rockets from schools, mosques, and other protected locations against civilian targets. Israel conducts drone and air strikes in retaliation. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills numerous Israeli citizens...and Israel's military forces destroy the bomber's family home with resultant collateral damage. Both sides clamor to play the victim on the world stage. It's a modern day version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud with religious extremism added to the equation.

In my opinion, there is no compelling or logical reason for the United States to retain the status quo relationship with either Israel or the Palestinians. Some may see this view as either anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic. In reality, it is neither. I am an alumnus of a Jewish national collegiate fraternity and proud to have several Jewish and Muslim friends. I believe, however, that America should withhold all foreign aid to both parties, reframe the situation in the Middle East, and develop a fresh, balanced approach to Israelis and Palestinians alike. First and foremost, this approach should be built to achieve American national interests, be they a peaceful Middle East, greater global influence, continued access to oil resources, a non-nuclear Iran, or the spread of democracy. My recommendation aspires to follow President George Washington's cautious advice on foreign entanglements. It is time to stop being the proverbial giving tree, and instead to begin acting in our own national interests.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army. Major Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.