March 28, 2008

40 Year Old Ammunition and the Afghan Army (Updated)

Abu Muqawama yesterday posted on the NY Times appropriately damning article on AEY, a supplier of ammunition bought by the United States for the Afghanistan Army. The men at AEY ought be punished if they willingly violated law and ostracized for providing goods that likely put US soldiers embedded with Afghan security forces at risk. Buried in the article, however, is one damning phrase implying a different failure:

Several officials said the problems would have been avoided if the Army had written contracts and examined bidders more carefully.

The sentence is reflective not of the well-reported malfeasance of the contractor but instead of the flawed Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the lead on the advisor mission in Afghanistan.

Is it a big surprise that AEY could pull the wool over CSTC-A's eyes when six years after the fall of Kabul, the command still cannot tell most mentors where they will deploy in the country until after they arrive? Heck, according to some peers who have just gone through Fort Riley, they cannot even tell most of them whether they will mentor the police, the border police, or the army--a key consideration as one trains to deploy to the theater. They can't even tell the men the composition of their teams.

Incidents relatively well-known by many mentors involving senior commanders in CSTC-A include, for instance (different commanders based on accounts from my friends and colleagues who served under them) taking their men on Combat Action Badge (CAB)-hunting expeditions in a different region of the country, not knowing that they have remote teams located in a difficult border district nor the composition or men on the teams, firing captains for returning after a multi-week mission with hair that is "too long," asking why a team is spending so much time off of the FOB, and asking why a mentor would spend time developing an information operations plan for an impending operation when there was real fighting to be done.

This is the command of the drug deal, where you try to figure out who to befriend to deal with the fact that your commanders haven't figured out how to get you access to communication systems or have issued you half the normal basic load of ammunition for your crew served weapon. Many mentors were until recently still logging miles in soft skinned vehicles because the command had failed to order armored vehicles at the same time it had ordered more mentor teams. Wait times to get vehicles repaired through "the system" are so long as to force a choice between borderline illicit dealmaking or failure to accomplish the mission.

Meanwhile, many teams in the command scramble as they leave theater to write their own evaluations and awards since few in the chain can be bothered to take it on as their own responsibility.

Reflective of this climate was the failure by any member of the chain of command to so much as acknowledge Secretary Gates' decision to extend combat tours--we all pretty much figured it out by the time we re-deployed after 12, thanks. The Command could not so much as send out a Christmas message to the troops or their families.

So, rant almost complete, is it really a surprise the same command was buying millions of dollars of worthless ammunition?