A note to General David Petraeus and Obama: the offensive taking place to push the Taliban out of Helmand Province will fail unless there is a cash component to the economic strategy.
Rewind. The audacious, and in some ways brilliant, deployment in Afghanistan of 4000 Marines to "clear, hold, and build" has some merit. No one likes the Taliban, and this will give the population some breathing room to escape their grip. But no one is talking to the Americans because they are afraid we will soon leave, and the Taliban will return to settle up scores. The danger is that the "hold and build" part of the operation will be a repeat of the practice of dropping schools and bridges all over where no one wants them or needs them, when what people really need is enough to eat, and a way to turn down the Taliban's $8 a day wage when they return after the troops are gone.
Cash is easy to hide and hard to trace. Anyone who accepts a school, bridge, or or other highly-visible American project is likely to have their village slaughtered before winter.
To my knowledge no kind of cash-for-work projects are planned, and its important because, if this offensive doesn't succeed, we are back to square one and looking at another 10 year quagmire from which we will never pull out. There will be the real threat of a Taliban takeover, because of a vulnerable population with 40% unemployment and millions of young men who of necessity will take the Taliban's poppy money (they control the trade) to attack government and foreign targets. Another trillion dollar war. There goes our healthcare. There goes renewable energy jobs programs for us. War is the killer of all progress, hopes, and dreams.
I'm going to say something revolutionary here, but carefully considered: of all the conflicts in the world, this may be the only one where if you dropped dollar bills over villages from helicopters (a dollar is often a day's wage for 12 hours of hard labor here), it would have a distinctly positive impact on security. Those dollars would be squirreled away for food for the brutal upcoming winter, and put a brake on young men rushing to the Taliban just because they need the money.
The Pentagon knows it. Col. Tom Collins, the top Pentagon spokesman in Afghanistan, told PBS:
"There is a low percentage of the total Taliban force who we would call ideologically driven. We refer to them as Tier 1 people who believe their ideology, that what they're doing is right. The vast majority of Taliban fighters are essentially economically disadvantaged young men."
And General Karl Eikenberry, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, told Congress in 2007:
"Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families"
Why then is USAID, the "hold and build" part of the operation, announcing that
USAID plans to launch a new program in Afghanistan which will implement civilian-run stabilization projects in targeted areas, primarily during the clear and hold phases of counterinsurgency (COIN)...USAID...will manage an operational platform and an in-kind small grants mechanism aimed at promoting the objectives described above.
"in-kind small grants mechanism" means stuff, not money, that the Taliban can ferret out and punish you for. It would be different if they were talking about paying Afghan crews cash to repair their own roads or dig their own ditches, but that's not how this reconstruction has worked, which is why we are in this fix. They will bring in Bobcats and bulldozers leased from Halliburton to put it all in place, at a tidy profit, with Afghans standing back looking at their new road, as hungry as ever. The UN reports that nearly 40% of all Afghans do not meet the minimum daily calorie requirement for prevention of malnutritition. The upshot? We're not going to shoot our way out of this. And we're not going to Halliburton our way out of it either.
War is too important to be left to generals and politicians. The people whose money it sucks up and whose children it kills have to take charge. Do something patriotic this 4th of July weekend. Tell them how to stop a war. It's not their money they are playing with, it's yours. Cut and past and forward this to the White House and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We will soon find out what kind of Commander-in-Chief Obama is.
The diarist is the co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.
Man begging in street in Kabul