Alex Thier, the Afghanistan czar at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is leaving his post at the end of next week.
Thier, assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, is moving on up to head the agency's Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning, "where he will apply his expertise and leadership with Afghanistan and Pakistan more broadly across the agency," USAID spokesman Ben Edwards said.
Thier, in statement provided to the E-Ring, said, "I'm eager to take on the challenge of pushing forward the innovative and ambitious reforms the Administrator Rajiv Shah has enacted in order to increase USAID's development impact around the world. "These include partnering with local organizations to increase the long term sustainability of USAID programs as we have already been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Thier's deputy Larry Sampler, senior deputy assistant to the Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will take over as "acting" boss.
Thier is one of the most well known names on Afghanistan in Washington, having lived there for about seven years and previously directed the Af-Pak program at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).
His Twitter handle is even @Thierstan. Anyone who has sat with him has felt his passion for Afghanistan, and the progress one of the poorest countries in the world has made. For him, it's a far different narrative from the "progress" usually assigned to the war, instead of the country or its people.
In an email, Thier explained:
"Afghanistan and Pakistan have made enormous progress in the last few years, despite the continued challenges they face. As I transition to this new position at USAID, I am heartened by the remarkable transitions occurring in both countries. I lived through the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and the results of our investments in partnership with the Afghan people since the fall of the Taliban have yielded enormous results by any objective indicator. Life expectancy up by 15-20 years, average incomes tripled, government revenues grown 1000% in over a decade. This came from a partnership with the Afghan people that focuses heavily on accountability and sustainability - helping the Afghans transition to a more self-sufficient and secure future.
In Pakistan, the historic elections this week have moved that country further along a path of democracy and good governance that they will need to solve their significant economic, energy, and security challenges. We reframed our efforts in Pakistan to leverage our resources through partnerships with the government and private sector - like a program with Nestlé that is linking poor women dairy farmers with agribusiness. In both countries, we have also dramatically increased our investment and focus on women - as no country can succeed without half it's population fully engaged in the economic, social, and political life of the nation."
The Pentagon's senior policy official on Afghanistan and Pakistan is leaving his post at the end of this month.
David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, will quit the Pentagon effective May 31, the E-Ring has confirmed. Sedney's successor will be Navy Reserve Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont, who currently serves as chief of staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and deputy chief of staff for strategy, resources, and plans at the same command. DOD policy denizen Jennifer Walsh will fill the seat in the short interim.
Dumont has extensive Af-Pak experience. He was chief of staff of the Office of the U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan (ODRP) and then served as deputy chief of staff for stability operations at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command.
Sedney is one of the longest serving DASDs in the Pentagon's policy team and has become a regular sidekick to defense secretaries and top officials traveling through Afghanistan and the region. Previously he was the DASD for East Asia, from 2007 to 2009. In Kabul, Sedney has served as both deputy chief of mission and charge d'affaires at the United States Embassy from 2003-2004.
Besides Princeton, Sedney also gradated from the National War College and is most likely the only person in the Pentagon -- if not the country -- who speaks Romanian, Mandarin Chinese and Azerbaijani.
"David is a national treasure in the Washington policy community," said Pentagon press secretary George Little, "and has served in an exceptional manner as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's held prior stints in China, Romania, Azerbaijian, and Taiwan. He'll be missed by his colleagues here and his counterparts overseas. In particular, when it comes to Afghanistan, I've personally heard him say that our troops always come first."
Correction: This post originally misspelled Michael Dumont's last name.
Recent accusations by a federal inspector general that additional oversight was urgently needed for foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan did not sit well with officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
USAID officials argue they're on the same page with John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), when it comes to oversight concerns.
In his April quarterly report to Congress, Sopko's office frequently praises USAID's oversight efforts. But they also note examples of past or potential future misuse of taxpayer funds, such as USAID providing $179 million in funds for the 2014 elections, even though no new Afghan election laws have passed to thwart fraud. One SIGAR audit found USAID approved plans for two hospitals that could cost $18 million without ensuring future funding or that Afghans could sustain them with staffing.
In a speech this week, Sopko offered another example, arguing the Afghan electric company was not as capable as USAID had claimed. "SIGAR's audit work says otherwise," he argued.
It may be a case of dueling perspectives between a watchdog looking for imperfections and a government agency tasked specifically with sending money into some of the most imperfectly governed places on earth.
USAID spokesman Ben Edwards emailed this statement from USAID, in response to Sopko:
"USAID has a stellar record of protecting U.S. tax dollars in Afghanistan. We have 12 years of experience implementing programs and delivering results. USAID is committed to ensuring accountability for all taxpayer funded projects. Before giving any on-budget [direct] assistance to the Afghan government, USAID assesses the capacity of the ministries involved to properly budget for and carry out the proposed projects. USAID utilizes robust financial controls to monitor taxpayer funds and expected outcomes.
Indeed, Afghanistan has made dramatic development progress over the past decade, which would not be possible without the help of U.S. taxpayer funding designed to improve the government's capacity to manage its own development and deliver goods and services to the Afghan people. For example, assistance to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health has dramatically expanded access to health care-resulting in an unprecedented increase in Afghan life expectancy of 15-20 years in a decade.
The U.S. development mission in Afghanistan is not without challenges, but is necessary in order to ensure Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists from which to attack the United States."
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages
Fifty million dollars in stolen U.S. funds that investigators had located in an Afghan bank account last year have suddenly gone missing while under the Afghan government's watch, according to a top federal watchdog.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko made the stunning revelation in a scathing speech accusing the Afghan government of being a "criminal patronage network" from civil servant to the highest officials. Sopko, warning of an inept oversight of American taxpayer funds, claimed on Wednesday that the millions went missing after his office served the Afghan government an order to freeze the account.
"Briefly put, we identified roughly $50 million stolen from the U.S. government which was sitting in an Afghan bank account," Sopko said, in prepared remarks of a speech delivered at the New America Foundation.
"We obtained a court order here in the United States and served it on the Afghan government to get them to seize the money. For months we pressed the Afghan attorney general's office to freeze the account and begin the legal process to allow us to seize the cash. At first, we were told the bank account was frozen and the money protected. Unfortunately, as is too many times the case, a few weeks ago we learned that the money was mysteriously unfrozen by some powerful bureaucrat in Kabul. Now, most of it is gone."
Spoko, in his speech, said the case was one of many examples of why it was time for the U.S. to consider withholding vital aid to Afghanistan in order to pressure Kabul into adopting stronger financial protections.
Philip LaVelle, spokesman for the SIGAR, said Sopko first revealed that the funds were missing during questioning before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 10. But the case went unreported in the media as it was one of several examples of Afghan corruption and mismanagement Sopko mentioned that day. SIGAR had not publicized the case further because it remains sealed by a federal U.S. judge, according to LaVelle.
Sopko only referenced it again on Wednesday, but in last month's exchange with House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., made clear his sense of being hoodwinked.
"It was supposed to be frozen. For six months, we've been negotiating with the attorney general's office in Afghanistan. And, lo and behold, last weekend, mysteriously, the money was unfrozen and it's gone.
"This, I fear, is the future in Afghanistan."
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
The U.S. government's watchdog over taxpayer money in Afghanistan today will deliver a clear and sobering message: if Kabul is unable to do a better job safeguarding and spending the billions in U.S. funding coming its way, Washington should shut its wallet.
"We need to have the courage to withhold funding if progress is not made by the Afghan government," Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko will say in a speech he is scheduled to deliver at the New America Foundation on Wednesday, according to an advance copy provided exclusively to the E-Ring.
Sopko since last summer has turned in a steady stream of reports finding millions of dollars from the Defense Department, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development going to waste. The offenses range from poorly designed and managed reconstruction projects on the U.S side to lax oversight by Afghan government offices. In the SIGAR's latest quarterly report to Congress, Sopko trains his sights on direct foreign assistance delivered through USAID, and questions the Afghan government's ability to maintain safeguards over the cash influx.
"And, more importantly, USAID must be willing to stop funding Afghan ministries if they do not live up to these safeguards," Sopko will say.
UPDATE: SIGAR Going After ANSF
Sopko also announced in his speech that the SIGAR for the rest of this year will focus its auditing power on measuring the state of security in Afghanistan. That mission may seem far afield from usual inspector general bean counting. But the effectiveness of any U.S. funding is dependent, Sopko said, on the U.S. effort to stand up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
"Because of SIGAR's ongoing concerns with the ANSF," he said, "SIGAR is building a body of work to eventually answer the ultimate question - are the Afghan National Security Forces ready?"
The E-Ring reported last week that SIGAR found the ANSF was 20,000 people short of its personnel goals. "The number of troops ready for duty is even lower when you consider AWOL employees, desertions, and ghost employees," Sopko said on Wednesday.
But those numbers are a guess, at best, due to poor recordkeeping, which means the true U.S. cost for supplying, training, and maintaining Afghan forces is unknown.
"The DOD told SIGAR there is no way to validate the ANSF's personnel numbers," he said, "often derived from reports prepared by hand by Afghan troops. It is hard to know if the afghan army and police are ready if we don't know how many troops are available to fight insurgent forces."
Sopko also warned that next year's parliamentary elections may prove to be no more legitimate that the last round, which was marred by fraud. Afghans have not changed their elections laws, leaving the process open to continued voter fraud, ballot box stuffing and fake voter identification cards, he alleged.
"Unless we fix problems like these before the 2014 presidential election, the Afghan people may have powerful reasons to question the results."
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan National Security Forces have shrunk by 4,000 troops and policemen from last year and are still 20,000 people short of the numbers they expect to have in place by the end of next year, according to the government watchdog overseeing Afghanistan war spending.
The growth of a trained ANSF is considered one of the most important components of the U.S.-NATO plan to pull Western troops home and end international participation in combat there. Top Pentagon and congressional leaders frequently track and point to the importance of building Afghan forces.
The total number of people, or "end-strength," has shifted in the past year, however, as allies lowered their expectations for what size force Afghans could build and reconsidered what was needed to fill the gaps left by departing international troops.
For several years the U.S. worked to build an Afghan force of 352,000 personnel. Last May, NATO leaders meeting in Chicago agreed to a smaller force of 228,500. But in February at NATO headquarters in Brussels, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai were reconsidering the ANSF end-strength goal of 352,000.
But the Afghan army, air force, and police all are short of their goals, said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in his latest quarterly report to Congress, released Tuesday. Sopko's two primary concerns as U.S. troops withdraw are overseeing the billions in direct assistance given to Afghanistan and examining the security needed to protect contractors and other government agencies still working there.
There is some confusion about what date that ANSF end-strength goals are to be met, Sopko contended. According to the inspector general, DOD has stated that the target of 352,000 ANSF is tied to December 2014. But previously DOD had stated the Afghan army and police personnel goals were set for December 2013.
Looking at that date, last December, the Afghan National Army ranks were 11,559 people short of its final goal of 187,000 personnel. The police, by February 2013, were 6,000 people short of its final goal of 157,000. The Afghan Air Force has a final target of roughly 6,000 personnel by the end of next year, yet remains 1,000 short.
"This quarter, the ANSF force strength was 332,753 (181,834 assigned to the ANA and Afghan Air Force and 150,919 assigned to the ANP). This is 4,763 fewer than the 337,516 ANSF force strength in March 2012, and 19,247 fewer than the end strength goal," Spoko wrote.
The decline from 2012 is because Afghanistan previously was counting its civilian personnel in its troop totals, further masking the shortfall of uniformed personnel.
In short, the Pentagon has no reliable way of tracking ANSF troop totals, he found.
"SIGAR and others have reported that determining
ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and Coalition forces rely on the
Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers, which are often
derived from hand-prepared personnel records in decentralized, unlinked, and
inconsistent systems. [Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan]
reported last quarter that there was no viable method of validating personnel
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/GettyImages
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Rahmatullah Alizad/AFP/Getty Images
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer until three months ago, is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court.
Johnson, who personally approved the legal authority behind every major military strike ordered by the secretary of defense and President Obama until January 1, says the U.S. military is best equipped to conduct targeted killings of terrorism suspects abroad, without the need for a new court.
This morning, Johnson, who has returned to private practice, is at Fordham University to deliver a speech that he bills as the first to tackle the pros and cons of such a court. Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including senators calling for more oversight and transparency, such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Legal authority for targeted strikes against terrorism suspects that are conducted by the military is already in place, Johnson argues. What is needed, he offers, is more transparency around how those suspects are identified. Some secrets about targeted operations, Johnson claims, can be revealed without compromising national security.
“Most people, I think, do not have a quarrel with the bottom-line conclusions and results,” Johnson says in the speech, an advance copy of which was obtained by The E-Ring. “The problem is that the American public is suspicious of executive power shrouded in secrecy.”
Because U.S. officials will not confirm targeted killings even though they are widely reported by the media, the government is losing the trust and support of the public it is trying to protect, Johnson claims. But, even though an oversight court may sound like a good idea because judges are thought to be fairer than White House politicos, Johnson argues that a new court would be problematic and unnecessary -- at least for the military.
“We must be realistic about the degree of added credibility such a court can provide,” he said. Those few cases that would require the court’s approval likely would be kept secret anyway, and most of those cases still would be approved. The current FISA, or foreign intelligence court, is “derided” as a rubber stamp by the same groups calling for a new drone court, he notes.
Johnson analyzes three possible versions of a drone court and argues why all three would fail. A court that reviews all desired strikes away from a battlefield and against terrorists, including by the military, would be a logjam and require too much evidence to act in real time. A court that reviewed only the evidence for strikes against U.S. citizens abroad would require an impractical standard of intelligence, essentially forcing the government prove it knows the exact nationality of every target, American or not.
Finally, Johnson offers his least bad option: a court that would review and approve lethal force only against terrorists known to be U.S. citizens “but only in instances not part of a congressionally-authorized armed conflict conducted by the U.S. military.” In other words, this court would review killings of Americans abroad conducted by the CIA or other non-military agencies.
“In my view targeted lethal force is at its least controversial when it is on its strongest, most traditional legal foundation. The essential mission of the U.S. military is to capture or kill an enemy. Armies have been doing this for thousands of years. As part of a congressionally-authorized armed conflict, the foundation is even stronger.”
“Lethal force outside the parameters of congressionally-authorized armed conflict by the military looks to the public to lack any boundaries, and lends itself to the suspicion that it is an expedient substitute for criminal justice.”
Johnson also notes that courts are not equipped to decide “questions of feasibility of capture and imminence,” which can change rapidly.
Finally, he argues, the president has the constitutional authority to use force, and the debate over killing terrorists one-by-one seems to naively forget that the president has sole authority to launch a nuclear strike that could kill millions of people.
“Article II of the Constitution states that the President ‘shall’ be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. That is his burden and responsibility,” Johnson argues. “He may delegate his war-fighting authority within his chain of command, but he cannot assign part of it away to another branch of government, nor have it taken away by an act of Congress.”
In the end, Johnson says more transparency will go a long way, if administration officials are willing to find that path.
“Put 10 national security officials in a room to discuss de- classifying a certain fact, they will all say I’m for transparency in principle, but at least 7 will be concerned about second-order effects, someone will say ‘this is really hard, we need to think about this some more,’ the meeting is adjourned, and the 10 officials go on to other more pressing matters.
“Last year we declassified the basics of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism activities in Yemen and Somalia and disclosed what we were doing in a June 2012 War Powers report to Congress. It was a long and difficult deliberative process to get there, but certain people in the White House persevered, we said publicly and officially what we were doing, and, so far as I can tell, the world has not come to an end.”
You can read the full speech here:
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
JASON REED/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
U.S. Army photo
When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey faces 60 other defense chiefs from NATO and its partner nations next week in Brussels, he'll likely have to answer for one new development: the "zero option."
White House national security staffers, to much surprise, floated to the press this week that they had requested, and the Pentagon delivered, plans for leaving no U.S. troops behind in Afghanistan after 2014. It was a far cry from the pledges that President Barack Obama asked NATO allies to make at the Chicago summit last May, and on which foreign defense chiefs largely delivered with pledges of thousands of troops and billions of dollars for years to come in Afghanistan.
"They didn't know," the zero option was coming, a senior defense official tells the E-Ring. Now Dempsey expects that issue will the main concern for military leaders at the usually un-newsworthy event.
In Europe, Pentagon officials believe that political leaders may like the idea of getting out of Afghanistan, a wholly unpopular war. But military leaders are seen as more committed to continuing their mission at some level, so as not to lose what was gained. They've also undoubtedly expended political capital convincing their elected heads of state to stick with the United States.
Dempsey, on Thursday in the Pentagon, said he gave the option to the White House staff but has not yet presented it or discussed it with the president, so would not comment further.
"You know, we've said, I think, from the start that no option is entirely off the table. It'll depend on the conditions."
As outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ambles through his final overseas trip next week through some of Europe's finest capitals, Dempsey will attend the two-day winter conference with the chiefs of defense (known as CHODs) starting Wednesday. Gen. John Allen, commander of International Security Assitance Force, also will be in Brussels to brief the NATO chiefs.
Other topics officially on the agenda include "a wide variety of alliance military issues including NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, counter-piracy, NATO-Russia military cooperation, and emerging security challenges facing the alliance," said Col. David Lapan, the chairman's spokesman.
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
S.S MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
“My solders were ready to shoot him in the face.”
That resentment extended to me.
“Look at this bitch — they kill us and she comes here to spy on us,” one soldier said while we were interviewing his comrades.
Another agreed, “They are all spies,” he said.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Win McNamee/Getty Images
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images
DOD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega
In his exclusive sit-down with Foreign Policy on Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that some of the "toughest" fighting in Afghanistan is yet to come.
It was not a surprising assessment - commanders long have talked about the tenacious presence of insurgents and Haqqani network operatives in the East -- but one perhaps not fully understood by those who don't war watch for a living.
Although the war in Afghanistan is winding down by some measures -- number of bases, number of troops deployed -- loudly touted on the campaign trail this year, the fighting is not finished. Unlike the last two years of the Iraq war, don't expect American soldiers and Marines to be stuck on shrink-wrap duty sending tons of U.S. war goods and equipment back home.
Panetta said that with the exit of surge forces this month comes the challenge of sustaining the momentum for one more year, to permit the final two hand-offs of security regions yet to be determined in the country to Afghan forces a little more than a year from now. That exit point is well established -- it is President Obama and NATO's stated timeline. But getting there is the hard part, says Panetta.
"Now the challenge is to continue that momentum, continue the transition, and ensure that we have a sufficient force in place in order to complete the fourth and fifth tranches, which are going to be the more difficult ones," Panetta said, "and reach a point sometime in the fall of 2013 after completion of the last transition, where we will turn over combat operations to the Afghans."
Before that happens, the United States has an uphill climb in eastern Afghanistan, where Haqqani network terrorists continue to wreak havoc, especially in the close geographic stretch between the capital, Kabul, and the Pakistan border. Commanders in Afghanistan for a long while have not worried much about security in the easier, less-contested areas of the north and west, which Afghan forces already oversee. It is in the east where the final U.S. battles in Afghanistan likely will occur.
Here's Panetta, from the transcript:
FP: Conventional wisdom is that before 2014, there's still a big fight to come between Kabul and Pakistan, so that is the real trouble area, that this is not going to be sitting it out for a couple of years like the end of Iraq. Is that fair to assume?
PANETTA: Yeah, yeah. In terms of?
FP: That this is still going to be heated fighting to come...
PANETTA: Oh yes, especially in the east. The east is being able to transition those areas, being able to make sure the Afghans are in fact capable of maintaining security in those areas, is going to be something that we're going to have to work hard at. This is going to be some of the toughest areas that we've gotta deal with.
Complicating matters is the seemingly unending spate of so called "green on blue" violence -- insider attacks on U.S. troops by Afghans in the ranks of the security forces on which Washington has bet the war's end. Following Friday's successful insurgent attack on Camp Bastion, International Security Assistance Force officials on Monday said they have ordered a slowing of their partnered training with Afghan forces - putting the brakes on one of the most important pillars of the exit strategy proffered by the Obama, the Pentagon and NATO.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, traveling in Europe, gave a striking warning this weekend about that concern.
"It is a very serious threat to the campaign," said Dempsey, Obama's senior military advisor, of the war effort.
And that's a very serious charge. He did not say inside attacks are a threat to a particular unit or base or region. General Dempsey said it's a threat to the entire "campaign."
And if Dempsey is saying it out loud, it's a sure bet it's already said it to President Obama. Obama currently is expected to receive in mid-November ISAF commander Gen. John Allen's future war plans. Panetta said Obama will take that recommendation seriously. No matter what Allen determines, don't expect 68,000 troops to just sit around watching Afghans train. The end of combat may come by 2014, but not without a fight first.
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.