Morale: Why Nothing Works In Afghanistan

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June 1, 2013: Another security related scandal is brewing in Afghanistan, where the government has ordered the Defense Ministry to repair their little used artillery weapons and 800 armored vehicles. When this stuff is called out, it’s increasingly the case that most of the vehicles and big guns are inoperable because of lack of maintenance. Over half a billion dollars have been officially spent on maintenance of this equipment over the last decade, but now it has become widely known that the artillery and armored vehicles have been rusting away with little or no maintenance and the funds officially spent on maintenance have gone missing. What’s shocking about this is that it is not unusual. Soldiers and police frequently find there’s no money to pay them on payday. Funds for maintaining vehicles (trucks, mostly) that are heavily used often disappears, along with many of the vehicles. Thus transportation is always a problem. So is getting food, fuel, uniforms, and ammunition.

Such thefts are not universal, and the thieves have to be careful that they are not identified when the losses are being felt directly by guys with guns. Thus the higher level thefts, like for maintaining equipment that is not used much, is favored. This larceny drives foreign aid donors nuts because most Afghan officials will impede any investigation, if only as a professional courtesy to countrymen who are seen as stealing from foreigners, not other Afghans. Such thefts are considered legitimate by most Afghans because Afghanistan is so poor and the donors are so rich and that’s not fair. The culture of corruption has long been present in Afghanistan and has made the establishment of national institutions, like the military and national police, impossible until now. Foreign aid donors have had a very difficult time curbing the rampant theft or in getting national level officials to spend money as they had agreed to.

The Taliban and drug gangs have the same problem, but to a lesser extent, because the money involved is earned (by producing drugs, extortion, kidnapping, or whatever) and the owner of that cash is armed and dangerous if messed with. Stealing from other Afghans is much more dangerous because this can trigger a feud which can lead to decades of bloodshed. The foreign aid donors have no similar security system that is as effective with the Afghans.

 


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