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Jan 26

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 2:24 PM 

Outgoing IG Arnold Fields testified today as to why one particular $11.4 billion chunk of nation-building is going up in flames.

One)

“We have no plan for where we are going. We don’t know where we are going,” said Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general. “And so, we will not know when we will get there.”

Two)

His office’s audits and investigations have found numerous examples of facilities being built without consideration for whether the Afghanistan government is able to pay the maintenance bills or train a workforce to keep facilities operational, Fields told the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting.

Three)

For example, Afghan security forces are being expanded so fast there are not enough Afghan security barracks built to house them.  A large power plant the U.S. is building outside Kabul is too expensive for the Afghan government to maintain without foreign aid and expertise.

Built without consideration is right. But that's easy to say. What does it really mean? Below is an excerpt from a remarkable article a reader just happened to send in today, a q&a from a publication called  Transportation Nation. It offers an amazing glimpse into the workings of the mind of the interviewee, a typical American Afghanistan Nation-Builder. The novel topic is how in A-stan "winning hearts and minds might involvc building roads and rails" -- a new one on me. This COIN-choo-choo project began with a new 75-kilometer rail line that recently opened from A-stan's northern border to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, which, as the article notes, is the first rail line in A-stan's history. "But more track is needed," the article notes, "and the Afghanis need training on how to operate and maintain a railroad."

Oh, is that all?

Somehow, this doesn't dampen the enthusiasm of one Col. Ted Hodgson, on staff at US Central Command, and a member of something called "the Afghan Future Working group." In fact, it seems thrilling to him, sparking all kinds of notions that would no doubt enliven a graduate seminar in Sociological Enhancement Technology & Development. 

Behold the unfathomable mindset:

Col. Hodgson: We’re really excited. One of the key things we’ee starting on as part of this Silk Road Trade and Transit Initiative that we’ve started: we’re concentrating on helping Afghanistan build their rail organization. They’ve never had a rail system before in Afghanistan, so now they have this 75 km rail line and they want to build more.

Of course they do, the little dickenses.

So we are hosting a series of meetings, and we’re bringing in some of our commercial rail partners, along with a lot of rail expertise from the Department of Transportation and other organizations, and ...we’re going to look at helping Afghanistan develop some of their initial laws, rules, regulations, regulatory processes.

In other words, we're starting from scratch. Actually, scratch would be good. We're starting below scratch.

Also help them develop a rail organization ...

Which means?

You know, it’s an engineering department, it’s a maintenance department, it’s an operations department. Who should be in charge? All of that. And we want to help them build their capacity, help them start setting up training programs. Like locomotive engineers.

That's a perfect match with the first-grade reading and math levels we're hoping to bring Afghans to (someday).

They’re going to need to train locomotive engineers. Well, the US Army transportation school has a certified locomotive engineering school. So that might be an option.

Might be, and in all regional dialects.

We might be able to use that. Certainly our commercial rail companies might be going to do partnerships, internships with them. And there’s other programs like that that we possibly could use out there, to help the Afghanistan government.

We'll just work out those details after we build the railroad, right?!

IG Fields, call your office.

Cracked. Absolutely cracked. But this progression from pie-in-the-sky enthusiasm (building a railroad infrastructure! certified locomotive engineering school!) to opaque generalities (partnerships, internships ... other programs ...  possibly)  is, I'll betcha, the template of US Afghanistan decision-making, a pattern repeated across COIN-and-Nation-Building-Land.

And the money goes down the glug, glug, gl....

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