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Oct 22

Written by: Diana West
Thursday, October 22, 2009 3:11 PM 

Let's Make a Deal: Afghans register on Oct. 14 at the first Afghan Business Conference to learn how to bid for military contracts in Helmand Province.


i continue to be struck by something Marine Sgt. Maj. Jim Sauer (ret.) wrote, that you can rent an Afghan but you can't buy him.

This is a terrible concept to grasp while watching the US trying to buy Afghans by the thousands, which is the cornerstone of the Bush-Obama "counterinsurgency" plan to win Afghan hearts and minds. Did I say win hearts and minds? This is about buying hearts and minds, and it isn't pretty. The US is spreading big dough and oodles of stuff across Afghanistan in exchange, the lonely-hearts, I mean, counterinsurgency, theory goes, for Afghan loyalty. As Gen.McChrystal puts it to villagers wherever he goes: "What do you need?"

The list is long. And the list is crucial. That is, if services and reconstruction (delivered at the end of a gun, remember, because otherwise the deliverer would be attacked) end or peter out after they start, "gains could melt away," as a recent Washington Post article put it. In other words, how do you say pay to play in Pashtun?

In this same story, we see Capt. Frank "Gus" Biggio meeting with a Nawa resident "to discuss a claim for damage to farm equipment." We see Lt. Col. McCullough approaching a farmer to discuss damage to the farmer's water pump. "What's the biggest problem in this village?" Biggio asks. "There's not enough water in the canals to irrigate my fields," was the response. Hmmm. Maybe what the Helmand River Valley really needs is is a major new dam....Whoops, we already tried that. Nonetheless:

Non-military reconstruction efforts have also begun to gather momentum. The battlion's two civilian advisors are working with a team of US-funded contractors to provide agricultural assistance [planning] to hand out shovels, gloves and even tractors over the next few months."


They hope the good will increase prosperity and jobs and reduce the number of young men who want to fight for the Taliban.

That's a lot of hope. But it's chump change next to the amount of hope set on the really big wealth tranfers taking place between the US and Afghanistan. Take the

first-ever Afghan Business Conference, hosted by Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. The conference was planned with hopes of providing local contractors the opportunity to fill military contracts in Helmand.

The brigade, headquartered at nearby Camp Leatherneck, hosted the conference to meet with local Afghans and better understand the goods and services available from the Helmand community. The brigade also educated local businesses on how to bid for contracts with the U.S. military.

"The vision of today is to maximize economic growth," said Army Maj. Nathan Winn, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan contracting officer, introducing the Afghan First Program. "We want to look first to Afghan-owned companies to ensure money spent in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan."

Winn said $13.5 billion in contracts have gone to Afghan companies in the past two years through the Afghan First Program.

Excuse me, that's a lot of contracts. Particularly when the official GDP of Afghanistan is estimated at $12.06 billion.

Unfortunately, Winn said, this money is going mostly to companies located in Kabul, Bagram and Kandahar.

Why "unfortunately"? The cities have all the amenities to enable allow swift transactions to Swiss banks.

"This initiative is meant to increase opportunities for Afghan companies in Helmand," Winn said. "It will help the Afghan economy grow, employ more Afghan people and promote reconstruction in Afghanistan."

Winn said the U.S. military needs commodities, such as electrical supplies and gravel, services like delivery of water and recycling, and construction workers to build roads, buildings and bridges, both on military camps and in local communities.

The better to nation-build.

Juma Khan, an engineer with the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, identified many locations throughout Helmand where construction projects are planned, as outlined by the Helmand Development Plan, which was structured by Provincial Reconstruction Team-Helmand and approved by the Afghan government.

The PRT introduced the Peace Dividend Trust to the potential bidders following Khan's briefing.

Shouldn't that be the Trust that Peace will happen someday Dividend?

The PDT is a non-government organization with locations in Lashkar Gah, Kabul, Mazar, Jalalabad and Kandahar that assists local businesses in gaining access to military and international agency contracts. Since 2006, the PDT has helped local Afghan companies gain nearly $400 million in contracts.

Is that $400 million part of the $13.5 billion doled out through the Afghan First Program, or is it crass to ask?

"We have the ability to reach out and touch a lot of people," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general, MEB-Afghanistan, in conversation with Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal.
Well, that's a coincidence: As Lt. Col. McCollough told the Post "We have enough Marines to shake everyone's hands." And just think. When Gen. Nicholson first arrived in Afghanistan, all he thought he needed to do was drink tea, eat goat and really get to know these people.

But take it from the Sergeant Major, General. You may be touching a lot of people (greasing their palms anyway), but it's just not likely to be for keeps.






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