Guest commentary by Gary H. Johnson, Jr.
Update, Jul. 4, 2010: Bill Shaw has been cleared by an Afghan court. The US Report sends best wishes to Mr. Shaw and his family.
(July 2, 2010)--The troubling case of Bill Shaw has not reached mainline news in America for a reason. I had previously read the BBC story in my studies of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan, and I was disgusted by it. But, here is the thing. Bill Shaw may be a victim of timing more than anything.
The US Government has recently been involved with what is known as the Afghan Host Nation Trucking contract worth $2.16 billion slated to be paid out to eight private security contractor firms.
The House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), conducted a six month investigation into some rather credible allegations in November. The Private Security Contractors (PSCs) hired to provide security for the bulk of US/NATO supply lines in Afghanistan were allegedly paying subcontractors, who would in turn pay warlords and Taliban bribes to ensure the safety of the cargo. The House subcommittee investigation resulted in a document entitled Warlord, Inc.
TIMING OF RELEASE OF ROLLING STONE STORY
The document was troubling for multiple reasons, so troubling that the situation with Gen. Stanley McChrystal may have been timed to coincide with the release of the report.
From what I can gather, the leak of the Rolling Stone story ‘The Runaway General’ occurred between 7-10 p.m. on June 21, 2010. The Warlord, Inc. report was released at an odd time - 10:30 p.m. EST the same day.
On June 22, 2010, the government held two hearings. The first hearing included three representatives of the Dept. of Defense. The second included four scholars. Of those four, only Carl Forsberg, a research analyst with the Institute for the Study of War, had recognized the reality playing out in Kandahar.
Media chose to cover the Rolling Stone story on McChrystal and the hearings went forward without much notice. But what was certain at the end of the hearings was that the US government had little oversight on its Private Security Contractors. The main contractor was the brother of President Hamid Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, allegedly a drug kingpin and also the top councilman for Kandahar.
Carl Forsberg pegged what was going on. The U.S. supply line payments had generated a culture of armed men in southern Afghanistan (between 15,000 and 70,000). These men claimed to be part of Private Security Firms, and only a handful of these firms were registered and regulated. The rest were militias were under the direction of warlords and at times in the employ of the Taliban.
In all reality, however, the DoD was not able to find any wrongdoing such as direct bribes paid to the Taliban on behalf of the eight companies. DoD said they would put a stop to it if forensic evidence proved it was really happening.
WHY INVESTIGATIONS CAME UP DRY
The reason U.S. investigations came up dry was simple—‘three degrees of separation.’
The US would pay a registered PSC in the Host Nation Trucking contract. This PSC would then, since they were only allowed to carry Ak-47s to meet the rules of engagement, hire subcontractors with heavy arms like 50 cals and RPGs to ride shotgun. These subcontractors would in turn allegedly bribe warlords and tribal chieftains, who would in turn allegedly bribe Taliban agents to back off. Then warlords would send their own unregistered militias to create checkpoints at chokepoints along the trail where more bribes could allegedly be extracted.
Moreover, corrupt Afghan Police would establish their own checkpoints in coordination with these village elders, warlords, and militias to check registrations, and they would shake down the cash-rich convoy.
Bribery rules the day, and the supplies get through at the cost of between $800-$10,000 per truck, depending on the cargo, destination and timing of the convoy. Roughly 20 percent of all the money is believed to end up in the hands of the Taliban. The rest fuels warlords, who at times booby trap roads and attack competitor convoys to earn contracts in the future, while stealing all along the way.
Think about 20 percent of $2.16 billion.
This is the way of Afghanistan—especially Kandahar—and that is what Michael Yon was so outraged about in my estimation, even though he was only seeing pieces of the puzzle.
LAPSES IN OVERSIGHT
The reality was so huge that on June 15, when the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (the day he fainted), she said a Task Force 2010 should be established by the end of June to fully investigate the breakdown in oversight along the HNT-run corridors.
The reality that the US Government could in fact be fueling the Taliban by facilitating bribes, and allowing an environment such as this to develop, after President Obama declared that ‘under-resourcing the effort’ in Afghanistan was the main problem, constituted a breakdown at multiple levels. Those comprised the operational level (the men on the ground at the supply chain level), the tactical leadership level (the DoD & the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and the strategic policy level (Flournoy as Undersecretary for Defense Policy & Petraeus as CENTCOM chief).
So Flournoy, recognizing her failure, commissioned a ‘two-star’ general to be named later—to make it a second-tier issue—and Petraeus possibly couldn't handle it.
It wasn't until after this meeting that the subcommittee hearing on HNT was officially announced.
I had personally called the offices of Tierney on June 10th to find out when the findings of the investigation would be released. After five or six confused conversations, I was eventually called back and told that June 21 would be the date of release, a date they met by a hair.
DE FACTO BRIBES
The reality is that the US government, at all levels of the PSC chains of command and control (whether for civilian supplies, military supplies, state department support, embassy security, or development protection) has allegedly been involved in some shape or fashion with paying de facto bribes to every warlord on the block, indirectly, and to the Taliban by ‘three degrees of separation.’
It’s possible the entire culture of the Karzai administration has grown corrupt around the practice, from the border police, to the national police, to the judicial ranks as a result. The topic of ‘bribery’ has spooked the Obama administration, in this regard.
Additionally, as a result of the runaround by our officials and the failure of the DoD to police its own contracts and supply lines, the Afghan government is consolidating the power of the Private Security Contractors into a "Third Party" Administration system, under the power of what is shaping up to be a Karzai Dynasty led by the very forces of corruption that have been bribing the Taliban via proxies.
Worse, President Karzai is perhaps negotiating with the irreconcilable Haqqani Network, whose leaders refuse to renounce al Qaeda.
So here we are, with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) worried about training a security apparatus which may already be riddled with corruption, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wanting straight talk on the ‘conditions-based’ withdrawal of the 2011 drawdown, and with virtually everyone in America angry about the US military Rules of Engagement.
Concurrently Pakistan is working to broker a negotiation settlement with the Afghan government, in complete violation of the one US redline for Taliban negotiations regarding al Qaeda. The only purpose should be to guarantee US National security interests.
In this frame, the Obama administration is facing a massive breakdown in the US military apparatus, the strategic application of COIN (counter-insurgency) and the ROE. The US has an Afghan partner who recognizes the failure of the political shaping effort, and a Pak partner that is ready to establish its own ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) beachhead in Eastern Afghanistan via its client the Haqqanis.
This coincidentally proves that our Pakistani partners have possibly been holding out on NATO, while infiltrating the Afghan intelligence central command as partners and soaking the US taxpayer for $1.5 billion per year for the next 5 years via the Kerry-Lugar legislation crafted by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), not to mention whatever Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Ambassador Anne W. Patterson agree to out of American sight.
Only in this light can one view the recent US surge of force into Paktiya and Kunar Provinces against the Haqqanis.
THE AFGHANISTAN QUAGMIRE AND BILL SHAW
Thus when evaluating the present situation for former UK service man/G4S employee Bill Shaw’s imprisonment, through this prism, what is the natural US and British response? Silence. Pretend it doesn't exist—it’s a tiny fire. Both leaderships are in complete meltdown mode.
The international community has already, with seed money from Japan, begun creating a $500 million fund to ‘reintegrate’ the reconcilable Taliban elements, a politically correct way of saying that the international community is about to ‘bribe the Taliban.
Recognizing the Obama timeline for a drawdown was slipping away, on June 25, 26 and 27, Britain's leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague, separately announced that 2015 should be the deadline for all foreign military activity in Afghanistan. They declared the time for negotiations with the Taliban was now, giving Pakistan the green light, and promising an additional $1 billion in assistance over four years. In this respect, our prime ally is technically actively working against US security interests in the name of expediency.
For America's part, our leadership immediately (in effect) demoted Petraeus (for his lack of oversight) and fired McChrystal for challenging civilian authorities who had cooked up the hair-brained scheme and failed to properly facilitate the right mechanisms.
Of course, it didn't help that the newest assessment of Afghanistan showed that less than 10 percent of the targets set for June, 2010 had been achieved. The July, 2011 drawdown was not in the cards.
Petraeus recognizes where the problem is and he is mobilizing along the Haqqani frontier as a stop gap measure.
In this manner, Bill Shaw has fallen through the cracks just as US national security interests have in Afghanistan. What should happen now is a focus on leverage.
The US citizenry should lean on Sec. of State Clinton and force her hand on the matter, stating publicly, forcefully, that "we the people" demand that US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, from his embassy headquarters in Herat, move swiftly, in person, with a military escort, to exact the release of Bill Shaw and also his G4S associate, Maiwand Limar. They should immediately be removed from Afghan custody, with expectations of Karzai's apologies for the misunderstanding.
FREE BILL SHAW
No questions should be asked about Shaw's trumped up second trial or his two year sentence; the US has lost more than a thousand men. Britain has lost more than 300 men. There are no excuses, no need for further dialog.
Sec. Clinton needs to get to work. She is the ultimate author of the three ‘Ds’—Defense, Diplomacy & Development—as the source of smart power. Clinton was the one who added economic power to the mix in a comprehensive setting. This is Clinton's baby...and the US citizenry is not concerned about the labor pains. We just want to see the baby.
Bill Shaw must be released by Karzai, else the United States must be willing to drop Afghanistan.
After all, the release of Taliban prisoners and suicide bomber aspirants is happening daily with gusto as conditions for negotiations are being developed.
The Shaw case is not a matter of culture, religion or diplomacy. It is not a matter of working with the system. It is a matter of Justice and Liberty, and a gross failure in our British counterpart's leadership and embassy staffers who failed to satisfy a just purpose.
Though Britain has signaled Pakistan to go ahead with the negotiations, and our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan are fragile as the result of our love of life and our hope to ease the suffering of the Afghan people through changed Rules of Engagement which put our soldiers further into harm's way, we must rise and demand the release of a British subject in the name of LIBERTY! We must rise and we must rise now. Clinton must be held to account. Eikenberry must be directed by the American people.
At the end of the day, the civilian leadership is in charge. However, the civilian leaders are servants of ‘We the people’ and somewhere along the way a large number of Ivory Tower think tanks have arisen to support an assortment of one issue agendas and have formed an Ivory Wall, sealing off the voices of America from our leaders, leaving we the people without a voice.
Insulated from the crowd, the voice of the people has been drowned out by an elitist maze of think tank and Non-Governmental Organization favor-society apparatchiks. In this, the diplomats and state department have sealed themselves off from accountability to the American people over the years and it is time to start taking a sledgehammer to the Ivory Wall.
The Bill Shaw case must be a test case... If we cannot effect change in Afghanistan, where our tax dollars hold the purse strings, by contacting our leadership and holding them accountable on directing their appointed diplomats, then the diplomats are running the show, not the people.
And at the end of the day that was what the Rolling Stone article about McChrystal was all about - that was the substance of the article. The article was about the fact that the civilian leadership in the diplomatic corps and the Obama Administration were not running on an agenda that guaranteed an American victory, promising instead success, but theoretically delivering only bribery, piracy, and corruption.
Bill Shaw is the victim of that reality.
Free Bill Shaw.
Related Article/Backgrounder at The US Report
US ignores plight of Brit railroaded by Afghan court
Gary H. Johnson, Jr. is a freelance writer based in Georgia, USA and is the Senior Advisor for International Security Affairs at the Victory Institute.