Poof, they’re gone 272

US counter-insurgency tactics in Afghanistan are being modeled on methods that worked – so they say – in Iraq.

The Washington Post reports:

Perhaps the most important reason population control worked to the extent it did in Baghdad was because each side believed the other posed an existential threat, and both turned to the United States for security. In many parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, the population has yet to seek protection.

Their “hearts and minds must be won”, but –

Many Kandaharis regard the Taliban as wayward brothers and cousins — fellow Pashtuns with whom they can negotiate and one day reconcile. They also worry about siding with their government because they fear Taliban retribution, both now and when U.S. troop reductions begin next summer.

The U.S. counterinsurgency strategy depends on persuading Pashtuns to … cast their lot with their government.

Their incorrigibly corrupt government, it should be said. But push on.

The U.S. military and civilian agencies are trying to help the government win over the public by delivering services to the population that the Taliban does not offer, including education, health care, agricultural assistance and justice based on the rule of law.

That requires capable civil servants willing to work in an unstable environment — and that’s where the strategy is hitting its most significant roadblock.

“Unstable environment” being a nice way of saying “death trap”. Not many Afghans are attracted to it.

A recent effort by Karzai’s local-governance directorate to fill 300 civil service jobs in Kandahar and the surrounding district turned up four qualified applicants, even after the agency dropped its application standards to remove a high school diploma, according to several U.S. officials.

But the four could, maybe, read and write. Next problem, how to keep them alive?

U.S. officials are exploring ways to protect Afghans working for the government. One plan under consideration would involve transforming the Kandahar Hotel into a secure dormitory surrounded by concrete walls, for civil servants. Development contractors working for USAID are building compounds with secret entrances to minimize the chances that insurgents spot staff members.

Nervous men walled up together, sneaking through secret ways – as a recruiting ad, probably not great.

And even if a few more semi-educated civil servants were to sign up and be willing to huddle behind concrete barriers and slink about in fear, the outlook for law and order is not bright.

Getting government officials in place is no guarantee of success. Kandahar’s governor and mayor are regarded as ineffective administrators, but U.S. and Canadian advisers are trying to transform them into more competent leaders.

Trying and trying, however discouraging the signs:

In the Panjwai district to the west of Kandahar … the district governor and the police chief recently got into a fight. The chief hit the governor with a teakettle and the governor smashed a teacup on the chief’s head, the confrontation culminating in a shootout between their guards.

In Arghandab, U.S. military and civilian officials spent a year working closely with — and praising — the district governor, Abdul Jabar. When he was killed in a car bombing in Kandahar this summer, the officials blamed the Taliban.

But some of those same officials concluded that the governor was skimming U.S. funds for reconstruction projects in his district. His killing, they think, was the result of anger by fellow residents over his not distributing the spoils, not a Taliban assassination.

“It was a mob hit,” said one U.S. official familiar with the situation. “We saw him as a white knight, but we were getting played the whole time.”

Maybe if Afghans who can read and write are transported out of their “unstable environment” to the United States and trained in, say, Texas, they might do better?

It ‘s been tried, at least by the military. Afghans were willing, even positively eager to be flown to America. Once there, they weren’t slow to take advantage of the opportunities suddenly laid before them: wine, women, song, and freedom.

Fox News reports:

A loose network of Mexican-American women, some of whom may be illegal immigrants, have been responsible for helping numerous Afghan military deserters go AWOL from an Air Force Base in Texas

Many of the Afghans, with the women’s assistance, have made their way to Canada; the whereabouts of others remain unknown. Some of the men have been schooled by the women in how to move around the U.S. without any documentation.

The Afghan deserters refer to the women as “BMWs” —  Big Mexican Women — and they often are the first step in the Afghans’ journey from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Canada …

The Afghan military men usually meet the women at three nightclubs in San Antonio … The nightclubs include two military hangouts — Tiffany’s Cocktails and Mirage, located outside Lackland’s main gate — and Graham Central Station, a massive warehouse-like building in downtown San Antonio that houses “six nightclubs under one roof” that host a variety of theme nights. Photos on Graham Central’s website show scantily clad women rolling around in what appears to be Jell-O.

In the past eight years, no fewer than 46 members of the Afghan military have gone absent without leave … As most Afghans on the base do not have cars [what – they’re not given cars?! – JB], many of them depended on the women to pick them up at Lackland’s back gate in the middle of the night and help them vanish.

Many of the men decided to go AWOL just hours before they were scheduled to fly home to Afghanistan

In one instance, a student … who is now living in Toronto, spent hundreds of dollars on books and materials to take home to Afghanistan, where he was supposed to teach English. But he vanished less than a week after purchasing the textbooks — and just hours before his flight was due to depart.

Another student … described by friends as the most unlikely of the 46 to go AWOL, decided at the very last minute not to go home. A pilot with two wives and more than a dozen children, he failed his final exam and felt too humiliated to face his family, the sources said. He vanished in March, and the sources said he could not have gotten away from Lackland without help.

The women are believed to have been responsible for picking up numerous other Afghans …

The women who help the deserters are like groupies…  Many are single and older than the Afghans, who tend to be in their early 20s. If an Afghan needs a ride, they’ll pick him up. If they’re needed to run errands — or to take them away from the base in the middle of the night — they will be there at a moment’s notice …

But the women do more than drive the “getaway cars”; … they also provide the deserters with crucial advice and encouragement, apparently drawn from their own personal experiences. The women … have told some of the men that it’s possible to live in the U.S. illegally.

“These guys, they want a better life, but they’re scared to run away without their passports or identification, they’re scared they’ll get caught,” a source who has assisted in [a] multiagency investigation said.

“These BMWs say, ‘It’s OK.’ Then poof, they’re gone.