Snapshot: State/INL’s Counternarcotics Program Afghanistan — $220 Million With Unclear Results

Posted: 1:04  am EDT

 

Via State/OIG:

Afghanistan produces three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium, with cultivation reaching a record high in 2013. To reduce, among other things, illicit opium revenue for the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Department of State (Department), Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), assists the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) with initiatives aimed at reducing opium’s supply and demand. Since 2006, INL has expended $220 million on seven Counternarcotics (CN) initiatives in Afghanistan according to its Financial Management Activity Report (FMAR).
[…]
The degree to which INL’s CN program for Afghanistan has achieved desired results is unclear because INL has not fully developed or implemented Performance Measurement Plans (PMPs)2 to track progress for its CN initiatives and to allow for appropriate budgeting. As a result, INL cannot determine whether its Afghan CN initiatives are successful or should be revised, reduced, or canceled. Additionally, the long-term viability of CN initiatives is unclear because INL had not worked with the GIRoA to develop required sustainment plans that detail how CN initiatives will continue without U.S. assistance.

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Click on image for larger view. (Click here for OIG report in pdf)

Above graphic extracted from State/OIG Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Assistance to Afghanistan, November 2014 (pdf).

Related to our blog post on Colombia, note that INL’s program in Afghanistan does not seem to include aerial eradication ( see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?).

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U.S. Embassies Warns of Threats to American Residences in Pakistan, Potential Targets in Afghanistan, Mali, Ethiopia

– Domani Spero

 

On December 19, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert concerning potential threats during the holiday period.

The lone wolf attack in Sydney, Australia on December 15, 2014, resulting in the deaths of two hostages, is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious, maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.  This Travel Alert expires on March 19, 2015.

An analysis of past attacks and threat reporting strongly suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship, and schools, among other targets, during or coinciding with this holiday period. ­U.S. citizens abroad should be mindful that terrorist groups and those inspired by them can pose unpredictable threats in public venues.  U.S. citizens should remain alert to local conditions and for signs of danger.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on December 19 is also warning of terrorist threats to American residences by groups that may be purporting to be service providers to gain access to the properties:

The Embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen  residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers. U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future. Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan Government response may raise the possibility for future threats.[…] The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile is  warning of potential attacks on western NGOs in Kabul:

As of early December 2014, militants were planning to attack a Western, possibly American, non-government organization (NGO) in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Surveillance had been completed and the attack was likely to take place within 2-4 weeks. The NGO office was possibly located close to the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan Passport Authority in Kabul City. There was no further information regarding the timing, targets, or methods of the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued a security message for places typically visited by Westerners:

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also issued a security reminder for U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country.  The targets for these attacks, according to the message, could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and places of worship.

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U.S. Consulate Herat Officially Relocates From 5-Star Hotel to ISAF’s Camp Arena

– Domani Spero

 

In December 2009, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry signed the lease for the 5-Star Hotel property in Herat, Afghanistan, identified as the site of the future U.S. Consulate in Herat, the post that would  cover the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah.

Two and a half years after that lease signing, the U.S. Consulate in Herat officially opened. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attended the opening ceremony on June 13, 2012. He made the following remarks:

And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate — this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
[…]
This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.

Related posts:

 

This past September, we’ve blogged about the 2014 OIG report on Mission Afghanistan noting the rebuilding of the Consulate Herat building following the September 2013 attack:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

We have yet to confirm if  the rebuilding was completed this past summer (see * below).

However, on October 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement of its official notification to the Government of Afghanistan that it is consolidating the State Department operations in Herat at ISAF’s Camp Arena effective October 23:

On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that the United States intends to move its diplomatic and consular presence from its current location on Qol-e-Urdu Road to Camp Arena of the International Security Assistance Force effective on October 23, 2014.  Following the September 13, 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Herat, the staff has been working from Camp Arena, and due to operational considerations, we have decided to continue to operate from Camp Arena.  The U.S. Consulate Herat staff remains committed to engaging with the Afghan people.

Camp Arena, the main Italian base near the city of Herat is home to 2,000 Italian soldiers and 400 Spanish troops (2012 numbers).

So.  That’s where we are right now. * Word on the corridors is that this $10 million refurbished/repaired/hardened building will be a returned to the municipality and will be treated as a write-off. We anticipate that Consulate Herat will be operating out of an ISAF base for the foreseeable future but we don’t know at this time how many of these bases will remain in Afghanistan when troops are reduced to 9,800 after this year and cut in half at the end of 2015.  The reduction of forces in Afghanistan only calls for “a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy” at the end of 2016.

With that in mind, the big question is — where would this plan leave the U.S. Consulate in Herat, currently located in Camp Arena and U.S. Consulate Mazar e-Sharif, currently located in Camp Marmal?

* * *

Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

– Domani Spero

 

They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Kerry in Kabul: Brokering an Election Dispute Agreement in Photos

– Domani Spero

 

Via NYT:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Secretary of State John Kerry spent a second day here in the Afghan capital on Saturday shuttling between the top two presidential contenders and the presidential palace in an effort to forge an agreement on how to audit recent elections and preventAfghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power from collapsing.

The two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, spent the day inside the United States Embassy building holding separate meetings with Mr. Kerry, according to campaign officials. Mr. Kerry then traveled to the palace to talk to President Hamid Karzai. Talks were continuing into early evening without food or drink because of Ramadan, for which Muslims fast during the day. Mr. Kerry complained, jokingly, to Mr. Karzai that his embassy had “starved” him, according to pool reports.

Here are some photos from his latest Kabul trip to broker an election dispute agreement between Abdullah and Ghani.

Stand Together

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appears before reporters with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on July 11, 2014, after he arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Ashraf Ghani. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani as he addresses reporters on July 11, 2014, after Ghani arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a meeting about steps to resolve the country’s disputed presidential election between him and fellow candidate Abdullah Abdullah. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Shake-hands

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Resolve this or no more aid

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Embrace of Rivals

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Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, left, prepares to embrace rival Abdullah Abdullah, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Harder than it looks

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani, right, at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on July 12, 2014, after he helped broker an agreement on a technical and political plan to resolve the disputed outcome of the election between them. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

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U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

– Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[…]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[…]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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Burn Bag: Self-drive in Kabul means what?

Via Burn Bag

“Self-drive” in Kabul means sitting alone and unarmed in the back of a GSO vehicle praying that your motor pool driver doesn’t decide to make 100 times his annual salary by selling you to the Taliban.

Via giphy.com

Via giphy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! 

– Domani Spero

 

As can be expected, the Chicago Tribune report citing an army investigation into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013 made it to the Daily Press Briefing.

State Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says that “No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report.” Since State had concluded its “classified internal review,” how many military personnel did it interview for its report on that Zabul attack?

One, two, ten, the entire unit …how many?

We don’t know since the internal review is classified.

According to the Tribune, the army report says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.  

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The initial blast was cause by detonation from “a remote-controlled bomb hidden under a pallet that was leaned up against the base’s southern wall.” On PRT Zabul base’s wall. The report also slams the “failure of the State Department team to properly coordinate this trip with military leadership.”

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The report says that the State Department shared too much information with Afghan officials, and the group may have been targeted because specifics on the event’s exact time and who would attend “had leaked out.”

Um….we don’t know since the internal review is classified.

An embassy email referenced to in the report said that Qalat was picked because “we think the visuals would be nice” and it is a “the perfect place for a media tour.”

Months or years from now when the media and the public have forgotten about this — are we going to find out that the U.S. Army conducted its investigation without talking to State Department personnel, and that the State Department, as well, came up with an internal review without interviewing any of the military personnel in Zabul?

The spox brought up two items that made us — whisley-tango-foxtrot!

“Afghanistan is a war zone.”

Because we all need a reminder!

“[P]eople responsible for this tragedy were the extremists.”

Holy moly guacamole! Is that the best response we’ve got every time a sapling falls in a forest?

We have excerpted the exchange below.

QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.

So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?

MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.

And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So –

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret –

QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.

MS. PSAKI: — this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.

QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building –

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important –

QUESTION: — is it worth reconsidering?

MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.

QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.

QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless –

QUESTION: — when they had the meeting, they decided not to there –

MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.

QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.

QUESTION: Of course.

MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.

But there’s more.

On April 10, 2013, McClatchy  filed a lengthy report: Witness: Anne Smedinghoff, other Americans killed in Afghan bombing were on foot, lost.  Five days later, then State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied that Smedinghoff’s party was lost:

“Media reports suggesting that the group was lost are simply incorrect. They were going to a compound across the street from the PRT,” he said in written responses to emailed questions.
[…]

Ventrell said the purpose of what he called the “mission” that led to Smedinghoff’s death was a news conference featuring the senior U.S. official in southern Afghanistan and the Zabul governor to promote a book donation project and the “growth of literacy.”

Ventrell called “highlighting Afghanistan’s ongoing progress for both national and international media” an “integral part of our work.”

“This is what we do, and we believe in it,” he said. “Our diplomats believe in getting out beyond the wire to reach people. In this case we were engaging with the people of Afghanistan AND the local government.”

According to the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, reports suggesting that the group was lost are “simply incorrect.”

The Army report now confirmed that the party “had the wrong location for the school.” 

That official word from the State Department was never retracted.

So the Smedinghoff party was not/not lost, but they had the wrong location for the school? What kind of story is this?  Is there another meaning for the word “lost” that we have yet to learn?  We know about “get lost!” so no need to email us.  Mr. Ventrell is now the Director of Communications for the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
On April 24, 2014, McClatchy’s Mark Seibel writes:

“It’s unclear whether there’s been much soul searching at the State Department. In the Tribune story, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounds unrepentant. “The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the mission,” the Tribune quotes her as saying, then adds that “a classified internal review of the day was conducted, . . . and the department determined no State rules were broken.”

We have folks who complained to us — either that the State Department or Embassy Kabul was thrown under the bus in this army report. Well, we only have the army report to go on.

Army report excepted, we know three things from the State Department: 1) they named a courtyard after Ms. Smedinghoff at Embassy Kabul; 2) there is a new checklist in place; and 3) the internal review of the Zabul incident is still classified.

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Snapshot: Top Sectors for State Dept Reconstruction Awards in Afghanistan (2002-2013)

– Domani Spero

Via SIGAR:

We identified seven project sectors for Department of State reconstruction awards in Afghanistan. The project sectors include mine removal, governance and rule-of-law, support to cultural activities and civil society, education, humanitarian aid, human rights, and economic development. The governance and rule-of-law project sector had the highest amount of total awards with $3.5 billion, of the $4.0 billion in total awards. Governance and rule-of-law projects include rule-of-law activities such as counternarcotics programs and justice sector reform, peacekeeping initiatives, and government outreach programs. Land mine removal programs had the second-largest proportion of total awards with $150.7 million. Table 1 includes the total awards for each identified project sector as well as the percentage of total awards.

 

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Read more here (pdf).

 

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Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

– Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[…]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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