US Embassy Kabul: Jan 4 Incident is “Getting Lowballed” by US Officials? (POGO)

Posted: 12:29 am EDT

 

We’ve recently posted about the attacks in Kabul (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan and US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit. On January 7, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) asks, Is the US Embassy in Kabul the next Benghazi?

Quick excerpt below:

Based on exclusive photos, videos, and messages the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been receiving from sources on the ground in Kabul since the housing compound for US Embassy security guards was hit by a bomb on Monday, it is clear that the scope and severity of the blast was significant. However, the US State Department has not mentioned the attack in any of its daily press briefings this week, nor has it provided updates regarding the safety and security of American embassy personnel in Afghanistan. POGO has asked the agency for updated information, but has not received a response at the time of this writing.

An American on the scene at Camp Sullivan, which houses hundreds of US and Nepalese guards, told POGO the blast radius was 100 meters wide and caused a 15- feet deep crater, indicating an explosive charge of at least 2,000 lbs. He said the incident is “getting lowballed” by US officials. A BBC producer in Kabul Tweeted that it was the second largest bomb ever detonated in the Afghan capital.

According to POGO sources on the ground, multiple Afghan nationals were killed (two, according to the Interior Minister) and 11 Nepalese security personnel and one American citizen were injured and flown from the scene. A Kabul hospital reported that nine children were among the wounded in the attack.
[…]

So, how safe are the US embassy and those who defend it?

That’s the question POGO has been asking officials for years at the State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon. Guards defending the facility have long feared that their daily armored convoys to and from the embassy make them sitting ducks for Taliban attacks.
[…]
“If the embassy were attacked, we’d have a huge problem and I don’t want to think about the casualties,” J.P. Antonio, a former medic at the embassy, told POGO in September 2013.
[…]
When a senior State Department official reassured Congress in September 2013 that the the US embassy in Afghanistan was well-protected, POGO challenged the veracity of the centerpiece of his testimony – that the contractors protecting the compound had proven themselves twice in battle – and forced him to correct his testimony when it became clear there were no such tests of the Kabul embassy guard force.

Read in full here.

 

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US Mission Afghanistan Contractor Survives Taliban Car Bomb, Takes Photo, Quits Job, Goes on Reddit

Posted: 2:19 pm EDT

 

 

On January 4, two attacks were directed at USG personnel in Afghanistan (see US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan).  On January 5, the “I survived this yesterday, took a photo and then quit my job” thread went live on Reddit with user DanDalVlan, an Air Traffic Controller contractor in Afghanistan who survived the VBIED attack of a USG site near the Karzai International Airport.

He opened his Reddit thread with “Make money, they said. See the world, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 1706 points 1 day ago 

It was worth it, at first.  Even after the first attack I went through, it was worth it. After this, though? Nope. Big fucking nope. My entire room imploded around me in a surreal blur of glass and brick. If I had been standing instead of laying in bed, I wouldn’t be typing this. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 4895 points 1 day ago* 

Sorry, I forgot to put the story up. I was living at the compound that got attacked by a Taliban VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that was inside of a very large truck. It rendered our compound pretty much useless. Luckily, we had no fatalities with mostly minor injuries (myself included). 

I was working as an Air Traffic Controller out there. The country of Afghanistan doesn’t have the infrastructure to control their own air traffic, so it is contracted out and I was one of those contractors.

Edit I’m editing this just to say that I’m falling behind on answering questions, but I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

2nd Edit I’m officially failing in my attempts to answer questions and reply as fast as they come in. Sorry if I have missed anyone.

3rd Edit I’ve tried replying to all the questions I could find. I’ve gotta stop now though so I can pack my dirty and glass-covered clothes and get on this flight out of here. I’ll try to respond more when I land. permalink

He was asked about how successful the Taliban has been in attempting to influence the region.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 3171 points 1 day ago

I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good source when it comes to that type of information. We live a VERY sheltered life. We go from secure facility to secure facility, with absolutely zero time spent amongst the local nationals. Unless things like this happen, we hear about stuff at about the same pace as the rest of the world, and with the same twists and biases. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. permalink

He was asked if entertainment is imported?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 250 points 1 day ago

Yes, luckily we were still able to get mail. I had quite the collection of board games that my friends and I would play. Then there’s internet/youtube, it’s extremely slow, but better than nothing.permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 261 points 1 day ago

We had booze.I’ll just leave it at that. permalink

He was asked about his Top Ten Favorite Boardgames.

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 2 points 22 hours ago

Top 10 in no particular order: 1. Smash Up 2. Revolution 3. Catan 4. Ticket to Ride 5. Kingdom Death: Monster 6. Risk Legacy 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill 8. Rebellion 9. Munchkin 10. Dixit. I don’t usually like games that are “work together” games. They can usually just be played single player and they usually end up with one person “in charge” anyways. permalink

Another user said his relative was in Afghanistan as an air traffic controller about 5 years ago and didn’t think he ever ran into anything such as this though. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 102 points1 day ago

It’s been getting slowly worse ever since the “official” pullout last year. Usually the winter time is the quietest time since it’s very cold. This year, however, they have been unexpectedly active. permalink

One Reddit user write the question in the American public’s mind: what we are are trying to achieve in a country long known as the graveyard of empires.  “How will Afghanistan come to control their own air traffic in the future if US contractors are doing it all? Is there movement towards Afghanis ever taking it over? Is the US working towards that end, or is this about supplying Americans with jobs? I’m trying to understand what it is we’re trying to achieve there.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 58 points1 day ago

Short answer is yes, we are working towards that. We are currently training a handful of Afghanis. However, they have to learn English as well as all the complicated rules governing ATC. They will not be completely taking over anywhere in the foreseeable future. permalink

He was asked how close he was to the VBIED that blow up the compound”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 150 points 1 day ago

My room was the closest room to it for our building. Probably about 200 feet.permalink

Somebody wanted to know if the bomb ruptured his ear drums?

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 26 points 23 hours ago

No, I kind of felt it coming before anything else and I opened my mouth to avoid having my eardrums pop. permalink

Another user cited a most appropriate use of this video: NSFW Lyrics

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 181 points 1 day ago

That was absolutely amazing and almost entirely accurate. The only difference being that I didn’t really have much of anything left to grab. I’m just glad I have renter’s insurance. permalink

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 122 points1 day ago

I have my ID and passport and some clothes. Everything else is pretty much toast. I’m most sad about my boardgame collection.

He was asked if it is “good pay for risking your neck?”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 193 points1 day ago

It was before, now it’s not even close. To be clear, the pay didn’t change, my perspective did. permalink

One Reddit user says, “I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but your still probably in shock from it all, but remember, PTSD is real. I strongly recommend, when you are ready, a therapist. Someone who you can brain dump it all out. Everyone handles near death experiences differently. I was a medic, and addict/alcoholic, and I am one of those whom never got help, and it nearly killed me. I don’t mean to impose any fear or anxiety on you, I just say from personal experience.”

[–]DanDalVlan[S] 11 points21 hours ago

That’s actually why I did this. So I could share and talk about it.permalink

The Reddit post was submitted on January 5.  It currently has 2605 comments, and 5,867 points (96% upvoted). The photo submitted in the aftermath of the attack is here.

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According to SIGAR, since 2004, FAA—primarily through the Office of the Transportation Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—has received $56.5 million from State and USAID to train Afghan civil aviation personnel, assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in developing its regulatory regime, and improve Kabul International Airport’s infrastructure and services. There’s more:

Due to difficulties associated with developing Afghan capacity for managing the civil aviation system, FAA officials and coalition forces concluded that effective future operation of Afghan airspace would require the development of a third-party contract for providing airspace management services. Accordingly, in 2013, FAA and coalition forces assisted MOTCA in preparing a contract that included provisions requiring the contractor to train Afghan personnel, similar to the structure of the Afghan-centric aviation security contract.
[…]
The United States planned to transition airspace management responsibilities back to the Afghans at the end of 2014, but, partly due to a lack of certified air traffic controllers, that did not occur.[…] Due to the potential for air service disruption, the Department of State funded an interim, DOD-managed contract for $29.5 million to provide the services through September 2015. If a follow-on contract is not awarded before this contract expires, the United States could be called on to fund another interim contract.

 

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US Embassy Kabul: January 4 Attacks Target USG Employees at Camp Sullivan

Posted: 5:19 pm EDT

 

In December 2015, the US Embassy in Kabul warned of an “imminent attack.”  On January 4, 2016, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a security message that the embassy has received reports that an explosion has taken place in the vicinity of Airport Circle in Kabul at approximately 11:00 a.m. local time and indicated that mission personnel have been advised to avoid the area. The same day, NBC News reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a compound for civilian contractors near the Kabul airport on Monday, a senior security official said, hours after another suicide bomber blew himself up. A convoy of U.S. embassy guards who live at Camp Sullivan was targeted in the second attack, the official said, but none of the guards were injured.

Camp Sullivan is a 20.9-acre property located near Kabul International Airport. It sits about 2.14 miles from the main embassy compound.

 

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DOD Builds the World’s Most Expensive Gas Station in Afghanistan For $43M, Oh, Joy!

Posted: 1:01 am EDT

 

Apparently, we’ve built a compressed natural gas (CNG) automobile filling station in the city of Sheberghan, Afghanistan. The project cost almost $43 million, and the average Afghans can’t even afford to use it.

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO or Task Force) was originally created by the Department of Defense (DOD) to help revive the post-invasion economy of Iraq. In 2009, TFBSO was redirected to Afghanistan, where its mission was to carry out projects to support economic development. From 2010 through 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $822 million to TFBSO for Afghanistan, of which the task force obligated approximately $766 million.

The contract awarded to Central Asian Engineering to construct the station was for just under $3 million. Yet according to an economic impact assessment performed at the request of TFBSO:

The Task Force spent $42,718,739 between 2011 and 2014 to fund the construction and to supervise the initial operation of the CNG station (approximately $12.3 [million] in direct costs and $30.0 [million] in overhead costs).

SIGAR says that the $43 million total cost of the TFBSO-funded CNG filling station far exceeds the estimated cost of CNG stations elsewhere. According to a 2010 publication of the International Energy Association, “the range of investment for a public [CNG] station serving an economically feasible amount of vehicles varies from $200,000 to $500,000. Costs in non-OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are likely to be in the lower end of this range.”

The SIGAR report notes that the total cost of building a CNG station in Pakistan would be approximately $306,000 at current exchange rates.  In short, at $43 million, the TFBSO filling station cost 140 times as much as a CNG station in Pakistan.

$43 million from the American taxpayers.

The SIGAR report also says that its ’s review of this project was hindered by DOD’s lack of cooperation, and when it comes to TFBSO activities, DOD appears determined to restrict or hinder SIGAR access.

It is both surprising and troubling that only a few months following the closure of TFBSO, DOD has not been able to find anyone who knows anything about TFBSO activities, despite the fact that TFBSO reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, operated in Afghanistan for over five years, and was only shut down in March 2015.

Further, SIGAR says that “If TFBSO had conducted a feasibility study of the project, they might have noted that Afghanistan lacks the natural gas transmission and local distribution infrastructure necessary to support a viable market for CNG vehicles.  Additionally, it appears that the cost of converting a car to run on CNG may be prohibitive for the average Afghan. TFBSO’s contractor, stated that conversion to CNG costs $700 per car in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $690.”

We meant well in Afghanistan, too. Oh, joy!  What edition are we on?

But serious question. How can we have something happen like this, with DOD hindering/restricting SIGAR’s access and no one is in jail?

The read and weep report is available online here: https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-16-2-SP.pdf 

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Ambassador Richard Olson as New Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP)

Posted: 1:06 am EDT

 

The State Department announced the appointment of Ambassador Richard Olson as the new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP).

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Ambassador Richard Olson will succeed Dan Feldman, who concluded his tenure September 18, as U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP). Ambassador Olson will assume his responsibilities as SRAP on November 17, after concluding his service as the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan. As were his predecessors, Ambassador Olson will be responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs that support U.S. national security interests in promoting stability and increasing prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ambassador Olson brings extraordinary experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as elsewhere, to his new position. He has served as U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the last three years. Prior to his experience in Islamabad, Ambassador Olson served as the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2011 to 2012, during which time he oversaw all U.S. non-military assistance programs and support for the Afghan government. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011. He is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, and has served at the U.S. Department of State since 1982.

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State Dept Honors Six Security Contractors Killed in 2014 Camp Gibson-Kabul Suicide Attack

Posted: 3:11  am EDT

 

On August 3, the State Department held a ceremony honoring six security personnel who were killed while working for DynCorp International on behalf of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) in Afghanistan.

All six honorees were security guards at Camp Gibson in Kabul and were killed on July 22, 2014, when a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle attacked the camp.  They hailed from four different countries – Fiji, India, Kenya, and Nepal.  Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom and INL Assistant Secretary William R. Brownfield will pay tribute to our fallen colleagues by laying a wreath at the INL Memorial Wall located within the State Department building at its 21st Street Entrance.

There are 93 names on the wall commemorating the individuals from 12 countries and the United States who lost their lives between 1989 and 2014 while supporting the Department’s criminal justice assistance programs abroad.  These individuals collaborated with host governments and civil society in challenging environments to enhance respect for rule of law around the world.  The Department is proud to recognize their service and sacrifice to our nation.

A virtual INL Memorial Wall is available at http://www.state.gov/j/inl/inlvirtualwall to pay tribute to the 93 honorees and their families.

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The State Department announcement does not include the names of those honored at the INL ceremony. The New Indian Express identified the two Indian nationals as P V Kuttappan and Raveendran Parambath, as well as the two Nepali security guards as Ganga Limbu and Anil Gurung.  The security guards from Fiji and Kenya were not identified.

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Snapshot: US Embassy Kabul Capital Investments, FY2002-March 2015 Now at $2.17Billion

Posted: 2:45 am EDT

Via GAO-15-410 (pdf):

State’s past and planned capital construction investments in Kabul from 2002 through March 2015 total $2.17 billion in project funding, which includes awarded construction contracts and other costs State incurs that are not part of those contracts. Examples of other State project costs include federal project supervision, construction security, security equipment, and project contingencies.12 Figure 3 shows these investments.

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015

US Embassy Kabul Capital Projects FY2002-2015 Past and Planned Capital Investments (via GAO) | click image for larger view

 

In fiscal years 2009 and 2010, State awarded two contracts originally worth $625.4 million in total to meet growing facility requirements at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. The first contract, awarded to Contractor 1 in September 2009 for $209.4 million, was for the design and construction of temporary and permanent structures to include

  • temporary offices and housing,
  • office annex A,
  • apartment building 1,
  • cafeteria and recreation center,
  • perimeter security and compound access facilities,
  • warehouse addition, and
  • utility building.The second contract, awarded to Contractor 2 in September 2010 for $416 million, was for the design and construction of:
  • office annex B,
  • apartment buildings 2 and 3,
  • expansion of existing apartment building 4,
  • compound access and perimeter security facilities, and parking facilities—to include a vehicle maintenance facility.

    State’s plans called for sequencing construction under the two contracts and demolishing older temporary facilities to make space available for new facilities. State’s plans also entailed acquiring the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site adjacent to the compound to build parking facilities for approximately 400 embassy vehicles. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer that site, State had to remove the parking and vehicle maintenance facilities from the project.

    In September 2011, State partially terminated elements of the first contract—specifically the permanent facilities, including office annex A and apartment building 1—for the convenience of the U.S. government, in part, due to concerns about contractor performance and schedule delays. Contractor 1 completed the temporary offices and housing units, but in September 2011, State transferred contract requirements for the permanent facilities not begun by Contractor 1 to Contractor 2’s contract.

    The estimated completion of project has now been moved from summer 2014 to fall 2017.

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We Meant Well, Afghanistan Edition: Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools, Ugh!

Posted: 1:16 am  PDT

 

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Excerpt:

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
[…]
USAID program reports obtained by BuzzFeed News indicate the agency knew as far back as 2006 that enrollment figures were inflated, but American officials continued to cite them to Congress and the American public.

As for schools it actually constructed, USAID claimed for years that it had built or refurbished more than 680, a figure Hillary Clinton cited to Congress in 2010 when she was secretary of state. By 2014, that number had dropped to “more than 605.” After months of pressing for an exact figure, the agency told BuzzFeed News the number was 563, a drop of at least 117 schools from what it had long claimed.
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Last week, we were looking for clinics.

What’s next … ghost soldiers? Oops, that’s already an old story?

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Burn Bag: Fly the Friendly Skies Via Helo For 2.2 Miles Between Embassy Kabul and Kabul International Airport

Via Burn Bag:

“After nearly 14 years, $1 trillion, and more than 2,300 lives, the security situation in Kabul is such that the Embassy is using helicopters to transport its staff the 2.2 mile distance to the international airport.”

via giphy.com

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