Quickie: TelConference With Ambassador Eikenberry (That Did Not Happen)

Photo by US Embassy Kabul
via Flickr

Note: Since Spencer Ackerman retracted this story, the title of this post has also been updated. The original title was “Quickie: TelConference with Ambassador Eikenberry.”

You’ve heard about those “leaked” cables on Afghanistan? If not, read The Washington Post piece U.S. envoy resists increase in troops (November 12, 2009). The U.S. ambassador in Kabul reportedly sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Spencer Ackerman has a follow-up on this:

It was a tense meeting this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council by teleconference from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. “He is very unpopular here,” said a National Security Council staffer who described the meeting.
The prevailing theory is that “he leaked his own cables” because “he has a beef with McChrystal,” the staffer said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Eikenberry’s successor as NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested an increase in troops to support a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial counterterrorism component.
The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan “without an exit strategy” and urged that the president to adopt a “purely civilian approach” with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military. According to the NSC staffer, Eikenberry “wants a realignment” of USAID, the Afghanistan inspector general’s office and the State Department’s stabilization and reconstruction office. Eikenberry said President Obama “wants that” — although Obama was not in the meeting — and he hailed the arrival of the new USAID administrator-nominee, Rajiv Shah, “because he will not wage war when the org charts start changing.”

Read the whole thing here.

Update: 11/13/09
Whoops! Spence Ackerman has retracted this story:

“From the start, the post should have a) more clearly indicated that my source wasn’t present at the meeting; b) more clearly indicated that the account provided was single-sourced; and c) verified the information provided before publication. My enthusiasm for a hot story outpaced my professional judgment. For that I take full responsibility, retract the story and issue a full apology for its publication.” Read: A Retraction of My Eikenberry Post. See what a retraction looks like here. Wow! You don’t see this very often in the media now.

Obama’s UN-Mgt Reform Nominee’s Troubles

President Obama nominated Jide Zeitlin to be Representative of the United States to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform on September 14. Mr. Zeitlin had his confirmation hearing at the SFRC last November 4. Over the weekend, Pervez Iqbal Siddiqui of The Times of India reported on more trouble for Mr. Zeitlin in India (Obama envoy wanted by Lucknow police | TNN 8 November 2009) :

“The criminal case has been lodged under Section 406 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) by a group of 16 telecom sector contractors based in Lucknow accusing IMI of not clearing their outstanding dues worth an estimated Rs 4.5 crore (Almost a million US dollars). Apart from IMI chairman Jide Zeitlin, the FIR also names Nakul Wafna of Mumbai, Rishad Currimjee and Amitabh Srivastava as having represented IMI in different capacities.”
“Allegations are that even after 10 months of their contract job being executed in full, the IMI was yet to clear outstanding dues that should have been paid within 30 days of the work order being executed. The FIR, lodged by Bhupak Singh, a partner in Satakshi Contractors (Allahabad) on behalf of the 16 contractors, states that all out efforts to trace and contact the authorities of IMI named above have proved futile. The outstanding dues on IMI were causing heavy financial losses as it has blocked liquid capital of the contract companies which were issued the work orders.”

The case was reportedly filed in Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh in India.

Read the whole thing here.

Mr. Zeitlin had been officially nominated but has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Click here for the official statement from the WH on this nomination and here for Forbes.com’s profile of Mr. Zeitlin. The testimony of this nominee has not been posted in the SFRC website but you can watch the video of the confirmation hearing here. Click on the word “NOMINATIONS” to view the video (Zeitlin’s official statement starts at 26:00, but Q&A follows after all the nominees have read their prepared statements).

Related Item:
U.N. point-man nominee seeks to assure lawmakers (TWP)

Related Posts:

Update: @9:15 pm
I have received several emails and comments in this blog about Mr. Zeitlin’s business troubles. I will not be posting them here. If you have something to say about his nomination, I suggest that you contact the following office which is tasked with considering this nomination:

U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
Majority Phone: (202) 224-4651
Minority Phone: (202) 224-6797

AFSA 2009: Four Post Election Possibilities

USS Enterprise (CV-6) steams toward the Panama...Image via Wikipedia

Here is what I got from an individual familiar with deliberations inside AFSA:

  • A re-vote is not a prospect anyone in AFSA looks forward to.

  • A new election would embarrass AFSA and cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars in things like postal fees, printing costs, etc.

  • The DOL investigation has moved to the adjudicative phase, and it was the sense of the leadership that the membership should be informed, thus, the AFSANET message.

It is my understanding that there are three items pending before the Department of Labor with respect to the 2009 AFSA election:

  1. Complaint by one of the slates alleging that several sitting AFSA Board members and committee chairs lobbied improperly for the competing slate. I was aware of this complaint but did not know this was formally submitted to AFSA or to DOL.
  2. Challenge filed by a number of candidates who lost the election, asserting improper use of email addresses. I understand that one slate used a mailing list which had been previously distributed to candidates in the 2007 election but not in the 2009 election. NDS has something about this specific issue here and the Elections Committee response.
  3. Challenge filed by one individual alleging a number of technical violations, like the wrong placement of paid advertisement, etc. This is the first time I’ve heard of this complaint.

The ruling from the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) is supposedly expected to happen soon. Four months after the 2009-2011 Governing Board was officially seated, here are four post-election possibilities:

— No significant wrongdoing, results stand: If OLMS decide that no significant wrongdoing occurred and that despite some minor issues the election was essentially fair, it could rule that the results stand as is.

— Wrongdoing occurred but results stand: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred but it did not affect the outcome of the election, it could rule that the election results stand as is.

— Order AFSA to re-do some races: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred that affected the outcome of some races, it could order a redo of selected races, and let the other results stand.

— Order AFSA to re-vote: If OLMS decide that wrongdoing occurred that affected the outcome of the entire election, it could order AFSA to redo the entire election.

Each of the above possibility will not make everybody happy but by far, the last possibility would be the most expensive and embarrassing possibility of all, specifically for AFSA but also for the Foreign Service community.

This may sound preachy — but politics is often ugly, whether it is the high office or the school board, but it need not have to be ugly. As Secretary Gates said, “If you took all the Foreign Service officers in the world, they would barely crew one aircraft carrier.” The FS, in fact, is a very small world. And in that very small world of an “aircraft carrier,” you need every crew to move that ship. You need people who can fight tooth and nails on the issues, but you also need them to maintain a sense of decorum, and collegial harmony. Because on this one – jumping ship is seldom an option.

I do think that the Election Guidelines need some work and some teeth. If a new one ever becomes available, I think it ought to be posted for comments before it becomes final. That would give the membership a chance to participate in crafting the ground rules of their election engagement. The challenges submitted and the corresponding decisions of the Elections Committee also ought to be publicly available and easily accessible in the union’s website. The membership has a stake in the outcome, and should be aware of this information.

AFSA’s challenge is not unique, of course, as it is the same for all who engage in politics. The people must be able to believe that their representatives are concern about the state of the country/organization/board more than they care about the state of their own parties/slates or their own individual interest. Perhaps this is a naive way of looking at it, but when people stop believing, they stay away.

You can read the AFSA By-Laws here. The AFSA 2009 election materials are archived here. This matter is out of AFSA’s hands now, but it might not be too late to let the Governing Board hear your thoughts on this. After all, the next election is just around the corner.

Did we legally adopt Afghanistan while we were asleep?

In addition to building power plants in Afghanistan at a total cost of $305.5 million, US taxpayer funds have also been expended to purchase fuel because the host country could not afford to buy it.

The USAID/OIG had just released its audit of USAID/Afghanistan’s power sector activities under its Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program. This does not look pretty; you might want to cover your eyes: $249.6 million had been expended for 12 megawatts of power (the goal was to generate 140 MW); an additional $15.6 million was also used for procurement of fuel last year.

Quick summary from the report:

The utilities sector in Afghanistan is among the least developed sectors in the economy. Only about 15 percent of the population has access to electricity.
To promote political stability, providing sufficient electrical power has been important for both the capital city of Kabul as well as for the agricultural provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. The Governments of Afghanistan and the United States became increasingly concerned that Afghanistan’s North East Power System might not be able to provide sufficient power to Kabul by the winter of 2008–2009. Furthermore, the Kajakai Dam hydroelectric power plant has been considered a vital component of the South East Power System in Afghanistan, which provides electricity primarily to the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar—the agricultural breadbaskets of the country.

So in an effort to help the Afghan Government and to make electricity more available within Kabul and within the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, USAID/Afghanistan awarded two task orders under its Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program to Louis Berger Inc./Black and Veatch Special Projects Corp. Joint Venture.

1: Task Order 9 was awarded in July 2007, with an objective to build a diesel-powered electricity generating plant that would provide 105 megawatts of additional generating capacity in Kabul by the 2008–2009 winter season. This task order had a completion date of April 2009.

Results: As of May 13, 2009, when audit field work ended, the mission-funded projects were able to deliver only 12 megawatts of power, far less than the original goal of 140 megawatts. Moreover, this modest increase in power had not actually been delivered by the new Kabul power plant to the city’s population. By that date only 3 of 18 planned generators had been installed at the plant, 2 of which could generate the 12 megawatts of power. The third generator installed at the plant—which the project had expected to generate 5.8 megawatts—had yet to undergo startup and testing activities.

2: Task Order 2, awarded in January 2007 for the completion of work at the Kajakai Dam in Helmand Province, included refurbishment of an existing turbine, installation of a new turbine, and various supporting services. The objective of this task order was to increase capacity of the dam by 35 megawatts (to a total of 51.5 megawatts) by an estimated completion date of June 30, 2008.

Results: None of the 35 extra megawatts of power had been delivered to the local population as of May 13, 2009.

Extracted from USAID/OIG Report

As of April 30, 2009, the combined ceiling price for these two task orders (including $2.8 million for related activities, such as demining and building a perimeter wall, specified under another task order) was $305.5 million. By that date, USAID/Afghanistan had obligated $290.8 million and expended $249.6 million for the two projects.

Of course, all is not lost. The OIG points out that “Although the mission-funded projects have not succeeded in providing the electrical production in accordance with its original schedule, USAID/Afghanistan has experienced some successes under each task order. With regard to the 105-megawatt plant, the mission has funded ongoing training, and to date seven engineering interns, three mechanical and four civil, have been trained to maintain the plant. The interns perform tasks that include maintaining a detailed material control and inventory of equipment, monitoring civil installation, performing materials testing, preparing daily construction reports, and interpreting technical drawings.”

Except that the 7 trainees cited above may not really mean anything because — the report also says that:

Host Government May Not Be Able to Meet Its Commitment to Provide Fuel to Operate the Kabul Power Plant

“Sustainability is a core element of USAID program design guidance. However, it is unlikely that the host government can afford to pay for the fuel to operate the facility, for reasons such as increases in fuel prices and the inability to collect on utility bills. In addition, the current configuration of the northern Kabul transmission system does not allow for use of cheaper electricity alternatives at certain times of the year, although these alternatives could ultimately reduce overall fuel costs. Without fuel to run the facility, the plant will not be able to produce sufficient electricity to meet consumer demands. As a result, businesses will almost certainly suffer, and the anticipated economic gains from having this reliable power source will not be achieved.”

The OIG report cited Section 611(e) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended and codified in 22 U.S.C. 2361, which provides that whenever certain types of funds are proposed to be used for a capital assistance project exceeding $1 million, the head of agency must take into consideration the mission director’s certification as to the capability of the country to effectively maintain and utilize the project.

Apparently at the start of this project, the mission received a commitment from the Afghan Government to budget and provide for the fuel required to operate the facility. The mission director also certified that the host country had the capability to effectively maintain and utilize the project.

But then in October 2008, the Afghan government notified the mission that it would be unable to purchase fuel for the new facility when it was completed and requested financial assistance to purchase fuel for the upcoming winter when the plant was to have been completed.

In fact, the OIG report says that “the mission reduced its contribution to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, a trust fund managed by the World Bank, by $28 million and used these funds to purchase fuel. However, since the project was not completed on time, the $28 million was used to purchase fuel for an existing plant. Approximately $15.6 million for fuel was procured out of the $28 million, and in April 2009 the host government requested that the remaining funds be reserved for the next winter.”

Huh? Holy mother of goat and all her crazy uncles!

So — in addition to building the power plants at a total cost of $305.5 million (that have yet to be operational), US taxpayer funds have also been expended to purchase fuel because the host country could not afford to buy it. How long are we supposed to be responsible for the procurement of fuel for this country? I mean seriously — did we legally adopt Afghanistan while we were all asleep?

Marshal Sokolov
during the Politburo Session of January 21, 1987 had this to say about economic assistance to Afghanistan during the Soviet excursion there in the 80’s:

“We have to sort out the economic assistance: they are asking for three times more than they need. Yes, we will have to help. But—so that there is [some] benefit. In 1981, we gave them 100 mln. [rubles] of free assistance. And all of that went to the elite. And there was nothing in the hamlets—no kerosene, no matches.”

Twenty years later, it’s hard to disagree with the officer who led the ground forces in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Yes, let’s do that — sort out the economic assistance. It’s not like we have a surplus to brag about.

Related Item:
Audit of USAID/Afghanistan’s Power Sector Activities Under its Afghanistan Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program |
Audit Report No. 5-306-10-002-P | November 10, 2009