J. Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:45 am ET
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“When we look into that mirror, let’s not turn away.”
-J. Kael Weston

Richard Holbrooke in The Longest War called John Kael Weston “a remarkable young Foreign Service officer after he established a direct dialogue with tribal leaders, university students, mullahs, madrassa students and even Taliban defectors in 2008.

Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War wrote that “As a front-line political officer for the State Department, Weston has perhaps seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than any single American. But what makes this book special–what makes Weston special–is his ability to transcend his own experience and bring it all home, and force us, as Americans, to ask ourselves the larger questions that these wars demand. This is a necessary book, and one that will last.” 

Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment and winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction  and the John Leonard First Book Prize wrote that the books is “a riveting, on-the-ground look at American policy and its aftermath” and “is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars.”

John Kael Weston joined the State Department in 2001. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as the State Department representative in Anbar Province, Iraq, and Helmand and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan (http://www.jkweston.com). He has a twin brother Kyle Weston who works for a Utah-based outsourcing company and wrote about experiencing war through a twin.  Prior to serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, he served at USUN in 2003.  He is the recipient of the Secretary of State’’s Medal for Heroism.  He left government service in 2010.  Read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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click on image to read the excerpt

 

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Richard Holbrooke Film Airs Tonight on HBO — Nov 2, 8pm

Posted: 4:26 pm EDT
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Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Posted: 3:02 am EDT
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Last month, we’ve blogged about State/INL’s aerial eradication program in Colombia (see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?). We understand that there was a cable sent through the Dissent Channel concerning this subject. We also received an  allegation that the “OIG wouldn’t touch this issue last year.”   So we asked the Office of Inspector General and here is its official response:

There is no Department program or operation that the OIG is unwilling to review. In fact, the OIG inspected Embassy Bogota, Colombia in early 2011. That inspection discusses counter narcotics programs, drug production and trafficking in Colombia. Additional pertinent, recent reports include a Compliance Follow-up Review of Embassy Bogota, published in December 2008 (ISP-C-09-08A), and an Inspection of Embassy Bogota published in March 2006 (ISP-I-06-16A).

That 2011 OIG inspection report is a 64-page document;  the discussion on the counternarcotics program encompasses approximately four pages of that report.

We could not locate a recent OIG inspection/audit of the counternarcotics (CN) program in Colombia. By comparison,  there are multiple audits for the CN program in Afghanistan (see related items below). The CN program in Colombia predates the one in Afghanistan, so makes one ask questions. We’ve also asked State/OIG if there is any plan to put this program in the IG’s inspection or audit schedule anytime soon? Here is the response:

OIG develops its work plans based on a number of factors – including, a program’s risk profile, its relation to the Department’s management challenges, mandated work, congressional requests, OIG resources, etc. Our FY 2015 Work Plan and 2015 Office of Audits Strategic Work Plan are on our website. I wouldn’t be able to comment on any work, in addition to that listed in the plans, which may or may not be scheduled in the near future.

Below is an excerpt from the Embassy Bogota 2011 report (pdf):

Since 2001, Colombia’s estimated annual cocaine production potential has decreased by 61 percent, from 700 to 270 metric tons. The United States has made a major investment in helping Colombia address the narcotics problem. The United States provided more than $7.4 billion (approximately $5.9 billion from the Department of State (Department) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $1.5 billion from the Department of Defense for Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs from FYs 2000 through 2010.

Embassy Bogotá’s NAS is one of the largest in the world, with 134 employees and 664 contractors. The FY 2010 NAS budget for all programs was approximately $244 million, a significant decrease over a 3-year period from approximately $326 million in FY 2007.

That’s a lot of money and that 61% looks good but when was the last time this program was audited?

The only Audit of INL Programs in Colombia we could locate is one dated July 2000 and posted publicly online in 2004.  The audit says that “Despite spending over $100 million on the increased eradication efforts during FY 1997-99, the results of the spray program are uncertain.”

But this 2000 OIG audit is, of course, an ancient dog.

In any case, aerial eradication is discussed briefly under “Other Matter” in a 2010 USAID/OIG audit on the Alternative Development program in Colombia (pdf):

The UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime], acting on the behalf of the Government of Colombia, delineates project boundaries and verifies, using a combination of satellite and ground monitoring, that the area is free of illicit crops. Despite these measures taken, beneficiaries do not have a guarantee that they will not be subject to aerial eradication. Officials from USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section acknowledge that occasionally, land that the Government of Colombia has certified as being illicit free and has come under the alternative development program has been subject to fumigation (eradication). The audit interviewed beneficiaries from two alternative development activities in the department of Putumayo who lost their licit agricultural crops because of aerial eradication efforts.

Beneficiaries are still at risk despite demonstrating that their land is illicit free because the different goals and objectives that the U.S. Government is trying to achieve under its three-tiered counternarcotics strategy (interdiction, eradication, and alternative development) do not always complement each other. For example, a key U.S. Government’s counternarcotics objective is to assist the Government of Colombia in its efforts to eliminate the cultivation of illicit drug crops. Under the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Office of Aviation supports the Colombian National Police’s efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation. As part of those efforts, the Office of Aviation uses airborne digital cameras to photograph suspected coca fields. If coca is identified, these fields become targets for aerial fumigation.

According to officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Department of State’s Narcotics Affairs Section, the routes used for aerial fumigation are based on predetermined global positioning system coordinates. However, while in the air, if the pilot is able to visibly identify coca outside of the predetermined area, then a decision to eradicate can be made. Unfortunately, some licit crops share an appearance similar to that of the coca leaf, creating a possibility for human error in the decision to eradicate.

According to USAID/Colombia and Narcotics Affairs Section officials, there is a complaint process established for anyone who believes that their land has been fumigated erroneously. The complaint process can be lengthy, and if beneficiaries cannot provide the correct global positioning system coordinates of their land and the date of the alleged fumigation, any damages resulting from the fumigation can be difficult to prove. Adding to the challenge is that the effects of aerial fumigation are not immediately visible but appear days or weeks after the field was sprayed. If a complaint is successful, the beneficiary is compensated for the loss. However, it is doubtful that the beneficiary can truly recover the time and effort invested in the cultivation of the licit agricultural crops on the land. And having lost their investment once, the beneficiary may decide not to continue with the production of licit crops.

Officials from both USAID/Colombia and the Narcotics Affairs Section state that interagency coordination has improved and more sharing of information is helping to ensure that alternative development program beneficiaries are better identified and considered prior to instances of aerial fumigation. Nevertheless, the protection of these beneficiaries cannot be guaranteed.

 

In March 2014, the Congressional Research Service issued  a report (pdf) on International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses. Excerpt below:

Much of contemporary counternarcotics efforts in Colombia stem from a 1999 Colombian government strategy to address security and development issues, called Plan Colombia. It was intended to be a six-year plan, concluding in 2005, to end the country’s decades-long armed conflict, eliminate drug trafficking, and promote economic and social development. The plan aimed to curb trafficking activity and reduce coca cultivation in Colombia by 50% over six years. In support of Plan Colombia and its follow-on programs, the U.S. government spent more than $8 billion in security and development assistance between FY2000 and FY2011, to include both civilian and military counterdrug support efforts.

Here is the part of the 2014 CRS report that talks about eradication:

Eradication is a long-standing but controversial U.S. policy regarding international drug control. As recently as 2008, the State Department had considered crop control the “most cost-effective means of cutting supply,” because drugs cannot enter the illegal trade if the crops were never planted, destroyed, or left unharvested. Without drug cultivation, the State Department’s rationale continued, “there would be no need for costly enforcement and interdiction operations.”

Proponents of eradication further argue that it is easier to locate and destroy crops in the field than to locate subsequently processed drugs on smuggling routes or on the streets of U.S. cities. Put differently, a kilogram of powder cocaine is far more difficult to detect than the 300 to 500 kilograms of coca leaf that are required to make that same kilogram. Also, because crops constitute the cheapest link in the narcotics chain, producers may devote fewer economic resources to prevent their detection than to conceal more expensive and refined forms of the drug product.

Opponents of expanded supply reduction policy generally question whether reduction of the foreign supply of narcotic drugs is achievable and whether it would have a meaningful impact on levels of illicit drug use in the United States. Manual eradication requires significant time and human resources, reportedly involving upward of 20 work-hours of effort to pull up and destroy one hectare of coca plants. Aerial application of herbicide is not legal or feasible in many countries and is expensive to implement where it is permitted. Aerial fumigation in Colombia has also raised allegations that the herbicide chemical used has caused negative human, animal, and environmental consequences.

Others question whether a global policy of simultaneous crop control is cost-effective or politically feasible because eradication efforts may also potentially result in negative political, economic, and social consequences for the producing country, especially in conflict or post- conflict environments.  Some argue that this has been the case with respect to eradication efforts in Afghanistan, where some U.S. officials have acknowledged that poppy eradication may have caused many poor Afghan farmers to ally with insurgents and other enemies of the Afghan government.  In 2009, Richard Holbrooke, who was the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the time, called Western eradication policies in Afghanistan “a failure” and stated that they have “wasted hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars.” Since 2009, the U.S. government has no long directly participated in eradication operations in Afghanistan.

Ok.

So help us out here.  What we can’t understand is how a program that costs American taxpayers over $8 billion in the last 11 years has no State/OIG audit trail?

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Related posts:

 

Related items: Counternarcotics (CN) Reports Afghanistan

Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counter-narcotics Assistance to Afghanistan | November 14, 2014} AUD-MERO-15-02 | View Report: aud-mero-15-02.pdf

Performance Evaluation of PAE Operations and Maintenance Support for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Counternarcotics Compounds in Afghanistan | March 04, 2011| MERO-I-11-02 | View Report: 157927.pdf

Status of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Programs in Afghanistan Performance Audit | December 23, 2009 | MERO-A-10-02
| View Report: 134183.pdf

Interagency Assessment of the Counternarcotic Program in Afghanistan July 2007 | August 03, 2007 |  ISP-I-07-34 | View Report: 90158.pdf

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs July 2005 | June 18, 2009 | ISP-I-05-14 | View Report: 125271.pdf

 

Secretary Kerry Swears-In New Ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg (Video)

– By Domani Spero

Secretary Kerry swore-in Philip Goldberg as U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines at the Department of State in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2013. A text transcript can be found at http://www.state.gov/secretary/remark….

….”we’re proud that we’re sending to the Philippines the right person for the job. Phil Goldberg is a consummate professional who has held an enormous array of positions in the Foreign Service – Executive Secretary to Strobe Talbott, worked with Dick Holbrooke in trying to help resolve – not at trying – in resolving the challenges of the Balkans, spent many long hours in smoke-filled rooms negotiating and working on that peace accord; has served as Deputy – as Chief of Mission in Kosovo, Ambassador in Bolivia; and through State Department in Washington positions; and abroad two Chief of Mission positions – this man is absolutely the right person for this job, most recently serving most capably as the Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research.”

Ambassador Designate Goldberg, following the new media tradition of his two predecessors in Manila, has joined Twitter and on November 25 announced his arrival in a tweet:

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Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker “Dedicates” The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio – to Whom?

Via El Snarkistani over in It’s Always Sunny in Kabul:

And this took over a year? Don’t they have Macbooks at the Embassy?

So part of Crocker’s legacy at the Embassy, besides being really excited about how much money has been siphoned out of the country due to massive corruption, and making sure that the majority of Department of State staff in this country never left Kabul, is the eponymous TV studio that took over a year to complete.

Now, instead of outsourcing ridiculous television ventures, the Embassy staff can now be inept all on their own.

Oh, El Snarky, so harsh. What is El Snarkistini talking about? This one:

Caption from US Embassy Kabul/FB:
The Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio was dedicated on 24 June with a ribbon cutting at the Embassy by Ambassador Crocker and Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy, Eileen O’Connor. The production studio, which took over one year to complete, will give the Embassy the ability to do live television broadcasts and studio quality videos for the web.

Paging Mr. Universe, you are needed in Kabul A-S-A-P where you can now do live television broadcasts and studio quality videos for the web in Afghanistan, a country where 4.2% of the population are internet users and where more than half never uses television. That teevee number goes up 73% in the rural areas of Afghanistan, by the way.

Whose bright idea was this? Please do tell so we can give appropriate credit!

Okay – so since Ambassador Crocker “dedicated” this ahem, Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio on June 24, to whom did he dedicate this to?  To the best of our memory, even the late Richard Holbrooke who reportedly had his own personal archivist did not go so far as dedicate a building to himself.

Um, pardon me?  You mean why can’t ambassadors name stuff after themselves in a country where money obviously is not/not a problem it’s leaking left and right?

Because. It’s bad form. And it’s muy, muy embarassaurus. I’m writing this post under my desk, you guys!

Oh, yes — wouldn’t that look  like ambassadors are building a temple of their own greatness or something? But pray, what’s wrong with that? If they are in fact, great?

Well, for one thing, it reminds us of Alexander the Great who liked to found cities and name them after himself, in honour of his own achievements. By the way, last year the BBC had this interesting piece about the pitfalls of naming places after famous people. It’s a must read if you’re thinking of renaming things after yourself, too.

And then there’s El Jefe, Rafael Trujillo.  In 1936 the capital city of the Dominican Republic was changed from Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo. The province of San Cristobal was changed to “Trujillo”, and the nation’s highest peak, Pico Duarte, was renamed Pico Trujillo. Heck, this is a broadcast studio, it’s not like they’re naming a mountain after him.

Right you are, but huge problems with bad associations, see?

And it creates a bad precedence.   Seriously.  Are they going to start naming the chanceries and ambassadors’ residences with ambassadors’ names? Or new embassy compounds, or water towers?  Or roads and bridges built with aid money? What?

C’mon Ms. Eileen O’Connor, Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy and US Embassy Kabul folks, youreallydon’tthinkthislooksbad?

The State Department already has a  $10,000 award named after Ambassador Crocker (see Ryan C. Crocker Award for Outstanding Leadership in Expeditionary Diplomacy). I get that.  But I don’t know whose brainchild is the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio or how much this cost American taxpayers. And this is still a shocker.  Also a production studio need folks to work there, so more 3161 employees are needed. And here I thought we’re shrinking our footprint there by 2014. Oops wait, aren’t we supposed to be there until 2024 to the Karzai’s clan endless delight? While we’re in the business of naming stuff, can we please, please name something big, a bridge, a building, the Parliament, “2014” as a reminder?  Oh, we can always rename it “2024” later to celebrate the next phase of this perplexing relationship.

In any case, I fervently hope that the Ryan C. Crocker Expeditionary Production Studio‘s name is carved in stone or the next ambassador might be tempted to re-brand that new shiny thing with his/her name. Of course, who’s going to say “no” if he/she wants to replace the carved stone with a new carved stone with a new name, hmnnn?

Domani Spero