Afghan Corruption - the Greatest Obstacle to Victory in Operation Enduring Freedom

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. THE AFGHAN VIEW
     A. Daily Life
     B. Law Enforcement and the Military
     C. Senior Leaders
     D. Kabul Bank
     E. Afghan Government Rationalizations
     F. Afghan Anti-Corruption Efforts
III. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY'S VIEW
 IV. U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS' COMMENTS
  V. ENTER THE TALIBAN
 VI. PERSONAL VIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS
     A. Why is Afghanistan so Corrupt?
     B. Three Suggestions
VII. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda murdered 2,977 people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and aboard four airliners. (1) On October 7, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan after its Taliban regime refused to surrender al-Qaeda leaders sheltered there. (2) As an Army Reserve officer, I had the opportunity to serve two brief tours in Afghanistan.

My first Afghan tour was from March to July, 2003. There were only 10,000 U.S. troops in-country, (3) but security was good. We suffered twenty-six U.S. and allied dead, and thirty Americans wounded (4)--each a tragic individual sacrifice, but a relatively small number altogether. Taliban presence in the country was negligible. Hopes were high for the government of Hamid Karzai.

My second Afghan tour was from March to July, 2010. There were now 100,000 U.S. troops "surged" to the country as security deteriorated. (5) The night I arrived in Kandahar City, the Taliban killed thirty, attacked the police headquarters, raided the jail, and seized control of Afghanistan's second-largest city for hours. (6) We suffered 315 U.S. and allied dead, and 2,178 Americans wounded during my tour. (7) The task force I served on lost eleven members, and an infantry unit in my area of operations lost more men than any U.S. Army battalion since Vietnam, with twenty-two dead and seventy wounded. (8) A massive Taliban insurgency was underway. In my observation, support for the Taliban in parts of Kandahar City was as high as ninety percent. Even the few brave Afghans who opposed the Taliban also roundly denounced the Karzai government.

On June 22, 2011, President Barack Obama announced a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014. (9) Negotiations seeking a political settlement with the Taliban are underway (10)--despite the Taliban's support of the 9/11 attacks and grave human rights violations against fellow Afghans during their 1996-2001 rule. The outcome of America's campaign in Afghanistan is in doubt.

What went so wrong in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2010? Why did support for the Taliban skyrocket in the intervening years? Perhaps the biggest reason is Afghan government corruption. Corruption at all levels of the Afghan government resulted in a loss of confidence by the Afghan people in their leaders and fueled the insurgency.

This Note first looks at Afghan views of corruption through the words of its citizens, government officials and media: how it is experienced in daily life, the malignant actions of law enforcement and the military, the complicity of senior leaders, the key role of the Kabul Bank, the excuses offered for the situation, the status of local anti-corruption efforts, and how the problem is exploited by the Taliban. Next, this paper reviews surveys and studies of the issue by international anticorruption bodies and non-governmental organizations, such as Transparency International, the United Nations, Integrity Watch, and the International Crisis Group. Then it examines statements of senior U.S. government officials regarding Afghan corruption. Finally, it offers suggestions on how the U.S. can hope to deal with this issue over the next three critical years.

Afghans, NGOs, and the U.S. government agree that Afghan government corruption is leading to disaffection between the Afghan people and their leaders, as well as contributing to the rise in sympathy with the insurgency and even reliance by Afghans upon the Taliban for justice. …