Power of Story
Send a Tweet        
- Advertisement -

Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (1 Shares)  

Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites (# of views)   No comments
General News

Tomgram: Engelhardt, Clueless in Afghanistan -- and Washington

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Tom Engelhardt     Permalink
      (Page 1 of 3 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H3 7/26/10

Author 3598
Become a Fan
  (31 fans)
- Advertisement -

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch readers:Don't miss the review Dan Froomkin, the Huffington Post's senior Washington correspondent, wrote about my new book,The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, under the title "The Essential, Undistractable Engelhardt" for his Neiman Watchdog website (cross-posted at the Huffington Post). Here are a few excerpts: "The mainstream media have always been easily distracted and beguiled... This makes us particularly fortunate to have a few relentless souls like Tom Engelhardt around, using the Internet not to chase the latest chatter but to tenaciously chronicle, explore, and illuminate the unspoken realities that shape our political discourse... Engelhardt, a longtime book editor, is the creator and editor of the TomDispatch.com website" He is the finder and cultivator of important progressive voices" But at the heart of TomDispatch.com is Engelhardt's own work and his... thesis that America is a modern empire that has become addicted to the wars that are hastening its decline... His new book is a seamlessly edited collection of his writings... and establishes him as one of the grand chroniclers of the post-9/11 era." And keep in mind that if you buy my book, or anything else, after arriving at Amazon.com via a book link at this site, TD gets a small percentage of your purchase at no cost to you. If you're an Amazon shopper, get in the habit. It's an easy way to support TomDispatch and is greatly appreciated! Keep an eye out for the next TD post Thursday on our more relaxed summer schedule, a new piece by Andrew Bacevich. Tom]

The Opposites Game
All the Strangeness of Our American World in One Article

By Tom Engelhardt

- Advertisement -

Have you ever thought about just how strange this country's version of normal truly is? Let me make my point with a single, hardly noticed Washington Post news story that's been on my mind for a while. It represents the sort of reporting that, in our world, zips by with next to no reaction, despite the true weirdness buried in it.

The piece by Craig Whitlock appeared on June 19th and was headlined, "U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps." Maybe that's strange enough for you right there. Russian copters? Of course, we all know, at least vaguely, that by year's end U.S. spending on its protracted Afghan war and nation-building project will be heading for$350 billion dollars. And, of course, those dollars do have to go somewhere.

Admittedly, these days in parts of the U.S., state and city governments are having a hard time finding the money just to pay teachers or the police.The Pentagon, on the other hand, hasn't hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to "train" and "mentor" the Afghan military and police -- and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again. That includes the Afghan National Army Air Corps which, in the Soviet era of the 1980s, had nearly 500 aircraft and a raft of trained pilots. The last of that air force -- little used in the Taliban era -- was destroyed in the U.S. air assault and invasion of 2001. As a result, the "Afghan air force" (with about 50 helicopters and transport planes) is now something of a misnomer, since it is, in fact, the U.S. Air Force.

- Advertisement -

Still, there are a few Afghan pilots, mostly in their forties, trained long ago on Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and it's on a refurbished version of these copters, Whitlock tells us, that the Pentagon has already spent $648 million. The Mi-17 was specially built for Afghanistan's difficult flying environment back when various Islamic jihadists, some of whom we're now fighting under the rubric of "the Taliban," were allied with us against the Russians.

Here's the first paragraph of Whitlock's article: "The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan's fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead."

So, various congressional representatives are upset over the lack of a buy-American plan when it comes to the Afghan air force. That's the story Whitlock sets out to tell, because the Pentagon has been planning to purchase dozens more of the Mi-17s over the next decade, and that, it seems, is what's worth being upset about when perfectly good American arms manufacturers aren't getting the contracts.

But let's consider three aspects of Whitlock's article that no one is likely to spend an extra moment on, even if they do capture the surpassing strangeness of the American way of war in distant lands -- and in Washington.

1. The Little Training Program That Couldn't: There are at present an impressive 450 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan training the Afghan air force. Unfortunately, there's a problem. There may be no "buy American" program for that air force, but there is a "speak American" one. To be an Afghan air force pilot, you must know English -- "the official language of the cockpit," Whitlock assures us (even if to fly Russian helicopters). As he points out, however, the trainees, mostly illiterate, take two to five years simply to learn the language. (Imagine a U.S. Air Force in which, just to take off, every pilot needed to know Dari!)

Thanks to this language barrier, the U.S. can train endlessly and next to nothing is guaranteed to happen. "So far," reports Whitlock, "only one Afghan pilot has graduated from flight school in the United States, although dozens are in the pipeline. That has forced the air corps to rely on pilots who learned to fly Mi-17s during the days of Soviet and Taliban rule." In other words, despite the impressive Soviet performance in the 1980s, the training of the Afghan Air Force has been re-imagined by Americans as a Sisyphean undertaking.

- Advertisement -

And this offers but a hint of how bizarre U.S. training programs for the Afghan military and police have proven to be. In fact, sometimes it seems as if exactly the same scathing report, detailing the same training problems and setbacks, has been recycled yearly without anyone who mattered finding it particularly odd -- or being surprised that the response to each successive piece of bad news is to decide to pour yet more money and trainers into the project.

For example, in 2005, at a time when Washington had already spent $3.3 billion training and mentoring the Afghan army and police, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report indicating that "efforts to fully equip the increasing number of [Afghan] combat troops have fallen behind, and efforts to establish sustaining institutions, such as a logistics command, needed to support these troops have not kept pace." Worse yet, the report fretted, it might take "up to $7.2 billion to complete [the training project] and about $600 million annually to sustain [it]."

In 2006, according to the New York Times, "a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department... found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone." At best, stated the report, fewer than half of the officially announced number of police were "trained and equipped to carry out their police functions."

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3

 

- Advertisement -

View Ratings | Rate It

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon



Go To Commenting
/* The Petition Site */
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
- Advertisement -

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Tomgram: Nick Turse, Uncovering the Military's Secret Military

Noam Chomsky: A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?

Andy Kroll: Flat-Lining the Middle Class

Christian Parenti: Big Storms Require Big Government

Noam Chomsky, Who Owns the World?

Rebecca Solnit: Why the Media Loves the Violence of Protestors and Not of Banks