Year after year after year after year… International donors were briefed with positive spin in the look forward to them donating even more cash to cover the next year’s American led involvement.
From politicians at home, to diplomats sitting in relative luxury in Kabul alongside their UN and NGO counterparts, to military generals overseeing thousands of deployed troops, all writing their weekly reports in order to justify their existence within Afghanistan’s latest facade of democracy. But really, just where is it getting them?
Well, for many of those individuals, it got them promotion…but today, can they really sleep at night?
I say that because they know just what spin many were putting in their reports, as they knew that bosses back home, and the tax payers alike, only want to hear good news coming out of Afghanistan.
With the amount of money rolling in, even if it decreased slightly year on year…bad news or anything negative is NOT what the powers back home wanted to hear.
I remember from 2004, moving around the country unilaterally got more difficult by the month. Even on occasion with a security presence from International troops…you were just a massive overt target waiting to be whacked.
Not only did this effect the people who I was spending most time with, the media…but it greatly effected the likes of NGO’s and the UN from getting to outlying areas and small towns.
Over the 6 years, I attended while news gathering with media teams, many briefings by heads of projects. The one thing that struck me quickly, was that every time they’d show on the ground progress by use of a chart, it would only show $$$$ spent!
So for example, one International actor was responsible for setting up a school for 200 children in an outlying district. The end of year chart showed that they have now got up to 5000 children overall receiving an education. This total was given due to the money spent on building schools overall in the districts that they were responsible for. Not by actually getting off their fat pampered arses and getting out onto the ground and seeing these schools in operation, and therefore counting bums on seats.
So, the question that the media wouldn’t ask, but I did after the meeting…was how do you know just how many kids are actually getting an education at these schools, and are these schools actually in operation? The answer…we don’t know because it’s too dangerous to travel, we had a local third party carry out the operation! Money spent…that’s all.
There were lots of similar stories over the coming years from different actors. Another was to do with vaccinations, again charts showing money spent. It turns out that the vaccinations were handed out also to a third party to distribute. So what actually happened?
Because of the noises from many NGOs stating that the country is too dangerous to move in certain areas, their job was replaced in part by the military, much to the disgust of the NGOs as it was felt that it would tie them to the military as targets in the future…a fair point.
We now move towards PRT teams. Military teams of provincial reconstruction, again such as building schools, roads, power, clean water etc.
Many of these PRTs were in really tough areas such as Nuristan Province, Nangahar, Paktika and many others. It was tough enough for soldiers to sustain themselves going out on daily patrols, let alone trying to oversee the build of a school, setting a presence every day at the same time and place.
Again when on media military embeds, I’d see the Lt Col assigned to the project hold up graphs showing guess what…yes, money spent!
However, the military at least were able to have eyes on the projects most of the time, because they were the military and not an NGO. But after the builds in the tougher areas around Afghanistan, the security situation got so bad that the American general in overall charge of NATO decided to pull back from the outlying areas and concentrate their efforts on securing the cities.
This then allowed the Taliban to close the schools and use them as their own HQs, or even just burn them to the ground.
So, back home when the tax payer watches the news, and they hear that millions of Afghan children are receiving an education…well, just how many are actually sitting in their schools…and not just how much was paid out for them to sit in their schools?
I feel for the Afghans and their future, already way too many have been killed or misplaced. They deserve much better from the West’s involvement of almost 20 years. But what angers me is just how our government gets involved, and sends billions of $$$$ of tax payers money over there, alongside brave young military personnel, and the money gets thrown away in black hole projects, or into the pockets of warlords sitting in government, all to adhere to failed US foreign policy. With too many youngsters of our own killed or physically and mentally scarred for life.
However, I will say hats off to those actors who rolled their sleeves up and made it known that their presence and projects just weren’t cutting it, and why…and left! Even in the British military, I’m well aware of Lt Col and Major ranks pulling the plug on their careers as they didn’t agree with what they were assigned to do…certainly the military’s loss, as they can never afford to lose good officers of middle rank.
So, are these many “rogue” actors really still proud of their weekly reports if they were to read them back today…or will they stand up after looking themselves in the mirror, and say…I’m sorry?