Thursday, May 31, 2007

AFGHANISTAN: UN to track civilian casualties more closely

In its sixth year, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced that it was setting up a database to track civilian casualties more closely. This bold move no doubt follows the spate of high-profile reports of civilians being killed in botched attacks and crossfire, attributed to either ISAF or US-led Coalition forces. As the UN Human Rights expert in Afghanistan is quoted as saying: '"Unfortunately, civilian casualties are unavoidable in conflicts," said Diaz.'

In an IHT article entitled 'Losing the 'other war' in Afghanistan', focuses on the rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan as being a key issue undermining the Afghan and international effort. The metrics they put on the issues gives an understanding of why the problem is so important - and also accepting that this is at best a partial view:

'Since March there have been at least six incidents in which Western troops, mainly those under American command, have been accused of killing Afghan civilians, with more than 135 deaths reported and many more wounded. According to Red Cross, bombing by U.S. forces in western Afghanistan last month destroyed or badly damaged some 170 houses and left almost 2,000 people in four villages homeless.'

For what it's worth, it is sadly not a new problem. 'Karzai has told U.S. and NATO commanders that the patience of the Afghan people is wearing thin. He said civilian deaths and aggressive, arbitrary searches of people's houses have reached an unacceptable level, adding "Afghans cannot put up with it any longer..."' The behavior foreign forces has been a chronic criticism since 2001, surprising that it is only reaching the public consciousness at this point.

A hats off to abu muqawama, who caught a great paragraph in a Washington Post article that shows the Taliban may share some of the same concerns:

'On Tuesday, Taliban leader Mullah Omar said on the group's Web site that the militant group is "concerned" about civilian casualties. Omar called for an independent body to investigate them, saying the group should be guaranteed safe passage from Taliban fighters and from U.S. and NATO troops.'

DPKO- Discipline for peacekeeping troops vital

Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, talked about the upcoming introduction of formal discipline standards for United Nations peacekeepers, standards which troop-contributing nations must accept.

A separate article focused on the staggering budget of DPKO on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers. The article includes a roundup of views on the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN system, and those states who are footing important parts of the overall cost.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Aegis Charitable Foundation- Private Security Companies- Low Cost, High Impact Assistance

Had originally intended to post on a vehicle of British-based security comapny Aegis Specialist Risk Management having been hit by a roadside bomb in Basra.

While visiting the Aegis website, gave a full read to the profile of Aegis' founder, Tim Spicer. Found a glimpse of Aegis [private security companies in general] that hadn't seen before:

'He [Tim Spicer] created the Aegis Charitable Foundation in 2004, a registered UK charity which provides direct assistance to communities through low cost, high impact civil affairs projects. Tim’s effort and support of this charity not only significantly helps communities in great need having suffered from conflict, but has also enhanced the ability of Reconstruction Operations in Iraq to actually implement their programmes successfully. Tim’s concept for the charity has been to carefully target projects that communities need and also want. The Foundation has therefore concentrated its efforts on building relationships with local tribal leaders and communities to provide clean water projects, inoculation programmes, school and health clinic equipment and smaller items such as toys, clothes and shoes. Tim has now expanded the Foundation’s arena to include Afghanistan.'

Sure enough, the Aegis Charitable Foundation enjoys its own pages to show off its good work- replete with images of (presumably) Tim himself delivering life-saving supplies of soccer balls to Iraqi children. [It is recommended to scroll through their projects- it is so rare to see humanitarian marketing photos of the benevolent aid-providing staff and their interlocutors with their faces blurred... Needless to say, the smiling beneficiaries are all lucky enough to have their faces shown without blurring...] Wonder if Aegis considers this as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Darfur- UN Council endorses plans for large Darfur force

Flurry of events around Darfur:

The UN Security Council endorsed a plan for a Darfur Peacekeeping force of more than 23,000 troops and police. 'The proposals, from the United Nations and the African Union, have two troop options: one with 19,500, composed of 18 infantry battalions, and another with 17,605, with 15 infantry battalions. Police would include 3,772 officers and perhaps an additional 2,500 policemen to establish a local police force in refugee camps... One of the main tasks is to provide security to the tens of thousands living in camps and patrol humanitarian supply routes and "where necessary escort humanitarian convoys," which have been attacked regularly by armed groups and militia, the document said.

The UNSC session had to reconvene for when US Ambassador Khalilzad read the wrong statement on the Sudan the first time round. The erroneous statement was a hard-hitting denunciation of Sudanese aerial bombardment in Darfur

The EU released 40 million euros in financing for the AU peacekeeping force.

Finally, the AU has nominated a Nigerian General to lead the Darfur peacekeeping force. '"General Agwai will serve first as the force commander of the African Union Mission in the Sudan and ultimately as the Force Commander for the AU-U.N. hybrid operation," the African Union said in a statement seen by Reuters on Thursday.'

Afghanistan- US Forces interrogating Afghans in Aid Agency Compounds??

The Guardian was stirring things up last week with a series of articles predicting the collapse of Afghanistan along the lines of Iraq, all fueled by comments from OXFAM.

They did seed a rather explosive closing paragraph in the article, which really needs to be expanded:

'Separately, the Guardian has learned that, to the fury of civilian organisations, US forces are using an aid agency's property as a place to interrogate Afghans.'

The accusations seem a bit unlikely that these furious civilian aid agencies haven't already published multiple press releases on the subject... Hey, would be happy to be proven wrong, has anyone seem more details of these allegations?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

DRC- Accusations that UN troops 'traded gold for guns'

The BBC alleges that a UN investigation concluded that Pakistani peacekeepers in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were trading gold with local militias and selling confiscated weapons back to their previous owners. The incidents, which would have taken place in 2005, were investigated in 2006, though there the article illustrates that the investigators were obstructed in their work. Interestingly, the UN was alerted to the gold trading allegations by Human Rights Watch.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Border agents recruited for Iraq duty

In the same vein of outsourcing, a military contractor is actively recruiting Border agents for service in Iraq. DynCorp International already has 700 trainers in Iraq, but received a request from the State Department to augment this force. Not surprisingly, the salary is roughly triple what agents earn at home. DynCorp is not new in this business, its website includes provides further background on this service they provide.

Northrop Grumman Awarded Contract for Global Training of Peacekeeping Forces

Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract for the Global Peace Operations Initaitive (GPOI- more on the initiative here and here). The $200 million US contract over five years is part of the US Department of State initiative to build worldwide capacity for peacekeeping operations. L3 Communications MPRI was also awarded a similar contract.

As the press release makes clear, Northrop Grumman has already been providing similar training under the ACOTA program- African Contingency Operations Training Assistance- since the 1990s.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa

The Congressional Research Service published a report entitled 'Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa.' Ths is a great resource that is worth a read. The appendices include a history of US military involvement in Africa.

China pledges $20bn for Africa

'China intends to provide about $20bn in infrastructure and trade financing to Africa during the next three years, eclipsing many of the continent’s traditional big donors by a single pledge.'

This article might not seem entirely germane to the civil-military question, but in light of the renewed US focus on Africa through AFRICOM, the Chinese have upped the ante in one foul swoop, and through civilian, financial means.

China's moves haven't gone unnoticed by other donors. 'The World Bank has accused China of financing projects rejected by others because of environmental concerns and rights groups say it lends without regard to standards on governance or corruption.' Sour grapes? The real concern, beyond mere competition, appears to be that China's preference is towards bilateral and not multilateral development initiatives.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Female Police in Liberia Hope to Curb Rape Epidemic

ABC reported on the deployment of an female Indian Para-military force serving with the UN Peacekeeping force in Liberia. Theirs is the first deployment of an all-female unit by the United Nations.

A direct impact of this group of peacekeepers has been to give Liberian women the confidence to report assaults directly to them- not a small achievement, given that the UN in Liberia has convicted peacekeepers with 30 cases involving sex for food in 2006 alone.

'Part of the policewomen's mission here is to encourage Liberian women to join a national police force of their own. Their belief is that the sight of uniformed women in positions of authority can reduce the level of violence against all women.'

Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghanistan War - NYT

NYT has an excellent article on the new front line in Afghanistan- the drug war.

The article doesn't shy away from the evident criticism- that having avoided fighting the opium trade in Afghanistan has seriously eroded the military, political and development progress made elsewhere. The issue of exactly 'who?' should take on the drug war has been a political- and military- hot potato since the 2001 war. At alternating intervals, ISAF, Coalition Forces and the Afghan government have denied their role in the drug war, and often even its importance.

One interlocutor made an interesting parallel with Iraq:
“This is the Afghan equivalent of failing to deal with looting in Baghdad,” said Andre D. Hollis, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for counternarcotics. “If you are not dealing with those who are threatened by security and who undermine security, namely drug traffickers, all your other grandiose plans will come to naught.”

DoD Announces the ROTC Language and Culture Project

This is an interesting (and overdue) initiative by the US Department of Defense:

In partnership with Indiana University, San Diego State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Texas at Austin, DoD will promote the linguistic and cultural skills of ROTC cadets:

'As part of this project, Indiana Universitywill offer scholarships for study at their prestigious summer institute in languages including: Arabic, Russian, Azeri, Kazakh, Pashto, Tajik, Turkmen, Uyghur and Uzbek. San Diego StateUniversity plans to re-shape their military science minor while drawing on the resources of the community around them to teach different dialects of Arabic as well as Farsi and Russian. TheUniversity of Mississippi will offer opportunites for study of Chinese including summers of study abroad. The University of Texas at Austin will invest in material and curriculum to expand their programs in Arabic and Farsi.

Originally posted on Abu Muqawama- thanks!

Blast kills AU soldiers in Mogadishu

AlertNet reports that an explosion has killed several AU peacekeepers traveling in a convoy in Mogadishu.

Proposed Budget Levels for UN Peacekeeping- 2006 - 2008

UN Pulse published a note by the Secretary-General, showing approved resources for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007 and proposed budgetary levels for the period from 1 July 2007 to 30 June 2008.

Peacekeeping ain't for the faint of heart: 2006- 2007 comes in at $5 406 019 800 US, and 2007 - 2008 at $5 348 059 500 US- barring any new deployments, of course.

In terms of DPKO 'humanitarian projects', the same budget includes $7.34 million US for quick-impact projects.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

15 guidelines for Peacekeepers - Jan Pronk

Former SRSG in Sudan, Jan Pronk, published his 15 guidelines for Peacekeepers as he ended his tenure in Khartoum. There's some sensible stuff in his proposals:

First: United Nations peacekeepers in a country are visitors. Their presence is temporary. Their function is catalytic, no more. Peace ought to be home grown.

Second: There is no peacekeeping without peace. Peace, to be made by the parties to a conflict themselves, should precede efforts to keep the peace.

Third: The sovereignty of a state has to be respected, but brought into balance with the protection of the people within that state. Keep that balance!

Fourth: Respect national traditions and domestic cultures.

Fifth: International staff members should respect national staff members, their views and their positions. They are vulnerable: they have no ticket to leave the country. They know their country better than you.
National staff members should have patience with international staff members.
They could have chosen for comfort back home. They are idealists, or anyway, once they have been idealists.

Sixth: All UN staff members have the duty to follow a unified approach, in whichever agency they work, as peacekeepers or as humanitarian and development workers. That implies a commitment to the same goals and a duty to respect the same boundary conditions, for instance those set by the Security Council representing the international community. A unified approach of all UN agencies also implies the duty to consult each other about each other’s work, the duty to cooperate and to use a common infrastructure and common services. Finally this unified approach requires the acceptance of a unified command.

Seventh: Delegate, decentralize, trust your staff and show this to them.

Eight: Work as a team.

Nine: The field is more important than headquarters. People in headquarters should understand this. But those who are working in the field, when critical about headquarters, should be aware that they are not “the” field, but that, farther away, other colleagues may consider them too as a headquarters.

Ten: Never be satisfied. There is no room for complacency, despite many achievements.

Eleven: Insecurity, risk, uncertainty and political pressure are not a hindrance, but a challenge. They are no exceptions to a normal and stable pattern. They are not exogenous factors, but inherent to peacekeeping.

Twelve: Fight bureaucracy. Fight also the bureaucrat in yourself. Stay a movement; keep the spirit of a pioneer.

Thirteen: Care for people. People first.

Fourteen: Peacekeeping is a calling, not a joba

Fifteen: Please, stay.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Afghanistan- Revived Taliban restrict Afghan aid effort

CS Monitor has a provocative article attempting to equate the military successes of the Taliban with restriction on aid and development in Afghanistan.

Against the backdrop of NATO troops giving out candy, the author highlights the difficulties that donors are having in finding Afghan NGOs to implement projects in volatile regions. Presumably the search for Afghan partners is now the tactic of choice to make up for the absence of international partners, who are unable to work without armed security. But even this approach is apparently failing, as the Afghan NGOs are explaining the same problems that their international counter-parts have faced since 2001:

'...finding Afghan aid agencies who are willing to work on projects in outlying southern districts has become a thorny problem – especially in areas where international troops visit districts to inspect aid work, such as the canal-clearing project in Niki Kaz.

"When they [NATO soldiers] monitor the projects themselves, they come with tanks, with weapons, and this affects our staff badly," says Abdul Salaam Siddiqi, the deputy director of the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA).

Mr. Siddiqi says his agency has rolled back its activities steadily over the past two years and now operates only in provincial capitals in the south.

Delivering aid in outlying districts has become impossible, and eight staff members have been killed since 2002.

"We face many problems. The Taliban have arrested our engineers there and captured our vehicles," he explains.'

Sunday, May 06, 2007

UN Job creation schemes in Iraq economic plan

We posted earlier on a $1bn job creation plan in Iraq, as a parallel to the military surge announced in January.

The UN-brokered economic compact, signed this week, announces many of the same ambitions for Iraqis, aiming to create a liberal free market in Iraq.

'But, while the language echoes Washington’s dreams for transforming Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, officials on the ground admit that, in the short term, reviving state-owned industries to create jobs will take priority.

“At this stage in Iraq’s situation, I would argue very strongly that profitability is not the key aspect in assessing your state-owned enterprises,” a senior US official in Baghdad involved in economic policy said this week.'

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Pentagon's New Africa Command

The Council of Foreign Relations has an excellent backgrounder on the New African Command (AFRICOM) announced by President Bush in February.

The article highlights some of the differences between the future AFRICOM and existing Commands:

- 'The Pentagon stresses that Africom’s primary mission will be preventing “problems from becoming crises, and crises from becoming conflicts.”'

- 'It resembles the mission statement of other regional commands, but “the difference is that building partnerships is first and foremost of the strategies which is not necessarily the case with other commands,” says Ambassador Loftis.'
An interesting statement, as the authors frame it, AFRICOM will be more of a diplomacy-development Command, with focus being heavy on cooperation activities with national armed forces, and only a limited capacity for 'kinetic' military operations.

- 'Though Africom will be led by a top-ranking four-star military general, unlike other regional commands, its deputy commander will be a State Department official... Some defense officials say that Africom could function like the interagency task force within Southern Command; in that structure, interagency members have the authority to make decisions without consulting Washington.'
This mixing up of military and civilian staff and agendas is an experiment at a scale not yet attempted by others. Will be curious to see how this aspect is fleshed out over the coming months.

Research- US Marines unlikely to report civilian abuse -study

Some interesting statistical data on the percentage of US soldiers deployed in Iraq. The Pentagon report stated that only 40% of Marines and 55% of Army soldiers would a report a fellow serviceman for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi. The survey found increasing rates of mental health problems for troops on extended or multiple deployments.

There have been some interesting pieces on the relationship between the prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib and a sharp rise in scenes of torture on prime time television. The prime culprit is the Fox show 24, where hero Jack Bauer is regularly torturing, terrorists, friends and even US officials, all justified by a patriotic sense of 'the end justifies the means'. While we can't make a scientific link, the same Pentagon survey found that over one-third of soldiers and Marines believe torture should be allowed to elicit information that could save the lives of American troops or gain knowledge about Iraqi insurgents. Art imitates reality- or vice-versa?

Friday, May 04, 2007

PRTs accused of spending unequal amounts on development

'Sarabi longs for a US-led PRT [Provincial Reconstruction Team] in her impoverished province, which would have spent, she says, more development money than the existing New Zealand PRT.'

So begins this short Alertnet article entitled 'PRTs accused of spending unequal amounts on development'. The theme is a fresh take on the eternal PRT debate: seen from the point of view of a provincial governor in Afghanistan, PRTs are a good thing. In fact, they are a great thing, especially if they are well-financed.

The article does provide a balanced overview of views and realities as concerns PRTs around Afghanistan. Ultimately, there is little debate on the divergent agendas, approaches and budgets of the various nations staffing the different PRTs on the ground. Even '..the minister for rural rehabilitation and development, Ehsan Zia, told IRIN: "We cannot make a decision which should equalize PRTs development budgets in all provinces. It is impossible for us to ask the British-led PRT in Helmand province and the Lithuania-led PRT in Ghor province to spend equal amounts of development money."'

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Afghan Army and police: A long way to go - International Herald Tribune

IHT has an excellent article on the challenges in building up the Afghan Armed Forces and Police. The author uses some poignant images to show the extremes of development that these forces face: at one extreme, an english-speaking officer cadet is interviewed at a military academy modelled after West Point; at the other extereme, a police station in Oruzgan province is visited by NATO forces, who find the local police are cultivating poppy in their compound.

The creation and bolstering of national armed forces- be it the Congolese Armed Forces by MONUC in the Congo, or the ANA in Afghanistan- is a task regularly falling to multi-national military missions and peacekeepers. In the context of Afghanistan, the stakes are high- recent scandals have greatly discredited the efforts made, particularly by private sector actors. Dyncop's training program of Afghan police was described as, ' appalling joke ... a complete shambles', by Ambassador Holbrooke.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Update- technical issue has been solved, older posts have been validated and posted below.

Apologies for not having posted- have been traveling over the last weeks, and also seem to be having issues with the software I use to do my postings with. Should have it sorted out by tomorrow!

Resource: Afghanistan: Enhancing aid effectiveness

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) made a press release on 22 April that is wide-ranging and hard-hitting critique of aid effectiveness and the responsibility of donors in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Enhancing aid effectiveness focuses on the performance of donors in fulfilling their commitments under the Afghan Compact in three key areas: use of aid; transparency; and aid efficiency and use of Afghan resources.

As concerns Use of Aid, the comments question the agendas and means for the delivery of assistance:
'Evidence indicates that the delivery of aid is being increasingly distorted by donors' domestic political agendas. A disproportionately high level of aid is being directed towards opium intensive or insecure areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south and south-east, in order to achieve counter-narcotics or counter-insurgency objectives. For example, USAID, by far the largest donor, allocates more than half of its aid to four highly insecure provinces in southern Afghanistan. This approach overlooks massive development needs in areas which are comparatively stable and creates perverse incentives – for provinces to create insecurity to attract resources. It also overlooks the potential for conditions in these areas to deteriorate.

The delivery of aid is being heavily influenced by domestic political demands for rapid results. Provincial Reconstruction Teams, for instance, have in many cases undertaken quick impact projects or short term assistance at the expense of projects which aim at more sustainable capacity building. In other cases, under domestic political pressure donors have pressed recipients to spend large sums rapidly, with little consideration for the utility, suitability or sustainability of the projects undertaken.'

The notion of creating 'perverse incentives'- that provinces will create insecurity in order to attract assistance is probably not as far-fetched as it might sound.

The last recommendations is on Aid and humanitarian response, where ACBAR again attempts to overturn certain myths:
't is important for donors to acknowledge that much of Afghanistan is in the process of protracted relief and recovery, and not purely the development phase widely assumed. A two-track approach is needed. Humanitarian actors are increasingly unable to provide adequate protection and assistance to displaced people and other populations at risk in the south and east of Afghanistan due to the significant deterioration in the security situation. Humanitarian space and humanitarian access continues to be seriously limited. Humanitarian response has also been compromised over time by reduced humanitarian coordination mechanisms.'