Please Help Us Reach John Kerry, My Own Senator

The lead in the US Army Times says:

"A new initiative to persuade low- and mid-level Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and rejoin society is already bearing fruit and holds great promise for the future, say senior officials in the NATO coalition."

The military now understands that insurgents are aching for a way to put down their arms and re-join society.  Will American political leaders see that they are being penny-wise and pound-foolish?  For lack of what we spend on the military occupation every 2 weeks, this insurgency could be deflated and American troops could be on their way home sooner rather than later.  

In addition to precious lives, the war is now costing us, according to General Barry McCaffrey, about $9 billion a month, which he called the war's "burn rate."  

That would pay for a Cadillac health plan for every American, OR a Maserati green jobs program, OR a $100 billion reduction of the deficit each year.  Which is better depends on your political leanings.  It could be split among all three.  With war, no one's getting any of it, except for military contractors.

The Army Times reports:

"Though the Afghanistan "reintegration" initiative is only now getting off the ground, hundreds of insurgents have taken advantage of it and many others are waiting for the Afghan government and the coalition to announce the specifics of the reintegration plan, said Maj. Gen. Mike Flynn,the director of intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force."

One young fighter actually came down the mountain on his own to ask if there were any jobs, so he could give up, along with his 50 fighters.  Most likely mostly brothers and cousins.  They would take work and relocation to just quit.  They didn't want cash payments, they wanted jobs, and the dignity of work, any work.  The Army Times writes:

"Coalition officials have monitored insurgents talking about the reintegration effort...The essence of the conversations is that the insurgents want to know what the finished reintegration plan will be,"

NATO and the Afghan government have found out that most Afghan insurgents are economically desperate young men who fight for the Taliban wage, and that they can be brought in from the cold with simple jobs which benefit their communities, and a modicum of vocational training.  They don't want to be Taliban.  They want to learn to be carpenters, and bricklayers.  Hence the new Afghan Reintegration initiative which will be discussed at the London Conference on Afghanistan tomorrow, Thursday.  The Conference may be NATO's last chance to get it right.

The Army Times:

The [reintegration] initiative is based on the strong belief at ISAF headquarters that most insurgents are not ideologically committed to their leaders’ aims and would be willing to quit fighting under the right conditions.  "What we’re finding is the dissatisfied, disenfranchised, traumatized folks who are the ones who are the foot soldiers for the ideologues or the radical folks ... often find themselves in a position where if they need to take care of their family, the only way to do that is to implant IEDs or to fire shots at the coalition," said Col. John Agoglia, director of the counterinsurgency training center here. "A majority of these folks, if given the means to provide for themselves and their family, will very easily lay down their weapons."

Here is the problem.  The current initiative aims only at Taliban fighters laying down their arms, not the rest of the fighting-age males suffering from 40 percent unemployment.  For the amount the US spends in less than two weeks on military operations, about $4 billion, a program can be put in place which will put to work those who have NOT joined the Taliban.  Otherwise, this could be perceived as rewarding folks who did join the Taliban, to the exclusion of those who "said no."

The administrative apparatus would be the National Solidarity Plan, which has been widely hailed by players across the board, from the US military to Afghan civil society.  It may be the one part of the Karzai government which actually works.

What about jobs for Americans rather than Afghans?  News flash: Any funding for your job programs are going down the toilet of war.  $100 billion per year, remember?  According to McCaffrey's estimated "burn rate."  Not spending four dollars to save one hundred dollars is called penny-wise and pound-foolish.

So far most civilian aid to Afghanistan has been miserly and ineffective, compared to military costs.  They have been aimed at contractor profits, to build substandard schools with no teachers and clinics with no doctors.  You wake up one fine day and there is a school across the meadow.  But you didn't get paid to help build it, and you still can't eat.

NATO has found something else out about simple income programs, paying men to clear irrigation ditches, improve dirt roads with shovels and gravel, or clear rubble from canals which lays exactly as it fell when the Soviets bombed it.  It solves the security problem.  NATO's General Chris Kolenda told the Army Times:

"I’ve seen time and again, when communities have sufficient support and leverage they just start kicking these guys [the Taliban] out of their local areas."

This turns "No development without security" on its head.  The truth is, there can be no security without development.  NATO is finding out that, in a land of mountain warriors where you get your first AK when you are 12, breaking the economic hold of the Taliban's $10 a day is often all that is necessary for insurgents to turn their guns the other way.

US soldiers have started using a term they picked up from the Afghans, the "upset brothers," upset because they have watched billions being squandered on showcase development, but their hungry lives never changed.  After 2 years of WPA-type jobs the informal economy can stand on its own.

Afghans are very enterprising people.  They don't need factories.  They hacksaw an old Soviet shipping container in half and hang a curtain across the front for a door. Then you scrounge for old bicycle parts and you've got a parts store.  But you need a few bucks to pay the guys doing the sawing, and for the new curtain, and for pegs, grease, and naval jelly.

And security is the by-product.  What a deal!  Colonel Kolenda, one of the many NATO officers who seems to have gone native judging by his nuanced understanding and admiring tones when speaking of Afghan society, tells the Army Times "The Afghans have this great saying — ‘If you sweat for it, you protect it.’"

The legislation to make this happen is a fairly straightforward congressional appropriation, which pumps up what works: the National Solidarity Plan.  Activists have been about the Capitol in DC talking to congress members about it.  They have met with many offices who say they are behind it, but it takes the lead of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to make the $4 billion happen.  "Anybody on the committee would be good," a staffer in Senate Appropriations told us, "Kerry, as chairman, is the key.  With Kerry behind it, the appropriation request to support the policy will happen."

But John is hard to get hold of.  We have called many times for an appointment, even with a foreign policy staffer, visited his office in DC, dropped off materials for the proper staffer, but no one ever calls you back.  Worse, he is my own senator, and many of us are constituents.  

Shucks, even a Texas congressman was ready to march down the hall to meet us about our proposal, being told we came all the way to DC and all, without an appointment, until he found out we weren't constituents, which is fine.  He was ready to shake hands and give us our 3 minutes of face time, and make the big shots in the other room wait.  No one was going to call him out of touch.  We still had a nice talk with his staffer.

We know it's just crossed wires, John, we know you're a busy man.  Perhaps input from other folks excited that there is a light at the end of the tunnel would help.  The US can easily afford this, since it's what we spend anyway on bullets and bombs in 2 weeks.  It could bring stability to Afghanistan, cut short a war, and save $9 billion a month for other purposes.  It could save an awful lot of American and Afghan, lives.  Tomorrow is the London Conference.  This would be a perfect time to file the legislation.  It would be fitting that a man whose remarkable career began with principled opposition to a war crowned it with a vital achievement which will stop one.

Please take the time to call Senator's Kerry's office, leave a message for him to "Please submit the Exit Strategy Appropriation proposed by Jobs for Afghans."  Follow up with an email with this post copied-and-pasted and the link for this PRESS RELEASE.  To his credit the Senator's general mailbox is accessible to anyone, not just constituents.  Thank you.
(202) 224-2742 - Phone
(202) 224-8525 - Fax

The diarist represents Jobs for Afghans.


Tags: aghan war, Barack Obama, NATO, london conference, national solidarity plan, chris kolenda, Afghanistan (all tags)


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