Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Update: Afghanistan

While the MSM, cable news yapping heads and so-called "progressive" blogs are busy hyperventilating over the latest Clinton/Obama gotcha moments in the never-ending circus known as the "race for the White House", what those candidates will have to deal with when one of them actually gets there (if they even manage to actually make it without being perilously wounded by incoming crapnel between now and Jan 2009) - has fallen off the radar.

It was recently reported that the media only devotes a minimal amount of time reporting on what's happening in Iraq:

However, the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that Iraq consumed 24 percent of the airtime on cable news last year, but just 1 percent this year. All told, TV, Internet and newspapers gave Iraq 23 percent of their news hole in the first 10 weeks of 2007, but just 3 percent in the early part of this year.

The latest news about what's currently going on in Basra and Baghdad only merits a headline after Clinton's Bosnia trip, McSurgey's non-speech about the housing problem and Obama's vacation in the US Virgin Islands.

Sensationalism tops war fatigue, I guess. And I have no idea what the figures are for coverage of the Afghanistan war. That one was abandoned by the US media a long time ago. The only time it seems to come up these days (and it is extremely rare) is when Obama talks about withdrawing troops from Iraq so he can send a couple of brigades to Afghanistan or when Hillary says that the war deserves more attention. zzzzz...

Meanwhile, (and since Obama seems to think that a few more soldiers might help out as does Canada's Conservative government while France just reluctantly announced it will send more troops as Australia's defence minister says he won't send any more), with military spending accounting for some 80% of the US contributions to that country, a new report reveals that aid money is being spent of huge salaries instead of actual help in that country - not that Americans seem to care all that much about where their money is going. Remember those pallets of cash that disappeared in Iraq? Yeah. Whatever happened to that investigation? I suppose when your government is spending obscene amounts of money in far off war zones, while you're watching presidential candidates similarly spending obscene amounts of money of their campaigns, your eyes just glaze over from the sight of all of those unfathomable zeros after a while and you'd rather just watch Dancing With the Stars to get away from it all.

Anyway, here's where that Afghanistan USAID money is going:

KABUL, Afghanistan - Too much money meant for Afghanistan aid is wasted, with a vast amount spent on foreign workers' high salaries, security and living arrangements, according to a report from humanitarian groups published Tuesday.

Since 2001, the international community has pledged $25 billion in help but has delivered only $15 billion, the alliance said. Of that $15 billion, some 40 percent of it — or $6 billion — goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the report found.

"A vast amount of aid is absorbed by high salaries, living, security, transport and accommodation costs for expatriates working for consulting firms or contractors," the report said. The costs are increasing with a recent deterioration in security, it said.

The cost of a full-time expatriate consultant working in Afghanistan is around $250,000, according to the group.

This is some 200 times the average annual salary of an Afghan civil servant, who is paid less than $1,000" per year, the report said.

You just know that some apologist had to come out and defend that reality. Right on cue:

Amy Frumin, an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations who spent a year in Afghanistan as an officer on a U.S. Agency for International Development reconstruction team, said blaming high expat salaries is unfair.

"You have to pay them good money to do that. They're still having trouble finding people to fill these positions. It's a dangerous place. Not many people are willing to risk their limbs," she said.

The question about why they're over there supposedly risking their limbs in yet another country that they're occupying didn't come up, it seems. Neither did the one about the Afghans rsiking their limbs either. And how about the actual soldiers? Why aren't they paid that much? (Oh - excuse me for asking that one!)

No wonder. It's a capitalist's wet dream for the usual suspects:

The report said that Afghanistan's biggest donor, USAID, the U.S. government's aid arm, allocates close to half of its funds to five large U.S. contractors and that "it is clear that substantial amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits."

The five companies are KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Chemonics International, Bearing Point and Dyncorp International, the report said.

Donors, especially the United States, should ensure the primary objective of aid programs is poverty reduction and that they address genuine Afghan needs and build Afghan capacity, it said.

The report also said the United States has not delivered $5 billion worth of aid it pledged to help rebuild Afghanistan, and other donors have fallen short by about that same amount.

Jim Kunder, acting deputy administrator of USAID, said he recognized there are always concerns about the speed in which aid is delivered but he said the envisioned work is being done.

"The U.S. government is on track to provide the aid to Afghanistan that it pledged," Kunder said in a telephone interview from Washington.

How easily they lie.

In the two years following the U.S.-led invasion, Afghanistan received $57 per capita in aid, while Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 per capita respectively, the ACBAR report said.

And then there's all of that aid money that continually goes to Israel.

And, in case you needed more of a reason to focus on Afghanistan, how about this one?

Iraq seen as more stable than Afghanistan: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq has emerged as a more stable country than Afghanistan, thanks to lower violence, the presence of a large U.S.-led international force and high oil prices, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The report by the British-based Jane's Information Group ranked Afghanistan as the world's third most-unstable country after the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and Somalia.

By contrast, Iraq was at No. 22 where it appeared among several African countries including Niger, Nigeria, Burundi and Equatorial Guinea.

The report, titled "Jane's Country Risk Ratings," was the first of its kind for the publisher and contained no comparison figures. But a June 2007 ranking of failed states by Foreign Policy magazine called Iraq the world's second-most unstable country with Afghanistan at No. 8.

Regardless of where it sits on that scale, the instability is absolutely palpable - but little reported.

And then there's Pakistan. There's always Pakistan.

Nobody talks about an "end" to the Afghanistan war. Maybe it's the lower casualty numbers. Maybe it's the ignorance about what's happening there day in and day out. Maybe it's the effectiveness of the war propaganda. Or maybe people just don't care anymore.

In general, in America, I think it's all of the above.

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