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Jeff's Afghan Diary: Broken Trucks and Bribes
November 12, 2007

           Our ABP have four trucks in our FOB, but right now only one of them is operable.  It’s ridiculous – two of them are missing tires, one of them is missing a battery, all normal maintenance items, but there is no means here to get the needed parts to repair the trucks.  The supply system is absolutely broken, and the ABP’s mission is compromised.

      Our own logistical support system looks absolutely glorious by comparison.  We may have a shortage of parts at times (case in point: right now, there is a severe shortage of HMMWV tires in this country, to the point that the manufacturer has subcontracted making new tires to a competitor to keep up with demand), but eventually there is a way to request parts, and the Army makes sure the parts get where they are needed, no matter how remote.  We understand how logistical support can make the difference between victory and defeat.  The Afghans are apparently still learning this lesson.

      Right now, for our ABP commander to get truck parts, he must physically travel through dangerous territory (parts of which are regularly attacked by Taliban ambushes) to go to a city a two-days’ drive away, to turn in paperwork requesting replacement parts.  After turning in the paperwork, the commander still has to wait for the supply officer to show up and approve the request.  The work’s not over yet, though – he still has to await the truck repairer to get the parts he needs, and the truck repairer makes his rounds through multiple ABP locations, so he may have to wait until his return.  That is assuming the parts are to be had at all.

      The last time our ABP commander went to get parts, he returned empty handed.  This was despite the fact we went with him on the trip to ensure its success (so in effect, we returned empty-handed, too, “mission unsuccessful.”)  Meanwhile, more trucks require parts, rendering them inoperable.  The system is as broken as the trucks.

      Is there an answer?  Hopefully over time, the Ministry of the Interior will help the ABP figure out a way to order parts and ship them, perhaps by air.  The Afghan National Army has helicopters, and could fly needed parts to remote FOBs for delivery.  “Jingle Air” could be contracted to fly parts in as well.  But there needs to be a means of requesting parts without having to physically present a piece of paper to a supply officer.  Requests via radio could work, since there is no e-mail (or even regular mail, for that matter) in this part of the country for the Afghans.

      But at the heart of the matter is the problem of kickbacks so common in the Afghan military.  Officers pay for the privilege of getting their paychecks, or supplies, even while higher-ranking officers are enriched more and more by this practice.  It’s a remnant of the warlord mentality that still prevails here.  In fact, the General who was in charge of the province Do China is in was relieved of his command and called to Kabul for investigation.

      Without the person-to-person means of requesting and getting supplies, kickbacks are impossible – no one can pass back money (unless by some courier, but that would be too complicated for this simple system).  Which is why I suspect there will be resistance to not conducting business in person – it would drastically reduce kickbacks within the ABP, so higher ranking officers will try to keep the present system in place.  They are more concerned with enriching themselves than the welfare of those under them, or accomplishing the mission.  This isn’t true for all senior Afghan officers, but there are so many that fit this description that they have become a stereotype among Americans here.

      In the end, it often appears that the Americans are more concerned about the mission effectiveness and operational capabilities of the Afghans than the Afghans themselves.  One need only remember that the Soviet military system and mentality was to use large numbers of troops to achieve a military objective, unconcerned with personnel loss.  Americans remain much more concerned with loss of life (potential or actual) than either the Soviets of past regimes or Afghans in the present.  After all, Paradise awaits the Muslim martyr who dies fighting the enemy, so perhaps it’s better if Afghanistan’s Soldiers die after all.  At least it seems they must think this way, since they are unmoved and unconcerned about outfitting their Soldiers for success on the battlefield.

      Meanwhile, we cannot perform any non-essential missions so as not to risk crippling the ABP’s one remaining operating vehicle.  Fortunately, OPTEMPO is at a lull right now, since Taliban activity has dramatically declined for the winter.  I can only hope we get parts here before next spring, but I even have my doubts about that.

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).  
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here.
God and Science (Hypertext Edition, 2005).
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion:
Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).

Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.