Daily brief: U.S. blacklists Afghan firm

Ongoing battles against corruption The U.S. military has reportedly started to blacklist the Watan Group, an Afghan security company with $60 million in annual revenues and a thousand employees that is owned by relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and controls the security for almost all coalition supply convoys that travel the Kabul to Kandahar ...

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Ongoing battles against corruption

The U.S. military has reportedly started to blacklist the Watan Group, an Afghan security company with $60 million in annual revenues and a thousand employees that is owned by relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and controls the security for almost all coalition supply convoys that travel the Kabul to Kandahar road, because of concerns about bribery, corruption, and involvement in the drug trade (WSJ, AP). Matthew Rosenberg writes, "The move to sever American ties with Watan is an acknowledgment by the U.S. that some of the billions of dollars it spends [in Afghanistan] every year at least indirectly underwrites corruption within the Afghan government, and the insurgency trying to topple it" (WSJ). Watan has a month to appeal the decision before it goes into effect.

Afghan investigators are reportedly having difficulty moving forward with anti-corruption cases up to the ministerial level because Afghanistan's attorney general, Karzai ally Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, is refusing to grant warrants, which has created a five-month backlog of prosecutions (Tel). In addition, USAID has suspended the DC-based nonprofit Academy for Educational Development from receiving new U.S. government contracts because of initial findings from USAID's inspector general that show "evidence of serious corporate misconduct, mismanagement, and a lack of internal controls, and raise serious concerns of corporate integrity" (Post, LAT).

Ongoing battles against corruption

The U.S. military has reportedly started to blacklist the Watan Group, an Afghan security company with $60 million in annual revenues and a thousand employees that is owned by relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and controls the security for almost all coalition supply convoys that travel the Kabul to Kandahar road, because of concerns about bribery, corruption, and involvement in the drug trade (WSJ, AP). Matthew Rosenberg writes, "The move to sever American ties with Watan is an acknowledgment by the U.S. that some of the billions of dollars it spends [in Afghanistan] every year at least indirectly underwrites corruption within the Afghan government, and the insurgency trying to topple it" (WSJ). Watan has a month to appeal the decision before it goes into effect.

Afghan investigators are reportedly having difficulty moving forward with anti-corruption cases up to the ministerial level because Afghanistan’s attorney general, Karzai ally Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, is refusing to grant warrants, which has created a five-month backlog of prosecutions (Tel). In addition, USAID has suspended the DC-based nonprofit Academy for Educational Development from receiving new U.S. government contracts because of initial findings from USAID’s inspector general that show "evidence of serious corporate misconduct, mismanagement, and a lack of internal controls, and raise serious concerns of corporate integrity" (Post, LAT).

A new report from the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said Afghan authorities must eliminate widespread practices such as honor killings and child marriage, which harm Afghan women and girls (Reuters, AP). The report, available here, is based on 150 individual or group interviews in 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Upbeat words

U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates said yesterday in Kabul that there is "no denying the security climate" in Afghanistan is improving, offering an upbeat assessment of the Obama administration’s war strategy ahead of the completion of the White House’s review, due to be finished next week (WSJ, Post, LAT). Gates also praised Karzai’s "statesmanlike" response to U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by the web site Wikileaks that were critical of him and his leadership (NYT).

U.S. officials are reportedly considering providing the Afghan Army with heavy weapons like light armored personnel carriers and artillery firepower, after previous Afghan requests were brushed off as impractical (WSJ). The Karzai government is eager for tanks and jets, but coalition officials argue that they are of little use in a counterinsurgency campaign. The transition from U.S. to Afghan security control in some areas of Afghanistan is due to begin sometime in the next few months (Tel).

The Pentagon’s high-priority Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands program, designed to train U.S. soldiers with special skills for the Afghan war including language study and courses in local politics, culture, and history, is less than halfway to its numerical goal at its one-year mark, though reportedly has recovered from initial glitches (NYT). The program suffered from lack of volunteers and uncertain support from some parts of the military, but the Pentagon has instituted career-building incentives for those who sign up.

Anti-drone protests

This morning in Islamabad, two dozen men from North Waziristan are reportedly staging a protest against the use of U.S. drones, threatening to sue the United States unless it pays hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation (AP). Approximately 91 percent of the 107 reported U.S. drone strikes this year have taken place in North Waziristan (NAF).

A spokesman from the Taliban in Darra Adam Khel claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide attack in Kohat, asserting that it targeted Orakzai-bound Shias and "more such attacks would follow" (Daily Times). Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that militants ousted from the Swat Valley by a Pakistani military offensive last year are regrouping in Mohmand agency, potentially led by Qari Abdul Jabbar, a militant from the Timergara area of Lower Dir (ET).

Goooooooaaaaaalllll!

Today, Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, captained by the 16 year old striker Roya Noori, is flying to Bangladesh to compete in its first international tournament (NYT). In October, the Afghan team beat NATO’s women in a friendly, 1-0. A slideshow of the team is available here (NYT).

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