In Afghanistan, US Sells $7 Billion in Military Goods as Scrap
October 24, 2013
Kevin Sieff / The Washington Post & PressTV & The Hill & Michelle Nichols / Reuters
The armored trucks, TVs, ice cream scoops and nearly everything else shipped here for America's war against the Taliban are now part of the world's biggest garage sale. Every week, the US is selling 12 million to 14 million pounds of equipment on the Afghan market -- an inventory worth $7 billion. Meanwhile, Washington is quietly releasing more than $1.6 billion in frozen military and financial assistance to Pakistan, ahead of the prime minister's visit to the US.
With US Withdrawal from Afghanistan, American Military Gear Sold as Scrap
Kevin Sieff / The Washington Post
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (October 20, 2013) -- The armored trucks, televisions, ice cream scoops and nearly everything else shipped here for America's war against the Taliban are now part of the world's biggest garage sale. Every week, as the US troop drawdown accelerates, the United States is selling 12 million to 14 million pounds of its equipment on the Afghan market.
Returning that gear to the United States from a landlocked country halfway around the world would be prohibitively expensive, according to US officials. Instead, they're leaving behind $7 billion worth of supplies, a would-be boon to the fragile Afghan economy.
But there's one catch: The equipment is being destroyed before it's offered to the Afghan people -- to ensure that treadmills, air-conditioning units and other rudimentary appliances aren't used to make roadside bombs.
"Many non-military items have timing equipment or other components in them that can pose a threat. For example, timers can be attached to explosives. Treadmills, stationary bikes, many household appliances and devices, et cetera, have timers," said Michelle McCaskill, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency.
That policy has produced more scrap metal than Afghanistan has ever seen. It has also led to frustration among Afghans, who feel as if they are being robbed of items such as flat-panel televisions and armored vehicles that they could use or sell -- no small thing in a country where the average annual income hovers at just over $500.
In Afghanistan, nicknamed the "graveyard of empires," foreign forces are remembered for what they leave behind. In the 1840s, the British left forts that still stand today. In the 1980s, the Russians left tanks, trucks and aircraft strewn about the country. The United States is leaving heaps of mattresses, barbed wire and shipping containers in scrap yards near its shrinking bases.
"This is America's dustbin," said Sufi Khan, a trader standing in the middle of an immense scrap yard outside Bagram air base, the US military's sprawling headquarters for eastern Afghanistan.
The scrap yard looks like a post-industrial landfill in the middle of the Afghan desert, a surreal outcropping of mangled metal and plastic. There's a tower of treadmills 50 feet high and an acre of American buses, trucks and vans, stripped of seats and engines. An ambulance is perched unsteadily atop a pile of scrap, as if it fell from the sky. A mountain of air-conditioning units sits next to a mountain of truck axles.
Some of the scrap still shows signs of its previous owners -- vehicles spray-painted with American names, mattresses sunken from 12 years of use, bumper stickers from Hawaii or Oklahoma.
A Torrent of Scrap
The Bagram scrap yard is owned by Feda Mohammad Ulfat, who helped build the neighboring base more than a decade ago, transporting gravel and concrete. Now Ulfat is helping to dismantle the base, taking in thousands of pounds of American scrap metal every day.
"I never imagined we'd be getting this much stuff," he said.
Not all of the equipment reaching the scrap yard was deliberately damaged: Some was already broken after a decade of use. Ulfat decided several years ago that he would invest in it anyway.
Some of his friends thought he was crazy, but Ulfat had an idea: The expensive American gear could be melted and reconstituted as raw material for an Afghan building boom. He'd gotten rich on dozens of other contracts with the US military, and he assumed that this one would be no different.
When he signed the contract, the scrap metal was only trickling in. But over the past six months, the US drawdown has reached a fever pitch in eastern Afghanistan, with dozens of bases being closed. Suddenly, a torrent of scrap metal was being delivered to Ulfat's farm. He had to buy more land. Scrap was piled atop scrap. He now spends up to a half-million dollars a month on gear that has been shredded or flattened.
When US officials began planning for their exit, the idea was to ship home the majority of their equipment, especially expensive military gear such as mine-resistant vehicles. That calculus has changed.
The Pentagon has budgeted $5 billion to $7 billion to ship gear back to the United States. But that sum isn't enough to take everything currently in Afghanistan.
Wanting at least a small return on its investment, the US military decided to sell the leftovers for pennies on the pound. That's where Ulfat came in.
He has now opened his scrap yard for the public to rummage through. Small groups of men wander around, buying broken air conditioners that can be stripped of their copper wiring or sheets of corrugated iron that can be sold to Pakistani traders. Many of the supplies that the US military used to fight its longest war have begun their second lives in South and Central Asia.
This month, Haji Montazer paced the scrap yard with his son. They were looking for generators that might be repairable or really anything that they could sell in Kabul or Pakistan. One of their customers makes bed frames out of the metal beams that once held up American military structures. Another takes metal pieces -- parts of military vehicles and barbed wire -- to Lahore, where they are melted and sold as corrugated rooftops for cheap Pakistani homes.
Not Like the Russians
Montazer once bought equipment from the Soviet forces, which began their withdrawal in the late 1980s.
"But the Russians didn't break their things before they sold them to us," he said.
That bitter sentiment is shared by many who visit Ulfat's scrap yard. The United States has not publicly explained why its gear is destroyed before being sold. US officials are quick to point out that the Afghan government typically has an opportunity to express interest in American military equipment, which is sometimes handed over intact.
Lately, Ulfat's dream of getting rich off the US scrap has started to fade. Kabul's real estate boom is over, he said. All he hears from Afghans are concerns about what will happen to the country after the US withdrawal. His scrap yard tells the story of the drawdown.
"What will we do with all of this? Right now, no one will buy it. And if the future is as bad as people say it will be . . . ." His voice trailed off. "It could be bad."
Hafizullah, an employee of Ulfat's who goes by one name, wandered through the scrap yard one day this month, overseeing the latest delivery -- a mix of blast walls and carburetors. With Bagram still the most active base in eastern Afghanistan, aircraft flew over his head incessantly.
One helicopter flew particularly close, hovering near the scrap yard. Hafizullah pointed to the Black Hawk and laughed.
"I can't wait until they start selling those here," he said.
Report: US to Release $1.6 Billion in Aid to Pakistan
PressTV & The Hill
(October 19, 2013) -- The Obama administration is quietly releasing more than $1.6 billion in frozen military and financial assistance to Pakistan, ahead of the prime minister's visit to the White House this week.
The Associated Press reported on Saturday that Congress has given the green light to dispersing most of the money, which should start moving in early 2014. The aid was stalled while the two countries' relationship soured in the wake of the 2011 military raid that killed Osama bin Laden and NATO air strikes that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers later that year.
On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will meet with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House. "The meeting will highlight the importance and resilience of the US-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism," the White House said in a description of the meeting.
The White House added that discussions will focus "on ways we can advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan."
According to the AP report, the State Department began meeting with lawmakers in July and August to inform them of its plans to restart assistance. Those officials, it added, said that broader cooperation from Pakistan led to the resumption of aid, rather than any specific event.
American critics of the aid have been concerned about Pakistan's willingness to assist the US in the fight against terrorist groups.
Obama will try to convince Pakistani leaders to play a supportive role in neighboring Afghanistan once American troops begin to pull out of the country after 2014.
The peace process in Afghanistan will likely be a major topic of conversation between the two leaders this week.
A Pakistani government spokesman told Agence France-Presse that the prime minister would use the trip to raise the issue of drone strikes, which are incredibly unpopular in Pakistan and a major source of tension. The Obama administration has relied on the strikes to target suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Citizens for Legitimate Government
Instead of cutting food stamps, why not end the US Coalition of the Bribed? The US bribes Pakistan to 'turn the other way' while CIAciopaths carry out targeted killings with drones! We're going to stand by and watch Paul Ryan and Barack Obama slash 'entitlements' -- while we pay one country (Pakistan) to pretend to execute US foreign policy in another country (Afghanistan)? This is INSANE.
Pakistan Tells UN at Least 400 Civilians Killed by Drone Strikes
Michelle Nichols / Reuters
UNITED NATIONS (October 18 2013) - Pakistan has confirmed that of some 2,200 people killed by drone strikes in the past decade, at least 400 were civilians and an additional 200 victims were deemed "probable non-combatants," a UN human rights investigator said on Friday.
Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also urged the United States to release its own data on the number of civilian casualties caused by its drone strikes.
Emmerson said Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told him it had recorded at least 330 drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan's largely lawless region bordering Afghanistan, since 2004.
Clearing out militant border sanctuaries is seen by Washington as crucial to bringing stability to Afghanistan, particularly as the US-led combat mission ends in 2014. Most, but not all, attacks with unmanned aerial vehicles have been by the United States. Britain and Israel have also used them.
In an interim report to UN General Assembly released on Friday, Emmerson said Pakistani government records showed that drone strikes had killed at least 2,200 people and seriously wounded at least 600 since 2004.
He said Pakistan had confirmed that "at least 400 civilians had been killed as a result of remotely piloted aircraft strikes and a further 200 individuals were regarded as probable non-combatants."
"Officials indicated that, owing to underreporting and obstacles to effective investigation, those figures were likely to be an underestimate" of civilian deaths, Emmerson said.
Emmerson, who visited Pakistan in March, noted that principal media monitoring organizations had recorded a "marked drop" in reported civilians casualties from drone strikes in the tribal areas during 2012 and the first half of 2013.
The tribal areas have never been fully integrated into Pakistan's administrative, economic or judicial system. They are dominated by ethnic Pashtun tribes, some of which have sheltered and supported militants over decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
"The involvement of CIA in lethal counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and Yemen has created an almost insurmountable obstacle to transparency," Emmerson said.
"One consequence is that the United States has to date failed to reveal its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft in classified operations conducted in Pakistan and elsewhere."
During his Senate confirmation process in February, CIA director John Brennan said the closely guarded number of civilian casualties from drone strikes should be made public. The US government, without releasing numbers, has sought to portray civilian deaths from these strikes as minimal.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the time that she had been trying to speak publicly about the "very low number of civilian casualties" and to verify that number each year has "typically been in the single digits." However, she said she was told she could not divulge the actual numbers because they were classified.
In May, US President Barack Obama signed a document that he said codified guidelines for the use of force against terrorists. He said before drone strikes were taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians would be killed or wounded.
Emmerson urged the United States to declassify to the maximum extent possible information "relevant to its lethal extraterritorial counter-terrorism operations; and to release its own data on the level of civilian casualties inflicted through the use of remotely piloted aircraft, together with information on the evaluation methodology used."
He reported that in Afghanistan, the UN mission said while casualties were likely underestimated, it had assessed that in recent years drones strikes appeared to have inflicted lower levels of civilian casualties than other air strikes.
Emmerson said "the United States appears to have succeeded in avoiding the infliction of large-scale loss of civilian life in Yemen" when carrying out drone strikes. "Nonetheless, there have been a number of incidents in which civilians have reportedly been killed or injured," he said.
"The most serious single incident to date was a remotely piloted aircraft attack on 2 September 2012 in which 12 civilians were reportedly killed in the vicinity of Rada'a," Emmerson said.
The full report can be viewed here
Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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