A shocking new report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State reveals a dysfunctional American Embassy in Kabul that is not committed to winning the wars against either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. It depicts American Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and his staff as objecting to working at nights and on Fridays. On March 13, 2010, four Taliban suicide bombers struck targets in Kandahar. The Taliban fighters are willing to die for their cause, while American diplomats complain if they miss dinner. The Inspector General’s report is an embarrassment to the United States. While American troops are fighting and dying in the field, it is insulting to hear petty whining from pampered diplomats. This mini-scandal should be prompting the Obama Administration to clean out and clean up its Embassy in Kabul, but to-date, the Administration seems paralyzed.
When this reporter worked for the U.S. Department of State in 2008, he was struck by the business-as-usual attitude within the Department. The one-year assignments to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were considered by many to be inconvenient distractions from their Foreign Service careers. There was no discussion of victory or defeating al-Qaeda. The idea was to get through the year and then move back to “real” Embassy work in another country. The State Department cushions these one-year deployments to Afghanistan with lavish pay (in excess of $150,000.00 per year) and up to two months vacation and leave, so the diplomats really only have to spend about 10 months in Afghanistan. Almost all of them are posted to Kabul. Most rarely leave the partial safety of the capital. In fact, many never leave the safety of the Embassy buildings.
Last month, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a report that confirmed many of the observations of this reporter, but the Inspector General refused to recommend any corrective action for any of these major problems.
In 2006, the State Department’s Inspector General conducted an audit of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and made the following findings:
“The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is bereft of institutional memory. This is by far the most serious impediment to good executive direction. Essentially the entire American staff turns over each summer.”
In 2010, the same inspector general made the following findings:
“the Embassy experienced virtually 100 percent turnover of American staff” (each year) . . . “One year assignments, coupled with multiple rest and recreation (R&R) breaks limits the development of expertise, contributes to a lack of continuity,”
The solution to this major problem is obvious and it is one that the Kabul Press has been championing since early 2009, which is to mandate that American diplomats and other government civilians be deployed to Afghanistan for three-year tours and that, prior to deploying, each receive at least six months of Dari or Pashto language training. It is to the discredit of Inspector General Harold W. Geisel that he reports this major problem and then refuses to recommend any solution. The apparent reason is that three-year tours would be unpopular with State Department diplomats and therefore with the State Department’s management and Mr. Geisel’s goal is to be a loyal team player and not an effective Inspector General.
The February 2010, Inspector General’s report made another important finding:
“Embassy oversight of contracts and grants is seriously inhibited by the dangerous security conditions that preclude onsite visits outside of Kabul as well as the shortage of qualified contract officer representatives in Kabul.”
The report explains why American Embassy officials refuse to leave the relative safety of Kabul.
“The Ambassador (Karl Eikenberry) has declared that the security of Embassy staff is his highest priority. (page 10).
The No. 1 priority for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is not defeating the Taliban or al-Qaeda, and it is not supporting the Afghan government or competently expending Afghan aid funds, it is protecting Embassy diplomats.
Once again, Inspector General Harold W. Geisel refuses to make any recommendation for fixing this crucial lack of contract oversight problem. The Kabul Press has been reporting on this scandal for the past year, as has the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). While huge multimillion dollar contracts are being issued using Afghanistan aid funds, U.S. Embassy officials refuse to leave Kabul in order to determine if any of the work is being accomplished.
Once again, there is an obvious solution, which is to train, arm and push State Department and USAID personnel en mass out of Kabul and post them in all eastern and southern provincial capitals and district capitals of Afghanistan. No more than 25% of all State Department personnel should be based in Kabul.
Even this solution would be only partially effective. The report does not explain why, after nine years, the Embassy still has a shortage of CORs (Contracting Officer Representatives) and who is responsible for this continuing staffing problem. None of the Embassy’s major problems are currently being resolved. Even worse, solutions are not even being publicly discussed.
The most disgraceful part of the Inspector General’s report concerned petty complaints by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and his staff. The Ambassador complains that he had to participate in ten late night video conferences during a six-week period in 2009. His staff complains that they occasionally have to draft a report in the middle of the night and that some video-conferences continue into the “early evening” on Fridays and those conferences interfere with their dinner plans. They also complained that many weeks they have to work six days a week (even though they are very well paid and apparently receive overtime if they exceed a 40-hour work-week).
The Inspector General’s report has been carried by multiple news sources, including a CNN report on March 5, 2010. It is embarrassing to the United States to have such petty complaints from pampered diplomats being reported in the press.
In addition to the Inspector General’s refusal to recommend solutions to many of the key deficiencies within the American Embassy, the report has a disturbing quality as its authors repeatedly fawn over American Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. For example, on page 14 of the audit report it states: “The Ambassador works in overdrive all the time.” This is not a professional audit comment. It is not clear what the comment even means.
The report also has some false conclusions. It repeatedly claims that there is a “massive” civilian surge underway which is proceeding at an “unprecedented pace.” None of this is true. In January 2009, the American Embassy had 531 employees. The “surge” is designed to have 1300 employees in place by 1 January 2011. This means that in two years the Embassy has to add 729 people. That is hardly “massive,” nor is the pace unprecedented. This reporter would refer to such a pace as “leisurely,” rather than anything frantic. Another point is that 900 of the 1300 are scheduled to be temporary employees and contractors, with only 400 being actual diplomats and career employees. The 12,000 career American diplomats continue to avoid being stationed in Afghanistan.
Finally, to Mr. Geisel’s discredit, he fails to report that the American Embassy in Kabul is exempt from the American military’s ban on alcohol. The U.S. State Department insists that its diplomats are in a hardship post and they need the crutch of alcohol to get them through the day. If anyone should be entitled to have a beer at the end of the day, it is the troops in combat, not the diplomats sitting in their offices. Mr. Geisel should recommend that alcohol be banned from the embassy, but again he has taken the low road.
In conclusion, the American civilian surge is failing in Afghanistan just as it did in Iraq. For every two steps forward that American troops take, the American Embassy seems to be pulling them back one step. American, NATO and Afghan troops in the field suffer actual hardships. This reporter has zero sympathy for the complaints and poor performance of American diplomats assigned to Kabul. They are pampered and protected. What they are not, is committed to the war effort. That has to change.