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U.S. Diplomats in Afghanistan Work Under “the Most Difficult Conditions Imaginable”

Mullah Omar refers to them as Askaran-e- Atar or “Perfume Soldiers”

Saturday 25 June 2011, by Matthew J. Nasuti (Former U.S. Air Force Captain)

On June 23, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, swore the following about her diplomats in Afghanistan:

“And the efforts of our civilians on the ground, working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, continue to be nothing short of extraordinary.”

“Some of the most difficult conditions imaginable” - could she possibly believe this? The reality is that American diplomats deployed to Afghanistan live pampered and protected lives. They are deployed for one-year tours and are paid a minimum of $150,000 a year (salary plus danger and other pay). They are provided with room and board, and most are entitled to up to 60 days vacation and leave, so they only tend to be in-country for 10 months. They all live either in Kabul or on large Forward Operating Bases with all the amenities, including air conditioning, hot food, in-door plumbing and recreation facilities. They occasionally venture outside their protected bubbles, but only under heavy protective escort. Many peoples around the world would give anything to be subjected to such “hardships.” This author would volunteer for such duty tomorrow. The lack of danger faced by these diplomats is reflected in the fact that State Department diplomats have suffered virtually no casualties during these past ten years of war. The only thing “extraordinary” about their actions is that the U.S. Congress continues to fund such a colossal waste of money.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in an October 26, 2011, audit report of the State Department’s “civilian uplift” found the civilians to be:

- Poorly trained

- Lacking important skills

- Uncertain of their duties

- With a fractured chain of command

- Having a poor information flow to Kabul, and

- With an overall inability to adapt as lessons-learned were not being analyzed.

It concluded that security concerns (i.e., protecting the little darlings) were hurting the mission. It found the State Department civilians to have limited mobility in the countryside and in some areas the diplomats simply would not venture out of their bases (which the Embassy calls “platforms). As a result Afghans who wanted to deal with the Americans in those areas had to travel to the American bases and meet the diplomats inside. The U.S. Embassy is seemingly oblivious to the fact that it projects fear of the Taliban and weakness, which only enhances the Taliban. Mullah Omar reportedly refers to these U.S. diplomats as “askaran-e-atar” or perfume soldiers.

The State Department’s efforts are such a failure that the former U.S. Ambassador to Kabul (2005-2007) the Honorable Ronald E. Neumann, has been on a speaking tour about the problems. In a February 18, 2011, interview with the Huffington Post’s Michael Hughes, Ambassador Neumann railed against the decline in the missions and capabilities of the State Department and USAID. He spoke about their debilitating level of dependence on outside contractors due to an “outsourcing craze.” He criticized the short rotations of personnel into war zones and the high turnover in critical war zone positions. To Tom Paulson, he lambasted the poor language skills of American diplomats, opining that “Diplomats without language skills are like soldiers without bullets.” See “America’s Foreign Policy is Crumbling Says Leading Diplomat” (February 16, 2011). Needless to say Ambassador Neumann is not a favorite of either Secretary Clinton or Senator John Kerry and apparently is never asked to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which prefers Administration-friendly experts who rarely offer anything other than praise for State Department efforts.

Secretary Clinton’s solution to all the State Department’s ill is that it needs more money for more staff, more Special Ambassadors, more Assistant Secretaries, more programs, more reports and more consultants. It just needs more of everything. More is not necessary better as an overweight person does not need more fatty food. The State Department is bloated to such an extent that its effectiveness seems to decline at the same rate as its funding increases.

Secretary Clinton, in her June 2011, opening testimony to Congress made virtually no mention of the U.S. military’s efforts in Afghanistan, minor as they apparently are to her. Instead she went on to swear that her diplomatic surge in Afghanistan since 2009, had resulted in economic growth, a reduction in opium production and had caused 7.1 million Afghan children to enroll in school. She also took credit for an alleged 22% decline in infant mortality and the training and funding of “hundreds of thousands of farmers” (all highly suspect claims). If given a few more years Mrs. Clinton’s super-diplomats will likely end global warming, cure AIDS, revive extinct species and defeat al-Qaeda. None of Mrs. Clinton outrageous and erroneously statements were challenged by any of the seemingly comatose Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee. The Senators insists that all witnesses give sworn testimony; the reasons for this are unknown as the Senators seem to care little regarding the accuracy of testimony provided.

The bottom line is that the U.S. military is beginning to leave Afghanistan while U.S. diplomats are surging in. This dubious State Department effort is absorbing hundreds of millions of dollars in Afghan aid funds which should instead be going to the Afghan people. On the positive side the Afghan people should not be worried. As long as American diplomats continue to be supplied with champagne, hor dourves, fresh seafood and warm towels, they will bravely remain to battle the Taliban (from inside their Embassy fortress in Kabul). These State Department efforts are certain to drive the Taliban to the surrender table.

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