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Why is America Failing in Afghanistan?

- DR. Abdul-Qayum Mohmand

CNN International News with Christiane Amanpour

Analysis of “CIA World Factbook” (1981-2012): Dimensions of anti-Pashtun Conspirac
US forces in Afghanistan nearly destroyed vital airfield
We Are Those Two Afghan Children, Killed by NATO While Tending Their Cattle
Former Islamist Warlord Vies for Afghan Presidency
Pakistan releases top Afghan Taliban prisoner in effort to boost peace process
Losing the War in Afghanistan
Obama’s troop increase for Afghan war was misdirected
Afghan security vacuum feared along "gateway to Kabul"
Objections to U.S. Troops Intensify in Afghanistan
The Great Afghan corruption scam
War zone killing: Vets feel 'alone' in their guilt
Was Osama for Real? And Was He Killed in 2001?
Afghanistan withdrawal: The risks of retreat
The Real Reason the US Invaded Afghanistan
The Definition of a Quagmire
Huge Uncertainty' in Afghanistan
Controversial ID Cards Expose Ethnic Divisions In Afghanistan
Afghanistan: The Final Curtain Call for NATO?
Afghanistan After 9/11: A Mission Unaccomplished
Why Should Taliban and Other Insurgents Refrain from Negotiation With the US & NATO? By: Dr Mohammed Daud Miraki, MA, MA, Ph

Exclusive: Karzai family looks to extend boss rule in Afghanistan.

Intrigue in Karzai Family as an Afghan Era Closes
For Afghans, Two Outrages, Two Different Reactions
Double blow to west’s Afghan strategy
Does the Taliban need a diplomatic voice?
Afghanistan: Lessons in War and Peace-building for US
Afghan women opposed by former allies
Q+A - Haqqani: From White House guest to staunch U.S. enemy
Haqqanis: Growth of a militant network -BBC
Afghanistan shelves plans for ambassador accused of fraud
Afghan nominated as ambassador to Britain was accused in US of fraud
U.S. deal with Taliban breaks down
The Loneliness of the Afghan President: Karzai on His Own

NATO's Third Alternative in Afghanistan

On the Road: Interview with Commander Abdul Haq:- The Tragedy of Abdul Haq
When the Lion Roared: How Abdul Haq Almost Saved Afghanistan
AFGHAN WARRIOR: THE LIFE & DEATH OF ABDUL HAQ
Pakistan’s ISI: Undermining Afghan self-determination since 1948
Mineral Wealth of Afghanistan, Military Occupation, Corruption and the Rights of the Afghan People
M. Siddieq Noorzoy
Why Isn’t the UN Investigating and Prosecuting the U.S. and NATO for War Crimes Committed in Afghanistan?
Corruption and Warlordism:
Abdul Basir Stanikzai
In Afghanistan, U.S. contracts aren’t crystal balls, but they come close
The great Afghan carve-up
Anatomy of an Afghan war tragedy
Terry Jones Actually Burns a Qur’an and No One Notices
Q+A-Are Afghan forces ready to take over security?
Guantánamo Bay files rewrite the story of Osama bin Laden's Tora Bora escape
Winning Afghan hearts, minds with explosives
Afghanistan’s Mercenaries
KABUL’S HORIZONS
Who is winning Afghanistan war? U.S. officials increasingly disagree
Afghanistan: The Trouble With The Transition
From the Archives: In Quest of a ‘Greater Tajikistan’
The 1980s mujahideen, the Taliban and the shifting idea of jihad
Afghanistan's Karzai complains about interference
Karzai, US ambassador at odds over private security

Karzai Tells Washington Post U.S. Should Reduce Afghan Operation Intensity

Excerpts from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's interview with The Washington Post
What the Afghans Want
New US approach to Afghanistan insurgency: Vindication for Pakistan?
Putting Some Fight Into Our Friends
Afghans 'abused at secret prison
Why We Won’t Leave Afghanistan or Iraq
Indo-Pakistan proxy war heats up in Afghanistan
Canada’s elite commandos and the invasion of Afghanistan
U.S. retreat from Afghan valley marks recognition of blunder
Five myths about the war in Afghanistan
Marine who resigned over ‘conscience’ speaks at MU
The Afghan media may have grown since Taliban rule ended, but not so press freedoms
Mystery holes and angry ants: another Afghan day
Kabul Bank's Sherkhan Farnood feeds crony capitalism in Afghanistan
Marjah War
Operation Moshtarak: Which way the war in Afghanistan?
Q&A: Why Marjah, why now?
In Jalalabad, hope is fading
Seeking reconciliation, US units meet remote Afghanistan tribes
Once Again, Get the Hell Out! "Ending the War in Afghanistan"
Blackwater Kept a Prostitute on the Payroll in Afghanistan; Fraudulently Billed American Tax Payers
Wild West Motif Lightens US Mood at Afghan Bas
In southern Afghanistan, even the small gains get noticed
 Afghanistan war: US tries to undercut Taliban at tribal level
 Soviet lessons from Afghanistan
Are actions of 'super-tribe' an Afghan tipping point
Taliban: Terrorist or not? Not always easy to say
Q&A: Who else could help in Afghanistan?
Vietnam Replay on Afghan 'Defectors'
Washington's Refusal to Talk about Drone Strikes in Pakistan Meets Growing Opposition
Afghanistan summit: Why is the US backing talks with the Taliban?
Taliban's leadership council runs Afghan war from Pakistan
Why buy the Taliban?
2 Afghanistan conferences: No solutions
An Alternative to Endless War - Negotiating an Afghan Agreement?
Do the Taliban represent the Pashtuns?
Afghanistan asks ex-presidential contender to tackle corruption

Tehran Sets Conditions For Attending London Conference On Afghanista

Pakistan says reaches out to Afghan Taliban
Taking It to the Taliban
The Afghan Taliban's top leaders
How significant is Mullah Baradar's arrest?
Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander
What's the Quetta Shura Taliban and why does it matter?
What's behind latest Taliban attack on Kabul? See Images of the Attack By WSJ

Pakistan Version of Islam and Taliban ?????
Lahore fashion week takes on Talibanization in Pakistan

Loyalties of Those Killed in Afghan Raid Remain Unclear

After Attack, Afghans Question Motives or See Conspiracies
Gates: Taliban part of Afghan ‘political fabric’

IG: Afghan power-plant project ill-conceived, mismanaged

Taliban intensifies Afghan PR campaign

Taliban Overhaul Their Image in Bid to Win Allies
Karzai plans to woo Taliban with 'land, work and pensions'
Peace scheme mooted for Taliban
Bombs and baksheesh
But By All Means, Continue the Happy Talk on the Afghanistan War
Karzai Closing in on Taliban Reconciliation Plan
Last Exit Kabul
How To Get Out Without Forsaking Afghanistan's Stability
Afghan Recovery Report: Taleban Buying Guns From Former Warlords

'Jesus Guns': Two More Countries Rethink Using Weapons with Secret Bible References

Gun bible quotes 'inappropriate'
Text of Joint declaration of Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan trilateral meeting
Garmsir Protest Shows Taleban Reach
Rugged North Waziristan harbors US enemies
The Arrogance of Empire, Detailed ( The Untold Story of Afghanistan )
Appointment of Afghan counter narcotics chief dismays British officials
In Afghanistan attack, CIA fell victim to series of miscalculations about informant
Rebuilding Afghanistan: Will government take hold in this post-Taliban town?
Rare bird discovered in Afghan mountains
Blackwater, now called Xe, in running for work in Afghanistan despite legal woes
How Soviet troops stormed Kabul palace
Afghan children 'die in fighting'
Afghanistan war: Russian vets look back on their experience
U.N. Officials Say American Offered Plan to Replace Karzai 
Learning From the Soviets
U.S. faults Afghan corruption body's independence
Intensify fight against corruption, says Afghan meeting
Afghan ministers cleared of charges
Drone aircraft in a stepped-up war in Afghanistan and Pakistan
U.S. Air Force Confirms 'Beast of Kandahar' Secret Stealth Drone Plane
Kissinger's fantasy is Obama's realit
Taliban shadow officials offer concrete alternative
Talking with the Taliban
20. Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart
'Yes, there was torture and people were certainly beaten': Afghan warden
Why we should leave Afghanistan
US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan
Pakistan to US: Don't surge in Afghanistan, talk to Taliban
A Plan C for Afghanistan
Finding decent cabinet is Karzai's big challenge
A way to get around Karzai in Afghanistan
Corruption fight boosted by 'Afghan FBI'
US demands Afghan 'bribery court'
Afghanistan plans court for corrupt ministers
The man leading Afghanistan's anti-corruption fight
Win hearts and minds in Afghanistan to win the war
Gates blocks abuse photos release
New U.S. Afghan prison unveiled, rights groups wary
War in Afghanistan: Not in our name
How the US Funds the Taliban
Afghan gov't says UN representative out of line
Cabinet of Warlords
Afghanistan and the lessons of history
Clinton says Karzai ‘must do better’
Recognizing the Limits of American Power in Afghanistan
After Afghanistan election, governors seek distance from 'illegal' Karzai
Karzai was hellbent on victory. Afghans will pay the price
Matthew Hoh: Please refute what I'm saying, we are stuck in the Afghan civil war
As US looks for exit in Afghanistan, China digs in
America's Top Diplomat Tells 'Nightline': 'Not Every Taliban Is al Qaeda'
Obama Can’t Make Russian Mistake in Afghanistan
10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan
Will Obama change Afghan strategy?
Does the U.S. still have a vital interest in Afghanistan?
Pashtuns and Pakistani
The Afghan '80s are back
Pashtun peace prophet goes global
Afghan Road Builder's Dream Thwarted by Violence
A white elephant in Kabul
The Afghan Runoff: Will It Be a No-Show Election?

Ashraf Ghani- Afghanistan's Disputed Election Complicates U.S. Strategy

On Assignment: Into the Maw at Marja

Patrick Witty & Tyler Hicks
The New York Times


Afghanistan Cross Road CNN


The last frontier


Bruce Richardson
 

Articles

CIA: Buying peace in Afghanistan?

With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan
CIA Ghost Money: Karzai Confirms U.S. Gives Funds To Afghan National Security Team
What the CIA’s cash has bought for Afghanistan

Khalilzad: A Satan Whispering in the Hearts of Men
The Afghan trust deficitt
Will We Learn Anything from Afghanistan? Part 1
Getting Out of Afghanistan: Part 2
William R. Polk
General’s Defense on Afghan Scandal Ducks Key Evidence
Afghans want Taliban peace talks
Bombing Weddings in Afghanistan: It Couldn't Happen Here, It Does Happen There
Hekmatyar's never-ending Afghan war
Covert American Aid to the Afghan Resistance; A Top-Secret U.S. Foreign Policy Plot to Induce and Effect Soviet Military Intervention
Afghan brain drain fears as Karzai urges education reforms

US considers launching joint US-Afghan raids in Pakistan to hunt down militant groups

Real security in Afghanistan depends on people's basic needs being met
Intractable Afghan Graft Hampering U.S. Strategy
Former Taliban Officials Say U.S. Talks Started
Taliban ready for talks with US, not Karzai government
Emboldened Taliban Try to Sell Softer Image
Leaked NATO Report Shows Pakistan Support For Taliban
Insight: Few options for Afghan, U.S. leaders after Kandahar massacre
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Daoud Sultanzoy, Tolo Television
NATO’s measured exit plan in Afghanistan faces new obstacles
BFP Exclusive: Karzai Clan Attorney Threatens US Journalist, Uses Intimidation Tactics
Afghanistan Chronicles
Arduous path to Afghan 'end-game'
Fear in the classrooms: is the Taliban poisoning Afghanistan's schoolgirls?
A comment on the recent events of student poisoning in Afghanistan
Rape Case, in Public, Cites Abuse by Armed Groups in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s Peace Talks Hit Brick Wall
THE ANATOMY OF US’S DEFEAT IN AFGHANISTAN
VOICES OF EMPIRE: FROM CIA’s CULTURAL GREAT GAME TO GLOBAL GREAT GAME TODAY
WHITE PAPER FOR THE PERMANENT PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN
King Karzai
A Federal System of Government is Not Suitable for Afghanistan
CHINA AMO DARYA OIL DEAL
Analysis: Where Afghan humanitarianism ends and development begins
U.S. Envoy: Kabulbank Was 'Vast Looting Scheme'
Speaking with the enemy: how US commanders fight the Taliban during the day and dine with them at night
Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Musery
How to Win Peace in Afghanistan
For Karzai, Stumbles On Road To Election
Cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace
Criticism of Afghan War Is on the Rise in Britain
Troops 'fighting for UK's future'
Operation in Taliban hotbed a test for revamped U.S. strategy
Covering Crucial Afghanistan Operation
Afghans still skeptical about Obama
US Defence Department struggling with public release of report on bombing in Afghanistan
Afghanistan on the Edge
Q+A: Who are the Pakistani Taliban insurgents?
Afghanistan Past & Present
Bombs for Pashtoons and Dollars for Punjab
Help! I'm being outgunned on K Street!
ANGELS CHASING DEMONS: “Jesus Killed Mohammad”!
U.S. tested 2 Afghan scenarios in war game
America's Top Diplomat Tells 'Nightline': 'Not Every Taliban Is al Qaeda'
Obama hearing range of views on Afghanistan
What Do Afghans Want? Withdrawal - But Not Too Fast - and A Negotiated Peace
Will Obama change Afghan strategy?
What Do Afghans Want? Withdrawal - But Not Too Fast - and A Negotiated Peace
Afghans tricked into U.S. trip, detained
In the Afghan War, Aim for the Middle
Obama pulled two ways in Afghanistan
Obama Can’t Make Russian Mistake in Afghanistan
10 Steps to Victory in Afghanistan
Gates: Mistake to set time line for Afghan withdrawal
Afghans question what democracy has done for them
High stakes in Afghan vote recount
Two Perspectives On Resolving The Afghan Postelection Crisis
Does the U.S. still have a vital interest in Afghanistan?
Pashtuns and Pakistanis
The Afghan '80s are back
How to Lose in Afghanistan
US in Afghanistan proposes revamped strategy
US 'needs fresh Afghan strategy'
US looks to Vietnam for Afghan tips
Lessons from Vietnam on Afghanistan
Afghan Pres. Skips Country's 1st TV Debate
A proud moment for Afghanistan
Rival to Karzai Gains Strength in Afghan Presidential Election
Afghan presidential candidate withdraws in Karzai's favor
America and international law
Hamid Karzai pulls out of historic TV debate just hours before broadcast
Karzai says no to first Afghanpresidential debate
Afghan election: Can Karzai's rivals close the gap?
Karzai opponents hope to beat him in second round
Afghanistan's Election Challenges
For Karzai, Stumbles On Road To Election
Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan
Cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace
Karzai’s gimmick
Well-known traffickers set free ahead of election
US president sets Afghan target
U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.’s Died
Why the Pentagon Axed Its Afghanistan Warlord
Earn our trust or go, Afghans tell GIs
The Irresistible Illusion
Running Out Of Options, Afghans Pay For an Exit
We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan
$2,000 for a dead Afghan Child, $100,000 for Any American Who Died Killing it
The strategy is sound – but success is not assured
Operation in Taliban hotbed a test for revamped U.S. strategy
Covering Crucial Afghanistan Operation
Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan
Echoes of Vietnam
A Response To General Dostum
Obama orders probe of killings in Afghanistan
Obama admin: No grounds to probe Afghan war crimes
US president sets Afghan target
U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.’s Died
Afghanistan's Election Challenges
The Irresistible Illusion
Earn our trust or go, Afghans tell GIs
Running Out Of Options, Afghans Pay For an Exit

We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan

The strategy is sound – but success is not assured
Stakes High in Afghanistan Ahead of August Elections
$2,000 for a dead Afghan Child, $100,000 for Any American Who Died Killing it
Ex-detainees allege Bagram abuse
Petraeus Is a Failure -- Why Do We Pretend He's Been a Success?
Fierce Battles and High Casualties on the Frontlines of Afghanistan
End the Illegal, Immoral and Wasted War in Afghanistan, says BNP Defence Spokesman
Outside View: Four revolutions
Pakistan's Plans for New Fight Stir Concern
France: liberty, equality, and fraternity – but no burqas
 

 

 

 

 

Echoes of Vietnam

Even the Coalition commanders in Afghanistan wonder if they can win the war
Will history repeat itself in Afghanistan?

British military intervention in Afghanistan has a chequered history, making it easy to conclude that British forces will fail again


 

A white elephant in Kabul  
Source: PAN By: Pratap Chatterjee  

In a secluded valley a few miles from the Kabul International Airport, Caterpillar turbines custom-built in Germany and giant transformers flown in from Mexico hum away at a brand-new power plant. If all goes as planned, one engineer sitting at a single computer with four flat screens will be able to run this state-of-the-art diesel facility built by Black & Veatch of Kansas.

The help of three US ambassadors to Afghanistan and $285 million in US taxpayer dollars have flowed into the power plant outside Tarakhel village. President Hamid Karzai supported the project, convinced that it could help him win the August 2009 Afghan presidential election.

Two weeks before the August 20 vote, at an opening ceremony for the unfinished plant, Karzai stood beside Karl Eikenberry, the current US ambassador, who told the assembled media: "I would ask the citizens of Kabul when you turn on your lights at night, remember that the United States of America stands with you - optimistic of our combined prospects for success, and confident in you and our mission."

But much, so far, has not gone as planned: The $280 million-a-year cost to run the power plant full tilt is more than a third of total tax revenues for the entire country; the plant would supply electricity to less than 2 percent of the population; and the plant's cost - already more than $300 million - is roughly three times that of any similar plant in the region.

Far from the public relations coup Karzai and Eikenberry envisioned, their shining the spotlight on the plant exposed problems with planning, cost over-runs and alleged corruption.

Desperate for Power: Under the spectacular expanse of the Darul Aman mountains, tens of thousands of ethnic Hazara people live in Dasht-e-Barchi, a poor suburb west of Kabul. They have no proper sanitation and, without the investment of local residents, would have had no nighttime electricity. These local entrepreneurs invested in small diesel generators and a patchwork of low-voltage electrical lines slung across the unpaved streets and open ditches that serve as sewage culverts.

Mohammed Taleb, who hails from Maidan Wardak, is one such entrepreneur. Out of a shop front on Dasht-e-Barchi's main street, he sells just enough electricity to power a single light bulb each in 300 households. He charges 80 afghanis (US$1.60) a month. "We have been waiting for the government to give us electricity but we don't know when it will come," he says.

Such generators have long been a major source of power for most citizens of Afghanistan, one of the least developed countries in the world. Just one in seven Afghans has access to electricity, according to USAID.

Even though Afghanistan has tremendous hydro-power potential and modest natural gas reserves, neither the transitional government that took over in 2001, nor the donors who supply two-thirds of the government's annual expenditures have put serious effort into developing these power sources. As a result, five years after the fall of the Taliban, even the country's capital lacked a guaranteed source of basic electricity.

Two major projects had been in the works for a while: A $35 million project to build a 220 kilovolt power line from Uzbekistan over the Hindu Kush, and a second $28 million power line from Tajikistan. Each is expected to supply 300 megawatts to Kabul. Engineers from KEC, an Indian company, have been hard at work since October 2005 on the Uzbek project with money from the Indian government, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank. The Tajik project was awarded in November 2008 with funding from the Asian Development Bank and OPEC Fund for International Development.

Engineering difficulties and cost aside, there is no political guarantee that either project will work. Tajikistan is a failed state, and the Uzbeks, who kicked US troops out of their country in July 2005, are seen as an unreliable political partner of the US-backed Karzai regime.

In April 2006, shortly before he left Afghanistan, US ambassador Ronald Neumann dreamed up an alternative to the Central Asian transmission lines. According to former finance minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Neumann asked USAID to offer the Karzai government a 100-megawatt diesel plant. Budgeted at $120 million, it would be able to supply 500,000 people with basic electricity. And if completed in just over two years, before the 2009 elections, it would also allow Karzai, whose political star was already fading fast, to claim that he had provided electricity to Kabul.

Karzai readily agreed and instructed the nervous Ministry of Finance to approve the scheme in early 2007, and add $20 million of Afghan money to the US contribution.

An Unwanted Gift: Juma Nawandish, the former deputy minister of electricity, said he had never asked for a diesel power plant in the four years that he was in charge after the fall of the Taliban. Nawandish, a trained natural gas engineer who now runs the Energy and Power Construction Company, favours locally produced gas as a power source. At his office in central Kabul, he pulls out a series of slides and engineering studies of the northern Shiberghan gas fields where he once worked. "I advised USAID to put their money here," he said. "If they had rehabilitated the gas wells, and used our local engineers, we would have saved a lot of money."

But USAID wasn't listening. In July 2007, the agency issued a contract to a joint venture of Louis Berger of New Jersey and Black & Veatch of Kansas to build a 105 megawatt power plant with the latter company in the lead. The approved price tag was $257.8 million, more than twice what USAID had initially told the Karzai government the project would cost.

Numerous power experts from around the region said that the price was far too high. Bikash Pal, an engineering expert from Imperial College in London, said the rough price for building a 100-megawatt plant should be $100 million. Indeed, a search online for similar projects using Caterpillar turbines in the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, have lower price tags. Wartsila, a Finnish company that builds more sophisticated turbines than Caterpillar, is completing a 200-megawatt project in neighbouring Pakistan for $180 million.

Abdul Ghaffar, an Afghan engineer who runs his own power plant construction company in Dubai, says the Black & Veatch price is exorbitant. "I built a 22-megawatt plant in Kandahar for $550,000 a megawatt," he scoffs. That plant was finished in 2008 and Ghaffar did not bid on the Tarakhel project.

Asked why the price was so high, Jack Currie, the Scottish manager of the Tarakhel project, replied: $109 million for the turbines built in record time; $22 million to transport the turbines and transformers from Germany and Mexico under contract with Matrix, a subsidiary of Agility of Kuwait; and $10 million for private security provided by London-based Hart Security.

Currie's numbers did not include $60 million for executive salaries, expatriate consultants, and profits. The cost escalation "was because [USAID] wanted to do this in the shortest possible time," said Deputy Minister of Energy and Water Ahmed Wali Shaerzai, in charge of the electricity sector. "It became very uneconomical."

Even at the inflated price tag, now heading toward $300 million, the original December 2008 deadline became an impossible target. Ironically, the Indian engineers at KEC finished work on the Uzbek power line months before the Americans were able to turn on just one block of the Tarakhel plant. By January 2009, cheap power was flowing from the north down to Kabul at 6 cents a kilowatt-hour.

By contrast, USAID estimated Tarakhel's electricity at 22 cents a kilowatt hour. Under the agreement signed with the Karzai government, Kabul is solely responsible for fuel and maintenance costs. When news broke at the monthly meetings of the Inter-ministerial Commission on Energy in Kabul, that Afghanistan was expected to pick up these costs, a number of donors and Afghan government bureaucrats registered anger and dismay.

"The contractor was lying to USAID. They were lying to the Afghan government. They were lying to everybody," Sherzai said. "We were called into the president's office many times to solve this problem" of getting electricity to Kabul.

In early 2009 Black & Veatch dismissed Tarakhel project manager Jack Currie, and it was not the first time. Black & Veatch had previously suspended Currie as project manager for a similar plant - a combined cycle gas turbine facility at Qudas outside of Baghdad. A January 2006 report by the Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) faulted planners and the contractors for supplying turbines that were unsuitable for the available fuel supply, and for failing to provide adequate training and maintenance for the plant.

Asked how long the Qudas plant had functioned after he left the project, Currie replied: "Six weeks." Currie blamed the Iraqi engineers for not maintaining the power plant. He added that he hoped this would not be a problem at Tarakhel because Black & Veatch expects to spend a year in Afghanistan after the power plant is completed to avoid similar mistakes.

Too Expensive to Sustain: One of the biggest problems with Tarakhel is that Afghanistan simply does not have the cash to pay the fuel that will be imported from Turkmenistan. Indeed Abdul Ghaffar's modest 22-megawatt plant in Kandahar has been mothballed for precisely that reason.

Jack Whippen, the head of Black & Veatch's operations in Afghanistan, estimates that if diesel stays at 80 cents a liter, it will cost $96 million to supply and $12 million to operate the Tarakhel plant at 55 percent capacity. Extrapolating to full capacity brings the operational costs closer to $200 million. If the price of diesel goes up by just 25 percent to a dollar a liter, as Currie estimated, a back-of-the-envelope calculation puts the cost at $280 million a year for full production. Afghanistan's total tax revenue for 2008 was $800 million.

Asked if he could justify spending this kind of money, Mohammed Khan, a member of the Afghan parliament and chair of the energy committee, said: "No. Not unless we have an emergency." Khan, a Karzai supporter and trained electrical engineer, worked in the Kabul Electricity Department for many years.

Meanwhile, USAID has failed to complete studies on a cheaper alternative to Tarakhel. In February 2008 Black & Veatch was finally tasked with figuring out how to rehabilitate the Shiberghan gas fields. In June 2009 after spending $7.1 million, USAID "terminated" Black & Veatch from the project for "poor performance." Black & Veatch says it failed because of security problems and because necessary equipment was held up at the border.

The agency maintains that time will prove that their investment was worthwhile. "I believe that the Tarakhel power plant contributes significantly to the overall energy project for Afghanistan," says John Smith-Sreen, the technical representative for energy and water for USAID in Afghanistan.

Ongoing Investigations: Two weeks before the election, US Ambassador Eikenberry and President Karzai opened the plant - still only a third complete - to great fanfare. Twelve days later, a team of inspectors from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in Arlington, Virginia, arrived to determine why costs were so high and whether operations were sustainable.

SIGAR spokesperson Susan Phalen confirmed that the agency had "intense concerns" and that a report on the plant was due on November 30, but refused to speculate on the findings. "SIGAR's policy is that we do not discuss inspections that are currently underway," she wrote in an email response.

"Their job is to look in a manner that allows that if there was an error it not be repeated," says Whippen, who claims to welcome the inspection. "So I would expect they would flash up what they considered to be weaknesses and I would hope they would. At the same time I expect they will also flash up some strengths."

The SIGAR inspection is not the only probe into Tarakhel. In response to a complaint about possible fraud in Black & Veatch's sub-contract awards, Laszlo Sagi, a special agent for USAID's Inspector General, traveled to Kabul in September to interview Ian Cameron, who had handled the specific sub-contract for security at the plant.

Speaking for Black & Veatch, Currie says that Cameron is currently on vacation and unable to answer questions. Sagi refused to comment on Cameron, but acknowledged that in August he had recommended that the District Court in Virginia issue arrest warrants for fraud for two other individuals associated with security sub-contracts for Black & Veatch's eastern region power contract.

Veteran political observers including Ramzan Bashardost, former Afghan minister of planning under Karzai, say that the problems at Tarakhel are in no way unusual, and point to a series of similar project failures in the past. (See Afghanistan, Inc.)

"The problem is that these contractors are here to make money for themselves not to help us," says Bashardost. "We have to break up this political and economic mafia if we want to develop."

Dr Ali Safi contributed research and reporting for this article. Pratap Chatterjee is an investigative journalist and senior editor at CorpWatch. He is the author of Halliburton's Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionised the Way America Makes War (Nation Books, 2009) and Iraq, Inc. (Seven Stories Press, 2004).

 

 

 

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