An Open Letter to the New US Sectretary of State for Defence, Chuck Hagel

Subject: An Open Letter to the New US Sectretary of State for Defence, Chuck Hagel
From: Terrence Walter Smith
Date: 27 Feb 2013

Dear Mr Secretary of State Hagel

Congratulations on your new position as Pentagon Chief, replacing Leon Panetta. It was a close run thing wasn’t it? 58-41!

I am sure you have many things on your desk crying out for attention, but I implore you to watch the BBC Panorama Programme that was screened in the last few days. BBC Panorama reporter Ben Anderson spent five weeks with US Marines working to advise Afghan security forces in Helmand province. British and American soldiers have fought and died to make that province, dubbed “Hell Land” by those who served there, safe and secure. Secure from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, militant Islamists and impose the rule of law to protect the weak and the vulnerable. However as you will see in the programme Ben Anderson witnessed rampant corruption and criminality among the Afghan police force.

Most police forces in the Western World investigate crimes like corruption, kidnapping, drug use, murder and child abuse. But in Sangin, Helmand Province, the most violent district in Afghanistan, these are crimes committed by the Afghan Police.

I realise you haven’t had a chance to assess the situation yet, but please don’t listen to the UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond who said the "transition is proceeding very well - it is on track.” On track if you are happy that the Afghan forces are reckless, lawless, wild, impulsive, harbour grudges and are thoroughly corrupt.

Because of the growing risk of "green on blue" -attacks, the American Marines that are left as advisors live completely apart from their Afghan counterparts. Whenever the Americans enter the Afghan side of the base, they have their weapons cocked, ready to fire. It’s that unstable.

And no wonder: At one checkpoint, the Afghan police were openly smoking marijuana. Others seemed to be high on opium or heroin. The forces capture villagers who may be related to the Taliban so that they can then trade them for their own kidnapped friends, or just extort money from their family for a safe return with their hands and feet still attached. Skimming is everywhere. Ammunition and guns that are paid for partly by the US and UK taxpayers end up sold on the black market bazaars. Often to agents who then pass them on to the Taliban.

A patrol base had to be de-commissioned because it had been stripped by the Afghan Police to sell the scrap metal.

Then there are the “chai” boys. Those who serve tea like slaves to the Police. They are regularly and blatantly sexually abused. Everyone knows this, and even the local politicians and Police Chief admits this. But they refuse to act. Three boys were shot running away from their “masters”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If all this is done in full view of the US Marine advisors, then what is going on unseen?

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, that all the lives lost in Helmand province have just swerved to replace a hated, corrupt out-of-control force with another one.

Mr Hagel. There are no easy answers. Should we go back and re-fight the war again? Should we now turn our force against the corrupt Afghan Police and Army? Should we get a multi-national force in there to take over all policing operations for the next ten years? Should we just turn tail and run and let the Taliban fester and spread like a cancer across the country?

I don’t know. But please, do not be fooled by the rose-tinted words of those who would prefer not to address these difficult issues. All is not well in Afghanistan. Everyone knows it. And it will take a strong hand not to bend and sway with the wind, but to stand firm for what it was our countries sought to achieve there, and what our young men died fighting for there.