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Waste fears as Afghan soldiers cash in on spent ammo

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(Last Updated On: July 21, 2016)

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Zahir Jan, a scrap metal dealer in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, pays about 175 Afghani ($2.55) per kilo of spent cartridge casings and has no trouble finding supplies from poorly paid soldiers and policemen looking for extra cash.

If they don’t have enough on hand, he says they’re happy to fire off their weapons for 5-10 minutes until he has what he needs.

“This is a good business now and there are buyers waiting in different areas,” he said.

Along with official and media reports that some soldiers and police even sell weapons and ammunition to the Taliban, the issue illustrates a problem for commanders trying to improve controls on vital supplies like fuel and ammunition.

A senior Afghan officer in the army’s technical and weapons branch, who didn’t want to be named as he is not authorized to speak publicly, said troops in Helmand and the northern province of Kunduz fired 7,000 artillery shells in May alone.

“We asked army commanders about it and said if each shell killed only one person, we should have 3,500 Taliban dead in each province,” he said. “It’s very clear they fire aimlessly and collect the shell casings for copper and sell them.”

Another officer, a commander in Helmand who arrived in the province six months ago following a clearout of senior officers in the army’s 215th corps, estimated that up to 8 out of every 10 soldiers sold ammunition casings.

“One hundred percent, it happens,” he said, also speaking anonymously as he was not authorized to talk to the media. “The reason is the lack of a proper logistics system as well as insufficient pay and leave.”

Despite recent efforts to improve pay and conditions for Afghan soldiers, morale remains a problem, with many serving for months or even years without leave, earning around $200 a month.

The clearout of senior officers in Helmand was prompted by reports of abuse and corruption, including cases where officers stole soldiers’ pay or demanded bribes to allow them to go on leave.

Assessing just how widespread ammunition misuse is and how far the sale of cases involves deliberately or wastefully firing off ammunition rather than collecting spent cartridges from normal operations remains difficult.

The defense ministry declined to provide ammunition usage figures. But at least seven officials in different parts of the government and military said soldiers discharging their weapons purely in order to produce saleable scrap metal was a problem.

The United States spent more than $300 million from its Afghanistan Security Forces Fund on ammunition for Afghan army and police last year, Department of Defense figures show.

In a report from February, Pentagon inspectors said the systems for supplying and maintaining equipment for police and army units were “immature and unreliable”. Lack of proper controls raised the likelihood of “misuse, theft, and diversion to unauthorized purposes.”

A scandal last year involving rigged fuel contracts increased the pressure for improvements, and more attention is being given to keeping track of ammunition, which NATO officials say is a “top priority”.

“Reporting has been sketchy,” said Australian army Brigadier Scott Hicks, deputy director of the logistics and maintenance operation within the NATO-led Resolute Support training and assistance mission. “We’re getting better at it with fuel and we’re working on ammunition at the moment,” he said.

FORMS AND PAPERS

Afghan officials acknowledge there have been cases of ammunition misuse, but deny the problem is widespread.

“Several forms and papers have to be filled out to obtain ammunition and there has to be accountability for everything,” said Mohammad Radmanish, a defense ministry spokesman.

NATO officers have, however, been trying to move the Afghan army to overhaul its logistics with new computerized systems and more timely reporting from the field that would enable unusual patterns of ammunition use to be spotted more quickly.

In particular, they are trying to get away from Soviet-era supply doctrine, in which supplies are “pushed” out based on centralized estimates of likely needs.

NATO officials say the system, while relatively simple, makes it harder to see when supplies are misused. Instead, they are working to have frontline units “pull” in supplies through requests to headquarters, which must track and forecast the needs of its subordinate units.

However, they face problems convincing some Afghan commanders who are not comfortable with new methods that require more sophisticated systems and place heavy demands on a force where many soldiers are illiterate.

Kenneth Watson, civilian director of Resolute Support’s logistics and maintenance training, said more transparency was essential for foreign donors pledging billions of dollars to support Afghan forces.

“As a coalition, we have to have visibility on assets and we have no visibility with a manual-based system,” he said.

At the far end of the supply chain, such considerations weigh little for low-paid soldiers with more to worry about than foreign donors.

“Unfortunately it’s very difficult to stop,” said the commander in Helmand. Sometimes, he said, units can fire off 10,000-20,000 rounds in a single night.

“We’ll ask about casualties on our side or in the Taliban, and there isn’t even a single injury.”

Reuters

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World leaders call for peace, stability in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

On day 2 of the UN General Assembly, world leaders called for peace and stability in Afghanistan and voiced their concerns about attacks being launched from Afghanistan.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in his address to the general assembly that the international community needs to work with Afghanistan’s neighbors in order to prevent instability in the region.

“Regarding Afghanistan, we’ll have to start working with neighbouring countries in this new context to face the humanitarian crisis and prevent more instability in the region.

“We cannot lower our guard in the face of a terrorist menace (Daesh) that is real and that already has delivered a heavy blow in the midst of the evacuation operations.

“Afghanistan cannot turn into a shelter for terrorists. Spain is firmly committed to find maximum international security,” said Sanchez.

Leaders attending the 76th General Assembly, also called for achievements made over the past 20 years to be preserved.

“As the UN Global Advocate for Every Woman Every Child, it makes me sad that the progress seen during the past two decades in Afghanistan could be reverted so quickly,” said Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia.

Indonesia, which has the highest Muslim population of any country in the world, called on the international community to support the call for rights for women and minorities and for stability in Afghanistan.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of diversification of vaccine production centers across the world.

“We must be stern in fighting intolerance, conflicts, terrorism and war. Peace in diversity and the protection of women’s and minority rights must be upheld. Concerns on the marginalization of women and violence in Afghanistan, Palestine’s elusive independence and the political crisis in Myanmar must be our common agenda,” said Joko Widodo, president of Indonesia.

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Acting foreign minister upbeat about future trade and diplomatic relations

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi says he is working to build strong economic ties with regional nations and countries around the world.

Speaking at a ceremony to introduce the new acting minister of commerce and industry, Nooruddin Aziz, Muttaqi said he is focused on developing the country’s economic sector.

Muttaqi also said that Afghanistan’s economic relations with regional countries would soon be regulated, which would have a positive impact on trade.

“We have selected a minister from the private sector for the ministry of commerce and industry so as to ensure the smooth running of the private sector and economic activities. We hope that the private sector will also play an active role in the country’s economy,” Muttaqi said at the ceremony.

Aziz meanwhile said he will also work to expand economic ties with all countries, both regionally and globally, in order to get Afghanistan to a point where it is financially self-sufficient.

“We strive to make Afghanistan a self-sufficient and economic-free country and to maintain relations with regional and neighboring countries; also the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and a number of other countries,” said Aziz.

Private sector representatives said they will support the new ministers and work with them to grow the country’s economy.

“Security is crucial for economic development and the fight against corruption. So far the (security) problem has been solved. We will expand our activities,” said Khan Jan Alkozai, Vice President of Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industries.

“Unless we speed up our efforts to develop industry and domestic production in the country, economic growth may not be possible. We call on the Islamic Emirate to make efforts to develop domestic production,” said Sherbaz Kaminzada, head of the chamber of mines and industries.

Officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan have assured members of the private sector that the security of domestic investors will be maintained and that more opportunities for economic development will be provided.

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Afghanistan faces severe medicine shortage amid Forex restrictions

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2021)

Afghanistan is now faced with medicine shortage due to disrupted border crossings and limited operation of banks.

Almost all medicine in Afghanistan is imported from neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

However, the border crossings between Afghanistan and its neighbors were disrupted in the lead-up to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) takeover, and normal operations are yet to resume.

Worse still, wholesalers have been unable to complete transactions due to the limited operation of banks.

“Yes, since the takeover, banks are closed [for international transactions]. As the banks are closed, we can’t transfer payments to suppliers. If we don’t transfer money to the suppliers legally, they will not be able to deliver us the medicine and prices will definitely rise. When demand is high, and supply is low, the prices naturally go up. We are facing a shortage in supply of essential medicine,” said Rohullah Alokozay, President of GPS Pharma, Reuters reported.

Officials said the number of visitors at government hospitals has increased since the change of regime. The good news is that international donors have increased their focus towards government hospitals.

“In fact, we have even more visiting patients. Fortunately, we got more attention from UNICEF and the WHO, especially, towards our hospital which is a children’s hospital. They didn’t have enough focus in the last few years, but in the last month they increased our medical supply,” said Noor ul Haq Yousufzai, president of Indira Gandhi Institute for Children’s Health.

In fact, the government hospitals didn’t have enough medical facilities in the past three to four years due to lengthy procurement processes and the problem of corruption.

Government hospitals were not able to provide medicines to patients despite the continued funding in the previous regime.

“On one hand, prices have increased, while on the other hand, the people have become poorer. This has affected the doctors, patients and the society. Even in the former regime, patients used to buy their medicine at the market. We used to prescribe the medicine. Patients were not provided even with a single pill from the hospital,” said Dr. M. Fayaz Safi, Head of Medical Doctors’ Association in Afghanistan.

Many of the problems in the health sector have been left over from the previous regime. Wahid Majrooh, former acting minister of public health in the previous government said the former Afghan authorities had tried to solve the issues in coordination with stakeholders, but efforts were unsuccessful.

“And it led us to having few or no supplies, and most of our health facilities including essential medicine, fuel, oxygen, staff salary. We have been trying to work with different stakeholders to see if we can fulfil the urgent needs, but we haven’t been able to do it successfully,” said Majrooh.

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