A 'boots on' approach to quality control in Afghanistan
September 26th, 2011
06:11 PM ET

A 'boots on' approach to quality control in Afghanistan

By Senior National Security Producer Charley Keyes

They don't come more made-in-America than U.S. Army generals like William Caldwell.

But the three-star commander of the NATO training mission is willing to walk in the boots of his Afghanistan allies – literally.

Caldwell said the NATO allies went looking for ways to save money teaching and equipping the Afghanistan security forces.

"We asked ourselves, why are we buying boots from the United States for this, hundreds of thousands of men?" Lt. Gen. Caldwell said from Kabul.

"And each boot was about $170, a pair of boots, by the time we got them there and issued them out," Caldwell said.

So under the "Afghan First" initiative started by NATO 18 months ago, Caldwell's team found a local company that could provide the right boot at a third of the cost.

The general was told they would meet the specification - but he is making sure.

"I can tell you, I personally know," Caldwell said in a video-link to journalists at the Pentagon. "I wear a pair of Afghan boots, have been now for seven months, because I needed to personally validate for myself it really is good."

The U.S. and its allies hope the Afghanistan security forces will grow to 352,000 by November next year. But already local boots as well as other locally manufactured uniforms and other supplies have generated savings. "Our estimate is that today alone we have saved over $650-millon that we had programmed to spend, same quantity, same quality," Caldwell said.

Members of Congress have criticized the U.S. military for creating an Afghaistan military that will be too expensive for the country ever to sustain on its own, at an estimated annual cost of $6-billion to be provided by the U.S. and allies.

Caldwell suggested that other savings can be found by turning up the temperature, or at least not always providing air conditioning when the U.S. builds facilities for Afghanistan forces. "Today we don't do that all," said Caldwell. "We put in fans."

"We've recognized what's right for Afghanistan, what's affordable and sustainable by them for the long term," he said.

Every new air conditioning unit demanded experts to maintain it, plus a steady source of often imported and expensive parts and fuel, "We do keep looking at it and keep asking ourselves how we do we get the the lowest possible cost while still giving them the exact same return on this investment so in the out years it is the most sustainable witht hel eost possible cost while still giving them the exact same caopability they need to handle this level of insurgency," Caldwells said.

Despite the efforts by the U.S. and dozens of other countries to train the local forces, Caldwell said they may need additional help even after the scheduled U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of 2014.

"In December 2014 when Afghans take the led for security here in Afghanistan there will still be coalition enablers here," Caldwell said.

Later Pentagon spokesman George Little said he could not give any information about how or who those enablers would be several years into the future.

And he said that recent high visibility insurgent attacks in Kabul should not overshadow the advances Afghanistan security forces had made. He said that was especially evident in the September 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy. "As I've watched the response by the security forces here in Kabul the thing I would tell you is they are learning from each incident and they're adapting," Caldwell said. "They're getting better each and every time.

This most recent attack was probably the most vivid example I saw in terms of how they handled that with a very deliberate, methodical approach."

Filed under: Afghanistan • Defense Spending • Kabul • Military
Pakistan not going after Haqqani network
September 26th, 2011
12:18 PM ET

Pakistan not going after Haqqani network

CNN's Reza Sayah and Nasir Habib contributed to this report from Pakistan

The Pakistani Army has decided not to take action against the Haqqani network for the time being despite a fresh wave of intense pressure from Washington for a military offensive against the Pakistani-based militant group, two military officials told CNN on Monday.

The decision was made by senior Pakistani generals on Sunday in an impromptu meeting called by Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the officials said.

The military has decided not to target the Haqqani network because the army is stretched too thin with several other operations against militants in northwest Pakistan, one of the officials said. "We are not in a position to undertake an operation at this point," he said.

The officials asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The meeting by Pakistan's top general comes days after the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan's top intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and its attacks against U.S. targets in Afghanistan, including this month's attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Mullen's statement has further ratcheted up tensions between Islamabad and Washington and sparked a bitter war of words. FULL POST

Filed under: Afghanistan • Haqqani • Pakistan • Terrorism
Chinese media and the 'showy' US ambassador
A screengrab from Sina Weibo shows the image of Gary Locke taken by a blogger named as TangChaohui_adSage.
September 26th, 2011
11:04 AM ET

Chinese media and the 'showy' US ambassador

By CNN's Jaime FlorCruz and Tian Shao in Beijing, China

Since taking up his post as America's new ambassador to China, Gary Locke has become an increasingly popular figure among ordinary Chinese.

Born and bred in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, Locke's down-to-earth style immediately struck a chord with netizens when he arrived in the country in August.

A picture of him buying coffee with coupons at an airport quickly circulated in cyberspace the day he arrived in Beijing. After landing, the envoy and his family were snapped without a big entourage of assistants and carrying their own luggage.

They even took a minivan into the city, rather than an official embassy limousine, prompting many people to compare this with the perceived lavish spending habits and imperious attitude of some Chinese officials.

Last month, Caixin magazine published an investigative report about how a local government in Hubei province spent a whopping 800,000 yuan ($125,000) over several weeks to prepare for an inspection tour by a group of nine senior local officials.

The officials inspected Zigui, one of the poorest counties in China. The expose has since spread to the internet, prompting anti-corruption officials to call for an audit of how the money was spent and why so much was needed. FULL POST

Filed under: China • Diplomacy • Gary Locke • US Ambassador