Why we’re losing

As I noted in a previous post, the failure of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and elsewhere is in large part a product of a lack of strategic thinking. But there is more to it than that. While Western armies are excellent from a purely tactical point of view – i.e. they can drop bombs and fight engagements very efficiently – both they and their civilian counterparts are staggeringly incompetent in other respects. Even with the best possible strategy, they would still probably fail.

To understand why, I urge you all (as I have done before) to read the reports of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Here is a summary of the latest.  And bear in mind that this is just one small example. The waste identified here has been repeated in scores and scores of other projects. When the history of this campaign is written, the scale of waste, incompetence, and corruption will boggle the mind.

If it weren’t so tragic, you’d have to laugh (OK, I confess that I did).

Can somebody explain to me how they think we can win this war?

— DOD’s [US Department of Defense’s] decision to procure ANA [Afghan National Army] uniforms using a proprietary camouflage pattern was not based on an evaluation of its appropriateness for the Afghan environment.

— Procurement costs to the U.S. government were 40–43 percent [higher] than similar non-proprietary patterned uniforms used by the Afghan National Police (ANP), which potentially added between $26.65 million and $28.23 million to the costs of the ANA uniform procurements since 2008.

— In 2007, responsible DOD officials stated that they “ran across [HyperStealth’s] web site and the Minister [then Minister of Defense Wardak] liked what he saw. He liked the woodland, urban, and temperate patterns.” {This is where I laughed – PR}

— CSTC-A, in consultation with the Afghan MOD, decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area. {And laughed again – PR}

— Determining the effectiveness of a uniform pattern for a specific environment requires formal testing and evaluation.

— Acording to a technical paper prepared for the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, the spatial characteristics and color palette of a camouflage pattern should be tailored to the specific environment. Matching a camouflage pattern “with background texture, color, and contrast is essential to all levels of visual processing.”

— CSTC-A, however, made the decision to procure 1,364,602 ANA uniforms and 88,010 extra pairs of pants —totaling approximately $94 million—using HyperStealth’s Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern without conducting any formal testing or evaluation.

— As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether it actually hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visible target to the enemy.

— CSTC-A recommended a sole-source award to HypersStealth but the DOD contracting office believed that, because there were so many available camouflage patterns in the world, a sole-source award would be hard to justify.

— Instead of issuing a sole-source award, DOD issued a local acquisition solicitation that included the requirement that the uniforms use HyperStealth’s proprietary Spec4ce Forest camouflage pattern.

— CSTC-A initially estimated that the new ANA uniform would cost $25–$30 per set. The actual cost ranged from $45.42–$80.39 per set.

— Our analysis found that changing the ANA uniform to a non-proprietary camouflage pattern could save U.S. taxpayers between $68.61 million and $72.21 million over the next 10 years.

— SIGAR suggests that DOD conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the current ANA uniform specification to determine whether there is a more effective alternative, considering both operational environment and cost, available.


5 thoughts on “Why we’re losing”

  1. As the joke goes: ‘…worst case scenario, you’ll have two tunnels.’ So, they’ll order another set for Afghanistan, and they’ll start another war in a foresty place somewhere, so what. The Philippines sounds like a good option.


  2. “— CSTC-A, in consultation with the Afghan MOD, decided to adopt the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme for ANA uniforms, despite the fact that forests cover only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan’s total land area. ”

    Okay, I have idea for a business startup! It’s perfect, I tell you. It combines the “Can Do!” attitude of the Americans with their stubborn pigheadedness and apparent inability to admit their own screw ups.

    Seeing that the good people from the American DOD treat the budget money as if they grow on the trees, I suggest they’d hire me to solve this particular problem. How? Well, seeing as they already have a crapload of these uniforms anyway and they must found a use for them, I offer that in lieu to make the camouflage pattern containing a “forest” color scheme more appropriate to the Afghan environment… to plant forests all across Afghanistan!

    Seeing as I’m the only one who suggested such bold facesaving tactic for embattled DOD of the US, I think that they must give me a sole-source award for such innovative thinking. I know – this would probably require even more money, effort and, literally, dozens of years for the whole of Afhanistan to be covered in trees (I’d personally prefer pines) – but… what about Freedom?! What about Democracy?! You can’t place a price tag on them, these chief ideals of the America. Surely, all people of the Goodwill from the DOD and their lobbyist groups must support my brave and visionary approach.

    God Bless America! And gib me monies, plox!


    1. Planting forest in Afghanistan will not only solve the problem of the uniforms. It will also help combat climate change by capturing CO2, and provide habitats for the endangered Hymalayan Snow Leopard, boosting eco credentials


  3. I personally know a former senior investigator from DOD-IG. He told me years ago how systematic the waste is in all the ME campaigns. He said, for instance, say a General wants 1,000 night vision goggles for his troops. There would be way more than 1,000 already available in theater, but instead, the general would ALWAYS send a request back to the Pentagon, which then would order 1,000 brand new goggles from the contractor and send them to the theater of operations.

    No points for guessing whether said general would end up working for the contractor after he/she retired. And this was routine, in ALL areas of procurement.


  4. Why the “We” in the title? Are you a citizen of the U.S.? Or do you somehow identify culturally as a citizen of the U.S.? Or is the “we” supposed to represent “Nato and the west”, and you identify as a “westerner”?

    Canada left in 2014 and its only military presence is at the Canadian Embassy.

    Is this a war you want us to keep fighting?


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