The United States’ Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released its “Afghan National Security Forces: Actions Needed to Improve Weapons Accountability” report for July.
The report revealed that a total of 747,000 weapons supposedly given to the Afghan National Security Forces by the U.S. Department of Defense are now unaccounted for.
According to the report, 465,000 of these weapons are small arms that include, “…rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and shotguns.”
The Department of Defense relies primarily on two programs to track the flow of weapons to Afghanistan’s security forces: The Security Cooperation Information Portal (SCIP) and the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database (OVERLORD).
Both of these programs were found to have major errors and discrepancies. In fact, a whopping 43% of the serial numbers (used to identify and track each individual weapon) in the OVERLORD system were found to have, “missing information and/or duplication.”
On top of that, the report found that as of November 2013, the U.S. had provided Afghanistan’s Security Forces with nearly 113,000 more weapons than they actually needed (based on the “Tashkil”, the official list of requirements for the ANSF issued by the Afghan government).
The SIGAR report also warns that these weapons could easily find their way into the hands of hostile groups like the Taliban, if they haven’t already:
“Without confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, SIGAR is concerned that they could be obtained by insurgents and pose additional risks to Afghan civilians and the ANSF.”
Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service announced some chilling statistics on Russian drug use this past Monday.
The most frightening data was on the number of fatal drug overdoses per year in the country. Last year, that number climbed over 100,000, making it nearly three times higher than it was in 2012.
The Service also announced that of the 108,700 people convicted of drug-related crimes last year, 66% were between the ages of 19-29, and another 2% were minors.
Russia has the highest population of injecting drug users (IDUs) in the world at 1.8 million. A third of these IDUs are HIV positive and a whopping 90% have Hepatitis C.
To make the problem worse, Russia’s drug treatment programs are woefully inadequate. Many people open businesses masquerading as treatment center while using arcane “treatments” like flogging, starvation, and electric shock among others.
Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service has also admitted that more than 90% of Russians who check into a treatment center are using drugs again within a year.
A large portion of the intravenous drug users are addicted to heroin or other opioids. These drugs are derived from the poppy plant.
One factor that has contributed to the increasing use of these drugs is an increase in poppy production in Afghanistan.
Cultivating poppies that can be processed into opium or heroin has been a lucrative business in Afghanistan since the 90s. But when the Taliban took power in 2001, the militant group outlawed the growing of poppies, reducing production to almost zero.
Since the U.S. invasion however, there has been a rapid resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan. Last year saw the highest poppy production in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. The level of production was nearly 3 times higher than the average levels before the Taliban’s time in power.
This flood of poppies means cheaper prices for opium and heroin manufacturers and consequently cheaper prices for users, not to speak of the increase in availability.
About a quarter of the heroin manufactured in Afghanistan in 2010 ended up in Russia, and that percentage has only been rising in the past 3 years.
Heroin use has actually been on the rise in Russia since the early 90s, when the fall of the Soviet Union left high levels of unemployment and poverty across the country.
In the decade between 1994 and 2004, the total number of drug users in Russia rose an astounding 900%. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent boom in the poppy supply has only poured gasoline on a problem that was already burning out of control.
Read the original story from RBTH here. Read more about drug abuse in Russia from DrugWarFacts.org here.
This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.
The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.
While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.
In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.
The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.
Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.
To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.
“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”
said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.
It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.
But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.
So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.
There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.
In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.
Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.
The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.
This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.
The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.
But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.
The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.
Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted almost 15 years now, costing the United States between $4-6 trillion (with a “T”) dollars since they began back in 2001.
A significant portion of that money has gone to buying weapons and munitions for the soldiers. But what happens to these weapons when the soldiers are sent home?
“As President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice.”
That quote is from a New York Times article published last Sunday, an article that tells the story of how, under the Obama administration,
“police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”
One of these pieces of military weaponry is the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicle. A total of 432 MRAP’s have made their way into the fleets of police departments around the country.
The graphic below shows where all of those MRAP’s were sent, as well as giving tallies of the all the military-grade equipment that has found its way into local department since the program started. Click the image to view the full-size version.
So why are so many weapons flowing into local police forces? Is it because they are facing increasingly dangerous scenarios? Many would argue that this is the case, and while it does have some truth to it, this is simply an excuse.
The real reason for local police departments taking in all of these weapons is basically that the government has nothing better to do with them- if the police don’t want them, they’re turned into scrap:
“The Pentagon program does not push equipment onto local departments. The pace of transfers depends on how much unneeded equipment the military has, and how much the police request. Equipment that goes unclaimed typically is destroyed. So police chiefs say their choice is often easy: Ask for free equipment that would otherwise be scrapped, or look for money in their budgets to prepare for an unlikely scenario. Most people understand, police officers say.”
The situation often pits the community against itself. Neenah, Wisconsin, a small city with very low levels of violent crime, is one of the cities set to receive one of the military’s armored vehicles.
When word got out about the police department’s plans to acquire the vehicle, some residents, like father Shay Korittnig, weren’t too happy about it:
“It just seems like ramping up a police department for a problem we don’t have… This is not what I was looking for when I moved here, that my children would view their local police officer as an M-16-toting, SWAT-apparel-wearing officer.”
William Pollnow Jr. is a city councilman in Neenah who decided he would be the one to ask, “Why are we doing this?” However, the argument on the other side is almost unbeatable. Here’s another excerpt from the Times article:
At the Neenah City Council, Mr. Pollnow is pushing for a requirement that the council vote on all equipment transfers. When he asks about the need for military equipment, he said the answer is always the same: It protects police officers.
“Who’s going to be against that? You’re against the police coming home safe at night?” he said. “But you can always present a worst-case scenario. You can use that as a framework to get anything.”
The biggest problem most people have with this heightened militarization of local police forces is that it’s being done, for the most part, without the knowledge of the public.
None of the cities taking in these weapons are holding town hall meetings, public forums or referendums to let the citizens decide whether or not to add fully-automatic machine guns and armored vehicles to the force.
I won’t be one of those people who sits here and tells you the government is about to start an all-out war against the people, using cops as infantry, because I just don’t see it.
What I will say is that, in my humble opinion, the increased militarization of police forces nationwide is both unnecessary and unsettling.
For more info, I highly recommend this New York Times piece– they did an extremely thorough job of covering the whole story from all angles.
BONUS: This great infographic details the cost of different parts of our military, comparing it to the average household income, as well as costs like college tuition, healthcare, and a new home. Click the image to view the full-size version:
In their article, The Intercept admitted that the documents named another country as also being monitored under this extremely invasive program, but chose not to release the identity of the country because they worried that the revelation would almost certainly cause deaths.
Despite their worries, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed that his organization would reveal the identity of the mystery country. Yesterday, he delivered on his promise:
I must say I don’t think many people will be shocked to hear that the NSA has Afghanistan under heavy surveillance. Personally, I think the surveillance in the Bahamas is much more odd and unwarranted.
However, I do understand why The Intercept and Edward Snowden were worried about revealing Afghanistan. It’s highly likely that this revelation will be used to help fuel anti-American sentiment in the already unstable country. Whether or not that leads to violence remains to be seen.
“There were no American troop casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq in March (2014), for the first time since February 2003, ending 133 straight months when at least one U.S. service member was killed. “
Fortunately, the death count has been significantly lowering steadily in both these areas seemingly leading to near peace. If the areas are near peace it did come at a price, also according to Time…
“The deadliest year in Iraq for U.S. troops was 2007, when 904 perished. In Afghanistan, 2010 was the grimmest, with 496 dead. A total of 4,486 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq, including in accidents and other non-hostile events. The toll in Afghanistan stands at 2,315.”
Comparatively, the number of civilian deaths on the Iraqi side was estimated at 115,000 by the UK-based group Iraq Body Count. However, a group of university researchers from the United States, Canada and Baghdad teamed up with the Iraqi Ministry of Health to obtain an estimate that,
“covers not only violent deaths but other avoidable deaths linked to the invasion, insurgencies and subsequent social breakdown,”
Hopefully we have more months in the future of zero U.S. Service Member deaths, and maybe even some months with no deaths at all.
War is the result of fear, fear of the unknown. But at the end of the day, the average person in every country is trying to do the same things: provide for their family, advance themselves and enjoy life. Once we see this we will realize how mutually destructive war is to our pursuit of these basic, common motivations.
The British rights group known as Drone Wars UK recently filed a freedom of information request about the extent of drone usage by the British military.
In response, the British Ministry of Defense admitted,
“Of the 2,150 missions flown by UK personnel, there were 271 missions in Afghanistan when UK personnel utilized a US Reaper, as a UK Reaper was unavailable. During these missions, UK personnel released 39 weapons. I am withholding information about weapons released by UK personnel embedded with the United States Air Force on operations in Afghanistan and Libya under Section 27 [of the Freedom of Information Act]”
The revelation sparked an outcry from British activist groups as well as citizens upset with the military’s lack of transparency.