Blogger’s Roundtable with COL Umberg

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to sit in on a DOD Blogger’s Roundtable with the Chief of Anti-Corruption, COL Thomas Umberg. I think the only way I can sum up this roundtable is to say I was very disappointed. In fact not 30 minutes after it was over a very respected blogger and author who was on the call with me called me to ask if I was as unhappy as he was with the call.

I was very glad to know it was not just me who was unhappy with the content of the call. I am sure COL Umberg is a great guy and soldier, but I think he is severely out of touch with reality. The answers he gave showed he is living in the great white palace and not in touch with the people.

The first response that took me back was this answer the COL gave to Chuck Simmons from America’s North Shore Journal. EMPHASIS is MINE

CHUCK: …And are we — are we interfering with the cultural norm, or do they really not want — do they really want the Western concept of anticorruption?

COL. UMBERG: Well, let me first deal with the second part of your question. The cultural norm — I reject that, and I think that most people who have dealt with average Afghans also reject that. There’s not a cultural norm with respect to corruption……

…..The Islamic and Koranic underpinnings — as you know, virtually everyone here is Muslim — they’re pretty strong and profound with respect to corruption. So we don’t — we don’t need to impose our values upon them

I mean really? It is not a cultural norm? I think someone doesn’t get outside the wire enough. If you are an Afghan veteran, I welcome your comments and view on that statement.

And to say that the Quran addresses corruption or forbids it, is a worthless statement. The Quran also says that homosexuality, and drug use is banned also and we don’t have to look hard to see how that works out in Afghanistan. Just because the Quran forbids it and the entire population is muslim doesn’t mean crap.

I can’t even count the number of “Christians” that willingly and pusposely ignore or violate the commandments of the Bible.

After several more questions, my turn came. I went after two areas, and I have to admit I haven’t been in country in three years so maybe they do have EFT fully implemented, as I know they were starting to try and do that right before I left. Since I don’t have the current facts on the ground I had to accept his first answer, but I was not pleased with this second answer.

Everywhere you see “Q” that is me talking.

Q Okay. Thank you. Sir, this is Troy Steward from You know, back in — I guess it was, when I was there, April 2006, when we took away the ability for ETTs and mentors to pay and control the pay for, at that time, just ANA forces. Becuase by the time we took over ANP it was already happened. But when we took — when that happened, we lost all control, and we lost a — and we lost a big — a big part of the fight in corruption when we — when the ETTs and the Americans cannot control paying military members of the Army when they actually show up for work. I know under that time, then-LTG Eikenberry was really pushing hard to make it look like we were succeeding in a lot of areas when we weren’t. So that was a big step, and it was touted that, you know, they’re handling their own pay.

Is there any thought, as we go back and look at the corruption going on now, especially with pay and commanders sending soldiers out to the field so he can collect their pay for them when the pay team comes, stuff like that, to get the U.S. mentors, ANP, ANA mentors back involved, or at least get them to have a direct line of communication to somebody in Kabul when they see corruption and have action taken on that?

COL. UMBERG: Well, I’m not sure I agree with your premise. I actually believe that, in terms of the nexus between pay and corruption, you’ve seen a dramatic reduction because of the electronic funds transfer. And then with respect to the ANP, to the extent of the 25 percent that aren’t paid either through the electronic funds transfer, the Roshan M-Paisa methodology, is that there is a coalition member who is there when the patrolmen receive their pay.

So I’m not — I’m not suggesting there’s not still corruption both in the ANP and the ANA, but I do think that the electronic funds transfer and M-Paisa program have done quite a bit to reduce that opportunity.

Q So because the EFT — the fund transfer is happening now, you’re thinking it’s eliminated that avenue for people to be corrupt in that way? There’s no more pay teams visiting anymore?

COL. UMBERG: Yeah, I don’t think — you know, there’s no system that’s completely foolproof. But has it dramatically reduced the opportunities for corruption? The answer to that is unequivocally yes. I don’t think we’ll go back to the — sort of the manual distribution of pay.
I’m sorry, the second part of your question was?

Q Well —

COL. UMBERG: Again, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There’s still — there’s — you know, there’s still — if you’ve got acorrupt commander who takes pay from soldiers and patrolmen, you still have an issue. But it’s tougher now than it was before.

Q Well, the second part, sir, was — you know, are — is there an avenue set up for mentors — American mentors? You know, it’s kind of gone back a little bit to being more heavy handed, involved in Afghan stuff, policies.

But is there a way to get them direct — to report that directly to someone that has followed up on investigating (on ?)? Because before it went through all the levels of, you know, kandaks, brigades, corps, mentors, all the way up. And it wasn’t always followed up on. And we — and reports just kept going up about corruption, and nothing ever happened. So the American mentors just, you know, threw their hands up and said, you know, why are we wasting our time doing this anymore? No one ever does anything.
So I’m kind of looking for like an express line or, you know — (word inaudible) — the express lane to get that word up and have it investigated.

COL. UMBERG: I think we’re doing better with respect to reports and then follow-up of reports of corruption. But the system is not perfect. Right now when there’s corruption — for example, in the kandak or the battalion level — that’s reported to IJC. And we have — it sounds like you’ve been over here. We’ve got law enforcement professionals that are assigned to battalions, U.S. battalions that are partnering with both the ANP as well as the ANA, and it gets reported that way.

So it does get reported up. We have — in the military there’s a quite effective military system of — military, when I say military, I mean Army — justice. And on the ANP side, as I mentioned before, we have mobile anti-corruption teams that are moving out. And we have — in each of the provinces and districts, as you know, we’ve got investigative teams.
But again, you know, I don’t want have challenges. We’re not there yet.

By the time he got through this attempt at an answer, I was done with the call. I could tell that we were essentially talking to a politician or lawyer. It was all gravy and no mashed potatoes at this point.

If you would like to read the entire transcript or listen to the archive of the call, check out for the audio archive or for the transcript.

1 thought on “Blogger’s Roundtable with COL Umberg”

  1. “…we were essentially talking to a politician or lawyer.”

    That’s what it sounds like to me, too. Politicians or lawyers – I have no use for either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.