News / Asia

US Afghan Aid Beset by Difficulties

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

Multimedia

A new Congressional study has criticized some U.S. aid efforts in Afghanistan as unfocused and wasteful.  But while many of the problems outlined in the report are unique to war-ravaged Afghanistan, others are common to assistance efforts to countries anywhere in the world ravaged by war and insurgency.

According to a just-released report issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the United States spends some $320 million a month on non-security assistance programs funded by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, or AID.   But it says there has been an overemphasis on programs of short-term stabilization over more long-term development and stability projects.

In an interview, Andrew Natsios, the former head of AID, said that is in part because his old agency no longer sets U.S. assistance priorities in Afghanistan.  

"I think there’s a problem with the marginalization of AID.  According to the report, AID is not at the table, they’re not in a commanding position. Basically ambassadors are making decisions about how to allocate funds, and senior military officers, instead of professional development people.  And that’s a big mistake," Natsios said.

Related video report by Meredith Buel

Mark Moyar, a frequent Pentagon consultant and former professor at the Marine Corps University, says cuts in the Agency for International Development forced it - as it has in other U.S. agencies - to reach out for more outside help to make up the shortfall.

"They’ve tried to ramp up, but they don’t have enough people in AID to do it out of their career people so they’re bringing in a lot of short-term folks.  But, for one thing, they haven’t been able to get as many as they wanted and a lot of them don’t have the experience levels. And they’re finding that a lot of them aren’t willing to go out into the areas. A large percentage of them are staying in Kabul.  And so the oversight that has been promised has not quite materialized," Moyar said.

The report says the U.S. assistance effort is focused on what is termed “capacity building” - getting the Afghan government to efficiently deliver basic services to its citizens, such as health, education, and sanitation. It says that much of the U.S. assistance bypasses the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai in favor of private international assistance firms.  Analysts say this helps assure some measure of confidence that the funds are being spent properly, but undercuts the confidence and ability of the Afghan government.

But Natsios says giving the money directly to the ministries would not solve the problem.

"Many of the ministers in Karzai’s government in fact they are tribal chieftains who are being given cabinet ministries because they’re loyal to Karzai, not because they can run anything. In fact, they don’t have any idea how to run anything.  And many of them use the ministries to hire their own supporters to make them loyal to the administration by giving them government jobs.  Many of them are illiterate. You can do all the training in capacity-building you want. In those ministries that are dominated by chieftains, capacity-building is not going to be very effective," Natsios said.

The current USAID administrator, Rajiv Shah, said Thursday the assistance programs are showing results, but governmental capacity-building takes a long time.

"We’ve made an aggressive move here to get the resources to build more local capacity, and we’re seeing more direct results for it.  We’re seeing that in health, we’re seeing that in education, we’re seeing that in civil service and civil servants and the capacity to do that.  But building governance is not something that’s going to happen in 18 months.  And President Obama has said it’s a generational effort.  Secretary Clinton understands and values the efforts we’re making to kind of have a smart medium and long-term strategy here," Shah said.

Whenever there is a big international reconstruction effort, the contractors and non-governmental agencies, or NGOs, come in and spend sometimes excessive amounts of money on housing and staff salaries.  Mark Moyar, who is now director of research at Orbis Operations, says the big salaries undercut efforts to create an efficient Afghan government.

"All these people are hiring Afghans to work for them or be translators, and they’re paying much higher salaries.  So what you have is a brain drain out of the government. A lot of the most industrious and skilled Afghans who should be governors or doctors or police chiefs are instead going to work for foreign companies. And that’s having a very negative impact on the Afghan government, Moyar said.

The Senate report warns that any sudden dropoff in assistance as the result of a handoff of responsibilities from the international community to the Afghan government might spark an economic depression.

But former Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Tayeb Jawad, who now promotes private sector development in his home country, says inflated salaries and housing prices have to be brought back to reality.

"Frankly, the amount of the salaries that people expect in Kabul, the price of the real estate, is way above and beyond what it should be. So we will be seeing an adjustment as far as the salaries that are being paid and also the price of the real estate and other commodities in Afghanistan, which is, I think, something healthy for the Afghan economy to really have a check with reality on the ground instead of completely being dependent on excessive amount of funding coming from abroad," Jawad said.

The U.S. is scheduled to begin a troop drawdown in Afghanistan in July with most of the handoff of duties to the Afghan government scheduled to be completed by 2014.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs