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Building In Afghanistan

Part of the "Fight, Talk, Build" Policy

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Building In Afghanistan

Afghan children collect clean water from a pump installed by USAID.

Photo courtesy USAID/LGCD
Updated February 05, 2012

The phrase "Fight, Talk, Build" is the United States' current strategy for the stabilization of Afghanistan before American troops end their combat role there in 2014. The fighting element of the equation is obvious, and it involves U.S. forces continuing to battle Taliban insurgents. The "talk" element refers to facilitating negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. (See related article here.)

Building in Afghanistan

The "build" element refers to establishing stable governmental and economic foundations that can support and survive the transition to Afghan self-sufficiency. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said building in Afghanistan means short-term "stabilization" projects that shift into "long-term development programs."

After the 9/11 Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government, which had aided Al-Qaeda. The United States installed a democratic government under President Hamid Karzai in 2002. Karzai was elected outright in 2004 and again in 2009.

By 2006, however, the Taliban had become resurgent and began launching attacks against Afghan and U.S.-led forces. President Barack Obama ordered a "surge" of troops to counter the insurrection in 2009.

Clinton said part of the appeal of the "building" program in Afghanistan is that it should "undercut the appeal of insurgency."

"This strategy is rooted in a lesson we have learned over and over again, all over the world - lasting stability and security go hand in hand with economic opportunity," Clinton said. Clinton was obviously referring to the Marshall Plan -- the grandfather of all U.S. aid programs -- which helped the U.S. and its allies rebuild western Europe after World War II. The Marshall Plan also spawned all other U.S. foreign aid plans for the last 65 years.

"We have to build," said Clinton. "We have to continue to build the institutions of democracy. We have to continue to provide services to the people of Afghanistan, education for the young, healthcare for people. So . . . fight, talk, build is our motto. We need to do all three at once."

USAID to Afghanistan

The bulk of American aid to Afghanistan is understandably geared toward the transition to total Afghan control. USAID calls it the Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative (ASI).

Total Afghanistan aid budget for Fiscal Year 2009 was $2.1 billion; in 2010, as plans for the end of U.S. combat missions became clear, the budget jumped to $3.4 billion. It returned to $2.1 billion in 2011 in the wake of a poor economy and congressional budget cuts.

USAID allocations in Fiscal Year 2009 was 19% for security and 37% for governance; in 2010 disbursements were 21% for security, 33% for governance. In both years, infrastructure building/rebuilding ranked third with 12% and 13% of the budget respectively. Agricultural aid jumped from 6% in 2009 to 14% in 2010. Remaining single-digit percentages were split between health, education, economic growth, social assistance, and humanitarian assistance categories.

USAID had not provided a breakdown of disbursements for 2011 at this writing.

USAID describes its work in Afghanistan as existing along a "continuum" which is directed at creating a vital democratic government and economy that can survive when the American military mission ends. That continuum runs from "stabilization efforts" to "long-term development efforts."

Categories and criteria along the Afghan continuum include:

  • Governance: Support the Afghan government at the local level ranging up to the implementation of "sub-national governance and policy coordination."
  • Infrastructure: Begin small scale community-based infrastructure projects ranging up to large-scale regional projects.
  • Agriculture: Food security and subsistence farming ranging up to commercial agriculture.
  • Economic Growth: Short-term, income-generating projects ranging up to a "business climate that encourages private sector investment.
  • Social Services: Establishment of basic services to "connection of national level ministries to the district."

Concerns Over Disbursements

In July 2011 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) Herbert Richardson raised concerns about the disbursement of USAID funds into Afghanistan. Richardson said U.S. agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Human Services, do not coordinate activities in Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan agencies frequently have the same problems. Richardson's report said such problems impede the "Afghan government's ability to identify financial crimes."

Most importantly, the report suggests that the banking industry the U.S. established in Afghanistan after 2002 fails to safeguard USAID disbursements. Both U.S. and Afghan entities allegedly fail to record transaction information on some disbursements to contractors, and other disbursements are made in cash. Both instances constitute holes in the system that could allow USAID money to finance Taliban insurgencies or other terrorist acts.

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