As U.S. “surge” troops start heading home, the State Department’s “civilian surge” will stay on in Afghanistan, at least for another three years. Currently there are approximately 1,300 State Department and USAID experts working out of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and in the Afghan provinces, advising Afghan citizens on agriculture, the rule of law and governance.
Their mission: to help Afghans to govern themselves effectively so they won’t turn to the Taliban for help that the Afghan government should be providing.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls their work “crucial” and the man who developed the idea, General David Petraeus, thought civilians were a key element in stabilizing a country.
But at a time of tight budgets in the U.S., some critics question why U.S. taxpayer dollars should pay for programs to help Afghans.
Thursday, Secretary Clinton has to make the case before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for continuing the “civilian surge” even as the troops that provide protection for them in the field are being drawn down. A senior State department official tells CNN “of course, it’s a tough sell.”
President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, at his Congressional hearing, cited a litany of challenges: “... the rule of law including corruption which undermines the credibility of the Afghan state, narcotics, sustainable economic development including employment…”
What’s more, a report from the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations committee warns that many U.S. aid programs are unsustainable once U.S. forces withdraw.
Development expert Clare Lockhart, Director of the Institute for State Effectiveness, tells CNN “I think a lot of the criticism has been valid and where it applies to a model that sees the money go to essentially to the contractors.”
The money, she says, “It goes to one contactor and then it goes to another and you get this long contractual chain and actually most of the money stays in the Beltway. It creates American jobs but it doesn’t change the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.”
But Lockhart says some programs do work, like the National Solidarity Program, which gives block grants directly to Afghan villages.
“One of the things that is great about this kind of program,” she says, “is that it doesn’t need foreigners to be at their villages, the Afghans run it themselves and as part of this program, for example, there are now over 100,000 women as part of these village councils, so for the sake of women its had a huge transformative effect.”
Another example she points to is the Afghan telecom system. “For a $20 million investment from the US through OPIC, the Overseas Investment Corporation, this catalogues $4 billion in private sector investment into the sector and there are now more than 12 million mobile phones across the country whereas there were none 10 years ago. This shows a very small comparative amount of money, very well applied, can catalyze development.”
Lockhart says the key issue is moving from an aid economy to an entrepreneurial economy where Afghans themselves run the system and create jobs. She says Afghanistan could pay for its own security – if the right kinds of investments are made now.