Over the last two years in southern Afghanistan, USAID and our civilian and military partners have built one of the largest joint civil-military stabilization campaigns ever undertaken. This effort is delivering real results. As summer approaches, we are doing more than ever before to consolidate previous gains, achieve U.S. national security objectives and ensure a better future for millions of Afghans.
There will be no gap in USAID’s efforts to reinforce stability in the South. Today’s Washington Post piece on USAID’s efforts in southern Afghanistan simply gets the story wrong.
“USAID plays an essential role in securing military gains through its assistance programs. We are assured there will be no gaps in USAID’s agricultural and other programs in the south that provide such key support to our joint effort,” said Major General Richard Rossmanith, ISAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Stabilization.
In the most volatile regions of Afghanistan, USAID works side-by-side with the military, the State Department, the Department of Agriculture, and others, playing a critical role in stabilizing districts, building responsive local governance, improving the lives of ordinary Afghans, and—ultimately—helping to pave the way for American troops to return home. According to USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, “Our Agency is fully committed to the success of this effort. USAID’s development programs have built on security gains that coalition military forces have achieved in Kandahar this year.”
In the last year, USAID implemented multiple assistance programs totaling several hundred million dollars across southern Afghanistan. Our recent efforts have improved the delivery of basic services such as education and health care, delivered vital credit to farmers and provided advisory services to small businesses. Through programs such as AVIPA Plus (Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Productive Agriculture) we have employed more than 27,000 Afghans cleaning irrigation canals, distributed hundreds of small agribusiness and community grants, and increased agricultural production—the mainstay of the Afghan economy. We have also launched significant new efforts, like the Kandahar Power Initiative and investments in trade and revenue collection that will make our stabilization efforts more enduring. The AVIPA program—and a host of others—will continue in the coming months, with increased spending levels compared to 2010.
The US Congress and the American people have generously supported these programs. Indeed, even in a difficult budget climate, USAID sought and received bi-partisan support for an early release of funds specifically to ensure that there would be no gaps in this critical effort.
Make no mistake, these efforts face tremendous challenges. President Obama, announcing the results of the December review in 2010, said, “This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals …. In many places, the gains we’ve made are still fragile and reversible. But there is no question we are clearing more areas from Taliban control and more Afghans are reclaiming their communities.”
Southern Afghanistan is an extremely difficult and dangerous place to work. A vicious insurgency targets us and our Afghan partners every day. In 2010 over one hundred staff from our partner organizations were killed and more than twice as many wounded. Targeted assassination of Afghan government officials have risen dramatically. We continue this work not because it is easy, but because it is critical to our national security. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said recently, “every child educated, every farmer whose livelihood is improved, every illness treated forms a stark contrast to the Taliban, and increases the legitimacy of our Afghan partners.”
When we see that something isn’t working, we acknowledge it, and change it. We take the commitment to sustainable investment and verifiable results very seriously. This means more effective cooperation with our Afghan partners and more accountability for taxpayer dollars. The US government also takes the issues of corruption, women’s rights, and good governance very seriously and we are working with the Congress to ensure that all legislative requirements are met.
While this has not slowed our critical efforts, it is making significant changes to the way we do business. For example, we are doing more than ever to ensure that our work is accountable: measuring results and not just spending, vetting contractors and sub-contractors to ensure our money is in safe hands and ending assistance to poor performers and contractors. Our new Accountable Assistance for Afghanistan initiative has taken USAID’s accountability standards to a new level.
As we transition our efforts to Afghan leadership through 2014, we also are working to ensure that Afghan leaders are capable and engaged partners. We are training Afghan civil servants, and consulting more deeply with local communities while helping to forge their connection to a capable and legitimate Afghan government. We are making sure our efforts are sustainable and that our investments will endure. Contributing to sustainable economic growth is a key feature of our U.S. government-wide approach to stabilizing Afghanistan. New investments in exploring Afghanistan’s natural resources and increasing trade are meant to ensure that Afghans can control – and fund – their own future.
The Washington Post piece wrongly suggests that USAID’s efforts to improve its programs and eliminate waste are tantamount to abandoning our commitments to the military and the Afghan people. This could not be further from the truth. At USAID, we know that good stewardship of taxpayer funds and achieving real results are mutually reinforcing.
Alex Thier serves as assistant to the administrator for the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs.