USAID’s Stabilization in Key Areas (SIKA) program in Afghanistan has been in the news over the past few days, primarily due to the challenging nature of the SIKA’s goals.  The program was not designed to handle easy issues.  In fact, the program strives to strike at several difficult challenges that will influence Afghanistan’s future after the transition in 2014.

At its heart, SIKA aims to reduce the influence of the insurgency in Afghanistan.  The program has had success in building up sub-national governance structures such as local government and community development councils (CDCs) and in helping to address grievances and needs of Afghan communities.

Contrary to some reporting, USAID, in coordination with our Afghan partners, has done much more with SIKA than just holding meetings.  While some have focused on the grant disbursement aspect of SIKA, it is important to take a look at the broader aspects of the entire program.  Just this past week, SIKA conducted five capacity building training sessions in eastern Afghanistan.  And there have been 34 just for the month of June in that region.  The other regional programs in the north, west and south have also held dozens of trainings in public outreach, human rights for women, project implementation methodology, and more, while supporting dialogues between district officials and communities about key issues associated with the ongoing insurgency.  The result is an increase in government effectiveness and public confidence that reduces the influence of the insurgency.

SIKA has produced tangible results.    In the north, SIKA has trained over 2180 elected Afghan leaders from over 930 CDCs in how to identify and address sources of instability. SIKA has also been working hard to increase female participation in governance at the district level – in the last three months SIKA conducted 12 training courses for women in western Afghanistan in human rights, nutrition, literacy and vocational training.  These trainings are achieving results – women’s participation in male-dominated community councils is sharply up.  And district governors have reported that SIKA has allowed them to establish ties to constituents in far-flung areas which they could not previously reach.

While grant awards have been slower than anticipated, USAID needed to obtain the necessary agreement from the newly appointed Afghan leadership at the ministry primarily responsible for SIKA.

This delay in securing a formal agreement with the Afghan government led to a delay in the implementation of grants.  While not ideal, we stand by our commitment to ensure our programs are Afghan-led.

It is also important to note that SIKA has made significant progress in grants execution.   Two-hundred twenty-three grants worth over $6 million have been approved, with an additional 352 grants worth over $10.6 million are in development.  SIKA is now on track with a viable implementation timeline for completing the program.

All of these activities are designed to help both the US and Afghan governments handle the 2014 transition as seamlessly and effectively as possible.