Defense Department Group on Afghan Business Faces Uncertain Future

A local at an agribusiness fair sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan. Photo by: USAID Afghanistan / CC BY-SA

A U.S. Department of Defense group tasked to help Afghanistan take advantage of its mineral wealth and boost private-sector employment is being plagued by resignations prompted by the U.S. Congress’ decision to cut off the group’s funding by Sept. 30 and transfer its operation to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The group, housed within the Pentagon and staffed with private-sector officials, contractors and appointees, has worked largely outside of the traditional U.S. government bureaucracy to increase trade ties between the United States and Afghanistan and to boost that country’s employment. In order to do so, the group has had to build relationships with Afghan civilians, a role Congressional Democrats thought was more in line with USAID’s mission than the Defense Department’s. The departure of staff from the group ahead of its transfer to USAID has alarmed high ranking officials in the Defense Department who view it as an important part of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

The instructions on the group’s funding and its transfer to USAID were part of the authorization legislation approved by the U.S. Congress for the Defense Department in January, according to the Washington Post. Key military and defense officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are hoping the U.S. Congress will reverse its decision but there is little confidence that the legislative body will act before the task force’s 100 member go their separate ways, the Washington Post says.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley has argued that his group’s entrepreneurial nature will be stifled if put under USAID, which he contended is a risk-averse agency that is more geared toward giving development aid instead of brokering business deals, according to the Post. Brinkley said his resignation is effective June 30.

USAID said it is studying the activities of Brinkley’s group ”to identify areas for positive collaboration.” The Washington Post says it is likely that USAID will cut some activities that do not fit with its development  mandate. U.S. government-wide budgetary could also force USAID to reduce the task force’s operations, the newspaper adds.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.