In Afghanistan, US to Shift Focus to Longer-term, Sustainable Development Initiatives

U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry (front center) and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah walk through FOB Connelloy with Lt. Col. Michael Anderson in Nangarhar province on Feb. 9, 2011. Photo by: S.K. Vemmer/U.S. State Department

The U.S. government will shift its civilian assistance efforts in Afghanistan from short-term stabilization projects to longer-term, sustainable development programs as the United States begins drawing down the number of its troops in the Central Asian country, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said June 23.

U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan will specifically focus on promoting growth and integrating the Afghan economy into the regional market, Clinton told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Clinton testified before SFRC a day after U.S. President Barack Obama laid out his plans for withdrawing 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011, with the goal of bringing back to the United States a total of 33,000 soldiers by 2012.

Obama’s announcement drew mixed reactions from U.S.-based humanitarian aid groups working in Afghanistan. Some groups have noted that they would not be largely affected by the withdrawal of troops because they have started working independently of the military, The Huffington Post says. Others, however, have raised concern that the drawdown of troops could result into security issues for foreign humanitarian workers and non-governmental organizations’ staff, according to the news website.

Rethinking the strategy

U.S. civilian agencies are expected to have a greater role in Afghanistan as a result of the withdrawal of troops, and at least one expert says its time for the U.S. government to rethink its civilian strategy there.

“The job of helping Afghans build a state with functioning public services and institutions answering to an engaged civil society is plenty hard,” Desaix Myers, a national security studies professor at the U.S.-based National War Colleges, says in an op-ed in The New York Times. “Pumping vast amounts of money quickly — $4 billion this year — through a corrupt and fragile government doesn’t make it easier. Nor do Washington’s expectations, micromanagement and sense of urgency.”

Myers recommends four steps that the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development can take moving forward:

- Focus on building a team of experts with enough field experience and local knowledge to gain the Afghans’ trust instead of simply increasing the number of U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan.- Streamline oversight and coordination. - Lower expectations and avoid competing objectives. - Train “expeditionary” civilians who are willing to be deployed for years to critical conflict zones.

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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.