The focus on “quick impact” projects in Afghanistan pits the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, dubbed as COIN, against long-term development in the Islamic nation, and may alienate the people it intends to help, development groups say.
COIN includes efforts to rehabilitate communities secured by the military. It is led by provincial reconstruction teams.
U.S. officials “say that the choice between short-term projects and long-term development is a false one. Both are necessary. In several provinces in eastern and southern Afghanistan – Taliban strongholds where the U.S. COIN efforts are focused – the kind of long-term development the aid community is looking for might not be possible right now,” according to Elise Labott, CNN senior State Department producer.
One U.S. official said: “If we focused only on long-term development, we wouldn’t be in the south at all … In some areas, these short-term projects are all we are able to do. We can’t leave these people completely on their own.”
Aid groups such as InterAction, an alliance of 200 U.S.-based aid organizations, have criticized the U.S. government’s quick impact projects in Afghanistan, saying such assistance does not engage communities.
“Communities are proud of what they are able to do and are grateful when help comes on their terms, because it comes with a respect for them,” said InterAction President Sam Worthington. “The challenge is when help comes rapidly at someone else’s terms and that could put the community at a bind.”
U.S. officials, according to Labott, are “a little annoyed at the blanket criticism, considering that some NGOs being paid under [U.S. Agency for International Development] contracts advertise themselves as a critical link between government and community over the long haul.”
In Pakistan, aid groups are at odds with the U.S. government’s branding policy of aid. Aid organizations say that such policy undermines their neutrality, making them targets of local militants.
“The challenge the United States must address is how to accomplish both goals: support the ability of aid groups to function in a conflict environment and ensure that Pakistanis know who is helping them,” according to Labott. “NGOs have a different dilemma: maintaining their independence and neutrality amid a high-octane combat environment, and safeguarding their reputation for the day when the PRTs [provincial reconstruction teams] are no longer on the ground.”