Small Wars Journal

Afghan Nation-building Programs Not Sustainable (Updated)

Afghan Nation-building Programs Not Sustainable, Report Says by Karen DeYoung, Washington Post. BLUF: "The hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional investigation to be released Wednesday."

Update: The full report has been released and can be found here.


G Martin

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 2:35pm

Sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem. ;)

Sustaining a financial commitment to Afghanistan??? Where's the political will to do that? And making sure it doesn't go to the insurgents- good luck with that. Do people really think things are that black and white over there?

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/14/2011 - 10:51pm

Since you are posting as Anonymous, I guess I will also. Please tell us why sustaining a financial commitment to Afghanistan is "an absolute must."??

We have been committed for the past 10 years, what will a commitment of another 10 years get us except further in debt? Statements like "an absolute must" need to be justified with at least an attempt at logic.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/14/2011 - 3:21pm

Sustaining a financial commitment to Afghanistan is an absolute must. The key part if making sure the money is going where its supposed to be going and not being diverted to the insurgents. Contractor oversight is a work in progress and is correctly being recognized as an indispensable element of success in Afghanistan.

Eugnid (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 1:56am

Keep the little guys thinking they're doing something important strategically as they increase the damage they do and the risk they suffer in meaningless tactical struggles. Meanwhile command is really not fighting the Taliban but avoiding the pink slips like the Pentagon suffered after Vietnam. In the military you're allowed to ask "how" but not "why." By treating Obama lke a grunt McCrystal and Petraeus bled America dry while never accountable for how $ billions in war toys failed to stop mujahedins armed only with Kalashnikov and Koran for a decade.

While I can't say that soldiers should vote in a referendum over whether they stay or go, I do think generals are accountable for their BS protected by classification so a "fragile peace" comes at a heavy price that we can no longer afford. The real unanswered question killing the effort is "for what?"

Petraeus should read the COIN textbook that bears his name. That's the trouble with alleged plagiarism, the "author" never bothers to read it!

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 2:18pm

Footnote 31 cites to Small Wars Journal. SWJ has arrived.

G Martin

Thu, 06/09/2011 - 3:00pm

Using civilians, USAID, etc.- instead of military folks for development makes the same mistake: it assumes ANYONE can do development. Development rests on invalid assumptions: that anything pushed down from above can turn into something sustainable. Wealth is not created that way.

A few clarifications:

1) the U.S. military leadership doesn't believe that all this largess will build sustainable entities (although they'll say they do). They believe that it will buy them time so that they can fight the Taliban back until the ANSF are trained and fielded. They truly believe that in 2014 (now 2017) GIRoA will take the ANSF and pick up where we left off: killing Taliban and denying AQ sanctuary inside Afghanistan. Of course, this flies in the face of the reality of GIRoA- but who wants to hear about reality??

2) when someone in the military has said that something is sustainable it is usually because they are too close to the problem and have gone native on their own program. The military's evaluation system doesn't reward folks for identifying a failed effort and getting it squashed- it only rewards folks for getting things done. If you tell an officer that he has to pacify Palestine and assign him there- regardless of what he actually does and what reality is- his OER will read: "flawlessly established a peaceful environment for 1,000 Palestinians to live and work in brotherhood with their Jewish friends" and the like.

3) I liken USAID's and State's capability to do development to the conventional military's capability to partner with police units in Afghanistan: the capability just isn't there. They are not set up, funded, trained, or manned to do de-centralized development. And part of the problem is that they attempt to mirror the host government and- like it or not- GIRoA is in Kabul. If they went out into the hinterland they would probably do more, but it wouldn't be sustainable by GIRoA, they wouldn't build GIRoA capability, and it would undermine confidence in GIRoA.

IAA (not verified)

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 11:35pm

The comment above about the Civilian side having its issues is correct. As a military member working in a job that is basically a job that many of you feel should be done by a civilian, and I agree. The reason that in many cases the military has stepped up is because for a myriad of reasons the civilian world has not stepped up and done what the critics of the military are saying. The fact that well over half of the "civilian surge" has only been used to make more .ppt slide presentations for Eikenberry is quite disconcerting and makes it hard for me to take the criticisms from the USAid/USDA rep here with the proper level of respect. Due to various reasons there is not even a State Dept rep at many PRTs. This is unacceptable when there are 900 extra civilians in Kabul. Once there are an adequate number of civilians here to help advise the military they can criticize us, until then please be so kind as to work to encourage more civilians to come over to this country and do what you propose.


Wed, 06/08/2011 - 3:23pm

Also, if the civilian presence in Kabul is doing nothing to stem corruption, it makes the imbalance of effort that much more heinous to me.


Wed, 06/08/2011 - 2:57pm

"To accomplish this mission, the State Department and USAID dramatically increased the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan from 531 civilians in January 2009 to about 1,300 today, with approximately 920 in Kabul and 380 in the field."

The "civilian surge" is never going to work if the civilians arent leaving Kabul. We dont need to bring the government to the government. 70% of the DoS and USAID force in Kabul? I know the report goes on to cite security costs for civilians, but that only highlights why the military has taken on so much in terms of development. CERP does not meet the criteria of the type of development necessary according to the report, either.

"we must strive to uncover the
true drivers of instability in a region, based...on local perspectives...What weve found is that it is generally not the case that
a lack of schools or roads drives conflict."

This captures everything for me. However, this is nothing new. If an AID guy or a local commander is given a budget, or the ability to spend money, you know damn well they are going to try to spend it. Absent good local assessments, that spending becomes arbitary and based on paradigms (schools, roads, wells). This all goes back to understanding your operational environment. Some areas might respond well to development, others remain relatively unchanged, some areas get worse. I dont think anyone with any rank or status in the military or DoS working in Afghanistan still believes that dollars spent = goodwill of the people, caeteris paribus. Hence the extreme focus on district stability framework assessments, etc.

Its going to take identifying and facilitating local HVIs with non-lethal targeting options, and doing the juggling act necessary to prevent development from causing instability. We also need to diversify our information operations conduits to exploit any development we might be doing, and to prevent insurgents from exploiting them. Year long tours dont create enough ownership to facilitate either of these difficult tasks.

I really liked this part of the report as well:

"Development, when done properly, takes time and results cannot be measured immediately. In a country like Afghanistan, development
will take generations. The U.S. Government has strived for quick results to demonstrate to Afghans and Americans alike that
we are making progress. Indeed, the constant demand for immediate results prevented the implementation of programs that could
have met long-term goals and would now be bearing fruit."

Bob's World

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 2:01pm

Nations are not built with concrete and steel.

Nations are built with trust and teamwork.

The US, having come to take trust and teamwork for granted over the course of our recent history, tend to focus now on the concrete and steel perspective. Before we could build a single railroad, or bridge, or even an effective navy, we had first to build trust and teamwork.

The irony is that not only is trust and teamwork the critical condition precedent to other, more tangible kinds of development, it is also far less expensive or labor intensive to facilitate.

The crucible of the Revolution brought leaders from 13 separate and sovereign colonies together against a common foe. Later those same men were able to leverage those personal relationships to forge constucts to allow large states to trust small states; small states to trust large states; populous states to trust sparse states; rich to trust poor; industrial to trust agricultural; etc; etc. From that foundation a nation was able to grow.

Guide the buildng of the roots. Guide the building of the foundation. Guide the building of structures that facilitate trust and teamwork. Then step back, as enduring nations will grow without the need for some sort of artifical "building" program offered by outsiders.


Joe (not verified)

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 11:11am

It also doesn't help that the Obama Administration took a year to pick a head of USAID and of the twelve positions there requiring Senate confirmation, as of December 2010, only five had had names announced for them but only two had been confirmed.

You don't have to be on the ground here for very long to recognize the truth of what this report says. We're spending money like a college student with his first credit card. Not only is there is no thought to sustainability, but we keep trying to get to the ideal. The international community want to build a Ferrari when a Corolla will do the job. We can't build Demmark here, Bangladesh will have to do for now.

Bill M.

Wed, 06/08/2011 - 12:35am

""calls for "a simple rule: donors should not implement projects if Afghans cannot sustain them.""

The military will not change, they are drunk on the current COIN doctrine snake oil. Our civilian leadership is slow to change due to think tanks like CNAS publishing unfounded reports wrapped in pseudo-intellectual venner on why the current strategy will work.

As usual it will ultimately take Congress to force change, just as it took Congress to force DOD to become more Joint, to better fund and support SOF, to integrate racially, etc. Congress moved awfully slow on this one, and understandably, since they were letting the "experts" run (or ruin) the show. Why we're talking about sustainability, we need to look at our SFA efforts in Afghanistan, and develop a long term plan for transitioning that to a self sustaining effort by the Afghanistan government. Not sure that is even possible on an agricultural based economy (most of which appears to be heroin).

The Afghans would benefit more from our the knowledge and expertise of our citizens in a wide range of areas without us emptying our pocket books and throwing money at the problem. The challenge now is to get the bureaucracy out of the way so real development experts can assist, and get DOD out of the development effort in Afghanistan, since they won't listen to the experts and equate success to simply spending money.

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 11:29pm

Say it ain't so. Buy there are going to be a lot of "I told you soers" out there.