Small Wars Journal

Lessons From the Coalition: International Experiences From the Afghanistan Reconstruction

Lessons From the Coalition: International Experiences From the Afghanistan Reconstruction - Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Report

Today, SIGAR's Lessons Learned Program released a conference report entitled "Lessons From the Coalition." The conference discussed was cohosted by USIP and brought together representatives from eleven major donor nations, the EU, UN, World Bank, and NATO to share common experiences and lessons from the Afghan reconstruction effort. In attendance were seven sitting ambassadors, five former ambassadors, and the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The report notes:

-- The confluence of conflicting goals and divided actors led to a situation in which countries were often pursuing disparate and sometimes ill-defined missions in Afghanistan.

-- Many nations were unclear as to what they were trying to achieve in Afghanistan.

-- Conference participants were critical of instances when military forces undertook development work, indicating their efforts often ended up costing more and being less effective than those of their civilian counterparts.

-- Coalition nations sometimes held contradictory strategies for accomplishing shared goals.

-- Many countries were primarily motivated by their alliance commitments to the United States, rather than specific strategic goals related to Afghanistan -and were often more focused on what was happening in Washington than in Kabul.

-- One participant stated the PRT model had resulted in the partition of Afghanistan into geographic areas controlled by different donors, and that, if one looked out from Kabul, one saw "a number of different flags with different policies, with different strategies, [and] with different priorities."

-- Inability to understand the local context led to projects that unintentionally benefitted corrupt officials, threatened local governance, led to escalating violence and sabotage of the project itself, and wasted resources.

-- Development projects did not "buy" security. Participants believed that when development projects occurred in insecure places, the projects either benefited the insurgency or insurgents increased violence to counteract any potential gains.

-- One participant referred to the regular turnover of personnel as an "annual lobotomy."

-- Conditions placed on funds were often not credible, as donors were ultimately unwilling to withhold funds that were essential to preventing the collapse of the Afghan government. Afghan officials were aware of these limitations and were able to call donors' bluffs.

-- When faced with a donor's unwanted conditions, Afghan officials could often obtain funding from another donor.

-- Several participants noted efforts to reduce the insurgency in Afghanistan were ineffective when not combined with serious engagement with Pakistan.

-- Donors need to avoid creating incentives that cause organizations to hide their failures and instead seek to incentivize them to honestly report and learn from failures.

Read the full report.