Small Wars Journal

The District Delivery Program in Afghanistan: A Case Study in Organizational Challenges

Tue, 06/26/2012 - 5:42am



The District Delivery Program (DDP) was designed to provide the “hold” and “build” phases of a counterinsurgency (COIN) effort by establishing local governance and development programs after combat operations had completed the “clear” phase. In the first months of 2010 the Government of Afghanistan (GoA), the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and international civilians worked together to organize and implement DDP. This required considerable coordination between the many actors involved, including determining which districts to target and in which sequence, reorienting funding streams, carrying out district inventories, and working out lines of authority. Overall, DDP was a necessary part of a larger COIN effort, and was successful in some areas where it was deployed. It could be a model in other countries with active insurgencies and weak local governance.


As the Government of Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO modified their strategy in 2009 towards a well-resourced, population-centric COIN strategy and increased the operational tempo in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the need to establish governance and carry out development programs at the district level immediately after combat operations took the form of the District Delivery Program. As part of an integrated clear-hold-build-transfer strategy, this was intended to both build infrastructure and transfer authority to Afghan district-level authorities. While this was nothing new as a concept –  the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG), Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), maneuver battalions and local governments had been working on similar programs for years – DDP was significant in that it aimed to address these issues on a broader, national scope, with more funds and more  coordination between the Afghan interagency, international donors, and military commands. This paper will look at how DDP was initially organized in the first months of 2010, consider steps towards implementation, and offer some lessons learned and conclusions.

Definitions and Goals of DDP

The definition and goals of DDP varied somewhat depending on which government was doing the defining. As outlined by IDLG Director Popal at the 2010 London conference, “The objective of DDP is to establish or improve the visibility of the Government by holistically engaging the governance system at the district level to ensure that the basic level public services are available directly to communities.”

The State Department offered a slightly different definition: “This new program partners Afghan officials from critical service delivery ministries (e.g., the Ministries of Finance, Public Health, Education, Agriculture, and Rural Rehabilitation and Development) with U.S. civilian experts and ISAF to deliver an integrated package of basic services in areas recently cleared by ISAF.”

IDLG documents put it even more succinctly, saying that DDP intended “to demonstrate to the Afghan people that their government offers a better future than the insurgent.” In addition, “the District Delivery Program is centered on two principles: 1) the Provincial Governor and District governor’s offices, in conjunction with line Ministries, deliver services; and 2) that the services provided are a result of a consultative process with a local Council (representative body of the people).”

USAID noted that, “The DDP project represents an umbrella approach to ensuring that the reach of the Afghan central government extends to the districts. In partnership with the Independent Directorate of Local Governance and the Ministry of Finance, DDP provides support for budget planning and execution at the district level, resulting in improved delivery of key services.”

While some ambiguity remained (in part reflecting different thinking among the various players), DDP’s purpose clearly was to establish, or reinforce, government at the district level; provide services to the Afghans at the district level; and to provide a government presence immediately after combat operations had pushed insurgents out.

DDP’s Place Within the Larger Strategy

DDP was nested within a multi-layered strategic framework with both civilian and military components. (This included, on the military side, the Afghan National Military Strategy, ISAF OPLAN 38302, and ISAF Joint Command (IJC) OPORD OMID 1390. On the civilian or civilian-military side, it included the USG’s “Integrated Civ-Mil Campaign Plan,” the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS), the newly developed Sub-National Governance Policy, and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) programs for local governance.) In a larger sense, it was also a component of the Afghan Compact. In USG channels, it was also guided by State’s January 2010 “Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy “and ultimately by President Obama‘s Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Coordination and Organizational Issues

  1. Who Was Involved in DDP?

The various organizations and embassies involved in DDP can be conceptualized as a number of intersecting “circles”  (see diagram). At the center was IDLG, which was formally put in charge of DDP by a decree by President Karzai in March 2010. Intersecting with IDLG at the Kabul level were several ministries, the most relevant being the Ministries of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL); Interior; Education; Justice; Public Health, and Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). The Civil Service Commission, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Supreme Court also played a role, respectively, in training civil servants and rule of law. Within the GoA, the next set of “circles” included the governors of provinces and districts where DDP was to be implemented, and the provincial representatives of ministries.  Internally, IDLG created a Central Support Team to do coordination, planning and implementation, as well as “mobile advisory teams” to work in targeted provinces and districts.

Within the international community, the IJC and the US, Canadian and British Embassies – all of which provided funding to DDP - also intersected with the IDLG “circle,” through CIDA and DIFD, respectively . The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) also had an interest in DDP, but in the end provided advice more than influence due to lack of funding, and its policy position that DDP should extend to significantly more districts, which was opposed by several principal actors and donors.

Within the USG there were several offices involved in DDP. The Embassy lead was the Interagency Provincial Affairs (IPA) office, particularly its governance section, and officers from USAID. Senior Civilian Representatives (SCRs) led at the level of regional commands, with civilians at brigade commands, PRTs and district support teams beneath them. On the military side, IJC’s “future operations” and “information dominance cell” were heavily involved at the Kabul level.

                    B) Organization Structures:

The number of actors involved in DDP, both Afghan and international, and the complexity of the program itself resulted in a mix of formal and informal working groups and meetings.  The IDLG hosted a weekly “DDP Planners Working Group” that included a broad variety of state actors (the MRRD, Ministry of Education, Public Health, MAIL, the Attorney General’s Office, Afghan Civil Service Institute, Supreme Court, as well as some representatives of the international community). This served as a key point for coordination, although attendance from some ministries was spotty.

To engage the field in DDP, Kabul held video conferences and conference calls explaining the program and what was required at various levels. The DDP program was briefed to civilian and military officers at the regional commands at Kandahar Air Field and at Bagram during day-long conferences, critical nodes since PRTs, DSTs and maneuver units fell under these commands. Interestingly, PowerPoint slides became a tool to formulate policy and determine operations for DDP, as it forced different groups to agree on a common slide presentation. For example, IJC initially had a presentation that explained its DDP priorities and programs; this was eventually merged with the civilian views from the embassies involved. Next, the IDLG modified parts of this slide presentation with input from other ministries, which then became the official slide show for explaining and socializing DDP. The slides help achieve consensus, allowed the GoA to gain more ownership of the program, and provided more of a single “voice” for the program once this became the agreed-on presentation, particularly when given as a joint IJC/IDLG/Embassy presentation.

                    C) Implementation


An initial challenge to DDP was determining which districts to target, in what order and along what timeframe. This became a complex process due to very different ideas among the many stakeholders over the relative priorities of districts, and the intended effects. The sequencing of combat operations in specific districts, or “thickening” (additional troop deployments) that DDP was in part intended to support was clearly a priority.  IDLG, other Afghan ministries, and governors also provided input on when and where to start the program, as did the regional Senior Civilian Representatives.

IJC had already compiled a list of 80 “Key Terrain Districts” (KTDs) determined by their strategic relevancy for counter insurgency, including population, transportation routes, and economic weight. IJC’s “Operational Roadmap” set priorities and timing for these districts, and had to be modified as DDP went forward. Some of the KTDs were urban areas that were not the best fit for DDP.  Herat city, for example, did not have combat operations ongoing and had a functioning government At the same time USAID was beginning to implement its Afghan Municipality Support Program (RAMP-UP). This 600 million dollar program provided block grants to improve services in 42 municipalities, and further modified where DDP was to be deployed. Scheduling was also modified by some practical considerations, including security levels, what was feasible in terms of personnel deployments, and USAID’s ongoing realignment of programming to the various districts.

                                    District Assessments:

To effectively implement DDP, current information about the districts was needed. This included what government presence (if any) was in place, particularly district governors and representatives of line ministries, and supporting infrastructure. Local councils such as District Community Councils and District Development Assemblies, as well as any informal shuras, were surveyed. Baseline data and information on existing programs in the agriculture, justice, education, water, and health sectors was collected. The security situation and the strength of ANSF was considered, as was any international presence, particularly DSTs.

A standardized “District Inventory Matrix” was adopted for the data collection and dissemination. IDLG put together teams to do districts assessments in the field, while PRTs, DSTs and military units were tasked with providing updated information to Kabul. Considerable background information as well as some current information already existed, requiring only that it be located, packaged and circulated, although this proved difficult for reasons explained later in this article.  USAID also ran a District Stability Framework program that, among other things, did assessments of districts. While not directly a part of DDP, this program was clearly related. (According to USAID, the District Stability Framework Program is “a methodology designed for use by both military and civilian personnel. It is employed to gather information using the following lenses: operational environment, cultural environment, local perceptions and stability/instability dynamics. This information then helps identify, prioritize, monitor, evaluate, and adjust programming targeted at diminishing the causes of instability or conflict.” (USAID, “District Stability Framework,” updated 30 January 2012).)

                                    Funding Considerations for DDP:

DDP included a variety of development projects, and required that funds be realigned from existing programs, or that new funds be allocated to the districts. A general framework of three “funding streams” was devised, with on-budget, off-budget and CERP funding streams.

(According to USAID documents, “Funding Stream 1 provides on-budget partial salary support, hazard pay, and operational and maintenance funds for district officials and offices in key sectors (administration, health, justice, agriculture, and education) via the Afghan budgetary system. Funding Stream 2 aligns traditional USAID development and Afghan government programs to provide services as prioritized by district officials and community representatives. Funding Stream 3 is U.S. Military funds used to finance small-scale district government infrastructure related to service delivery. During its second year, DDP will seek to strengthen fiscal flows and accountability mechanisms from the center, provinces and districts and to improve basic service delivery at the district level in collaboration with key ministries.”)

This realignment of GoA funds, CERP funds (controlled by USFOR-A), and development funds (primarily USAID) was a considerable undertaking, but was largely completed in parallel with the prioritization of the districts. Much of the development funding was allocated to achieve a “Standardized Basic Package of Services” that included health, education, agriculture, and justice programs for each district. This Basic Package was tied to GoA guidelines relating services to population densities.  For example, the guidelines called for one health center per 7,000 people, or one primary school per 1,200 students in higher-density populations.

The Ministry of Finance had the lead in funding several parts of DDP, including the operating costs of district governments, salary support for district-level officials, and providing  “on-budget” funds to ministries for programs they would then implement at the district level. One point of discussion was the funding of salary supplements to encourage Afghan civil servants to work in the more dangerous and difficult areas, in part because it was not seen as sustainable in the long run given the potential costs to the GoA. A related issue was the ongoing program for pay and grade reforms for civil servants, intended to standardize and in some cases increase salaries. 

Input on budgeting of DDP projects at the provincial level was not standardized during this stage. In theory, Provincial Councils had an advisory role in how line ministries would spend money, as did provincial governors. In practice, the line ministries controlled their individual programs and were not required to consult with provincial-level officials. 

At the Kabul level the planning and implementation of DDP required that ministries dedicate staff to the program. This caused some friction in ministries where DDP was only one of many competing priorities. IDLG in particular had to add staff, and went to the international community for funding assistance for a DDP Secretariat.

                    D) How did DDP Mesh with Related Programs?

As DDP was being formulated, it was clear that it must take into consideration the many programs already underway at the district and local levels. By 2010 Provincial Development Plans and many District Development Plans had been drafted. This was in addition to the Afghan National Development Plan and the Sub-National Governance Policy. The National Solidarity Program, administered by MRRD, had been involved in more than 22,000 development projects at the grassroots level (check and expand). IDLG’s Afghan Social Outreach Program (ASOP), since discontinued, sought to improve coordination between both formal and informal local governance and security forces.

(According to USAID documents, ASOP “aims to strengthen security and peace, improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of service delivery, and build local governance through the revival of traditional practices of collective decision-making, community solidarity, and promoting cooperation and partnership with the government. The program is designed to put in place mechanisms to ensure ongoing communication and collaboration between the government and communities through the creation of community councils at the district level.”)

(UNDP’s National Area-Based Development Program (NABDP) also focused on governance and development at the district level. (According to UNDP documents, NABDP “aims to promote recovery and longer term development in Afghanistan while building the government’s capacity to lead and coordinate participatory approaches to development.” This included  “the capacity building of District Development Assemblies (DDA), will help promote the partnership between the public and private sector”  and “Develop rural development infrastructure to promote the creation of rural incomes, employment and economic opportunities” which potentially overlapped with DDP. (United Nations Development Program, “National Area-Based Development Programme.”) )

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams and the District Support Teams worked in the districts, including with CERP and AID funds. USAID had large national programs that extended to the local level, including the 360 million dollar Afghanistan Vouchers for Increased Productive Agriculture (AVIPA) and the Local Governance and Community Development program, which was a long-term stability project for engagement with unstable areas, the fostering of hands-on local democracy, and the pre-emptive prevention of support for insurgency although this program was winding down by 2011.

Some districts in the southwest where security was bad had few programs in early 2010. However, more secure areas, particularly in the east, often had multiple programs running in parallel. Fitting DDP into the existing mix of programs was a challenge, in part because databases and lines of command often did not overlap. The district surveys outlined above helped to sort this problem out, as did AID’s realignment of funding streams (since many of the programs were AID-run), along with Kabul-level consultations between donors and DDP-specific meetings.

Challenges to DDP:

One of the biggest challenges to DDP was the scarcity of competent Afghan civil servants willing to live a spartan lifestyle in dangerous areas, often without their families. Pressure to move forward quickly in several difficult districts, along short timeframes, made this problem more acute. This shortage was a long-standing problem in Afghanistan due to systemic and historical factors (reference own papers), and was the biggest bottleneck to DDP implementation. Similarly, the very limited pool of justice officials - lawyers, judges and prosecutors - stretched this system beyond what it could provide, and DDP districts were not always the highest priorities for those assigning these officers.

The ambitious schedule that resulted in part from the intersection of different programs (most notably DDP, KTDs and combat operations) also overstretched the Afghan system despite commendable efforts by some officials. This was apparent both at the local level and in Kabul, where some ministries missed deadlines and meetings. The IDLG upper leadership was juggling many programs, issues, and responsibilities, with DDP only one of many. In a more general sense, the GoA interagency process was still a work in progress that did not always lend itself to efficient policy formulation, although personal connections at times overcame bureaucratic inertia. For example, previously existing tensions between MRRD and IDLG were partly overcome through personal ties between the deputies of these two organizations.

DDP also had two distinct levels.  Some of the DDP districts in eastern Afghanistan had been relatively stable for several years, with some government and infrastructure already in place. In contrast, some districts in Helmand and Kandahar were hotly contested, and had only minimal (or no) district government.  The more developed regions may have diverted resources away from districts in the south where they were needed to implement the “hold” and “build” stages after maneuver units had completed “clearing” operations.

Allocating the correct amount of funding to districts presented several challenges. The Ministry of Finance controlled funds that had to be realigned, and had capacity bottlenecks and competing priorities that made this harder. Some GoA funds were channeled through provincial governors and on to district governors. At times local politics entered the picture, with some provincial governors favoring certain district governors, while others didn’t have the necessary information or clout to get funds. As a result, some unused funds were returned from the provinces to the central government in Kabul, and the allocation cycle restarted, slowing down what was intended to be a quick and responsive program.

The collection of information and metrics on districts was difficult to carry out, and at times redundant. A large body of information already existed within various military commands; PRTs and later DSTs had been collecting information for years, and the GoA had information collected in some cases over decades. However, existing information on the districts was scattered over many databases, was sometimes classified (and hence difficult to share with the GoA and others), had not been transferred when units or officers rotated out of Afghanistan, or was in different languages.  Information was also hard to share due to incompatible e-mail systems, and firewalls. Some field officers complained of parallel requests for the same information. Particularly in RC – South, security issues made data collection difficult in some districts.

Informal political structures were also a factor in DDP implementation. In some districts tribes, religious leaders, influential businessmen or landowners, (as well as Taliban shadow governments) stood to lose influence if DDP implementation resulted in improved governance and provision of services. Similarly, many Afghans viewed the GoA with suspicion, in part due to corruption problems, and did not always view an increased government presence as a good thing. This situation may have been made more difficult by the postponement (for various reasons) of district-level elections, which resulted in District Governors being appointed. These were complex problems that, in the end, will need to be resolved by Afghans.

Within Afghan ministries at the Kabul level, turf wars and pre-existing suspicions had an impact on DDP. In the end personal relations (particularly at the deputies level), the involvement of the international community, and series of planning meetings helped to lessen any negative impacts. Although IDLG had the lead for planning and implementing DDP, it in fact had very little authority over other ministries, who could ignore its guidance. The Afghan NSC had only limited impact on DDP coordination.

Expectation management was an issue – the multiple bottlenecks that slowed DDP came as a surprise to some in the international community, causing frustration and leading to adjustment of plans. The idea that a “government in a box” was available for immediate deployment, as believed by some, had to be changed.

After DDP was deployed to the challenging Helmand district of Marja, IDLG carried out a “lessons learned” exercise. To paraphrase the main points:

  •  Given the number of players at the national, provincial and district levels, a strong monitoring system was necessary to determine what was going right, and to provide information on what was going wrong.
  • Security at the local level was key to DDP, and the MoI was the key  player in providing security for the civil servants.
  • Provincial and District Governor’s offices needed adequate capacity to do planning, project assessment, and reporting.
  • The upper limits of funding need to be established, to avoid “wish-lists” of projects that, in the end, would not be funded.
  • Better public relations campaigns were needed to adequately inform the population about DDP, and of progress being made.
  • DDP should be a catalyst for existing national programs, rather than a standalone program.
  • Consulting the local population and gaining buy-in from the start for programs and projects was critical.

In a more general sense, the pre-existing tensions and differing priorities within the international community – military, civilian, and various governments - were a significant challenge to DDP. While these tensions were not resolved, they could be managed, which was the case with the DDP start-up. One example was UNAMA officers pushing to have DDP extended nationwide, including to many peaceful districts. Because of the specific focus of DDP on key districts, and the limits of funding and resources, this was not practicable, but in the end UNAMA understood this and remained part of the process. Some IDLG officials saw differences between IJC and the US Embassy over lists of districts as an impediment (Personal communication to the author, 2012). At the same time, ISAF and Gen. McChrystal were under pressure to show momentum and results after the 2009 shift to a population-centric COIN approach was put in place, which in turn put pressure on DDP to move quickly – but also gave this program needed attention and resources.

The private Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit analyzed the start of DDP in 2010 with this astute summary:

“The roll out of this program has required intensive organization and cooperation between all parties. Two primary difficulties have been the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified civil servants to work in the districts, and establishing mechanisms that allow funds to be delivered through government fiscal systems and operational budgets with sufficient speed to allow the program to move forward and staff to be paid. Both issues are being addressed; district line ministries are operating with increased coordination and impetus in response to staffing challenges, while efforts to overcome blockages impeding the flow of funds from the Ministry of Finance down through line ministries to province and district level have served to increase system efficiency. A further problem caused by the DDP was the pressure that this rapid injection of resources placed on ministries already hard pressed to meet their national mandate.”


The DDP program would have been difficult to organize and implement even a few years earlier because many of the human, organizational and financial pieces were not yet in place.  However, by 2010 both the GoA and the international community had adequate capacity to make DDP run. For example, IDLG was only instituted in 2007, and had only gradually gained the capacity to match its many responsibilities; only by 2009 or 2010 could it have taken on a program as large as DDP. While the USG and NATO/ISAF had engaged in counterinsurgency programs for years, in 2009 a more fully resourced, population-centric COIN strategy was adopted, which set the stage for DDP. Also, civil-military coordination between USFOR-A, ISAF and Embassy staffs, important for this program, had been gradually evolving and improving. This was in part due to organizational changes (led largely by Ambassador Eikenberry) that matched U.S. civil and military officers from the highest ranks in Kabul down to DSTs, and in part through practical experience, as officers did multiple tours in Afghanistan (and Iraq) and learned to work with their counterparts. Importantly, U.S. civilian staffing had been expanded as part of a “civilian surge,” improving the likelihood that DDP would receive the attention it needed both in Kabul and in the field. An Afghan interagency process to coordinate between ministries was gradually evolving, and by 2010 functioned enough to support DDP. Finally, the will to do this program was there- while the international community often had to push, many Afghans also wanted this program to work.

While short to medium-term gains could be consolidated with help from ISAF troops and international development funds, longer term gains will obviously be harder, depending on ANSF, ministries and the commitment and competence of local officials. Clearly, gains could be lost if local government doesn’t function (particularly in delivering services) or is viewed as predatory, corrupt or unresponsive to the population.

A more general consideration is if DDP was the best approach in areas where the local preference is for an informal system of government, and/or there is mistrust of the Afghan government. Similarly, was focusing on the district level correct in areas where the international community would soon reduce its presence through DSTs, and shift back to more of a provincial-level presence?

The considerable effort required to initiate DDP was a “forcing function” that made many national and international parties work together. This may have the unintended benefit of making it easier to run other complex programs in the future - although the rapid turnover of international officers could diminish this effect. Another practical effect of this program could be to formally grant more local decision-making and operational capacity to local levels, since Afghanistan, at least on paper, is one of the most centralized states in the world. Local needs can almost certainly be better met by tailoring programs locally, rather than through larger programs directed from Kabul. Local programs that deliver services – education, health, and agriculture extension, for example – are also something the insurgents generally cannot supply (although justice at times is an exception).

While conditions in Pakistan are considerably different than Afghanistan, programs similar to DDP could support COIN and stabilization programs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and other border areas. U.S. and international funds could be designated to support such a program, through existing provincial and local government bodies.

As the international community reduces its security presence, one option is to expand local security forces at the district level. These programs, such as the Afghan Local Police program have parallels with DDP - both are local programs with ties into district and provincial government, and some oversight and support from Kabul. DDP lessons learned may be relevant, particularly solutions to moving funds at the ministerial level and then to the provinces. As with DDP, ASP/local defense programs may be difficult to run without increased capacity in various ministries, particularly the MoI, and at the provincial government level. Similarly, ISAF forces performed a coordinating function for DDP; in the future coordination between civilian ministries and the ANA and ANP will be needed to make local defense programs run.

Overall, DDP was a necessary program to support the COIN strategy by building up local governance structures (or bolstering existing local governance), while consolidating gains made through combat operations. Previously, many combat operations had to be repeated after “cleared” areas reverted to insurgent control when Afghan political, development and security forces did not solidify, or were forced to leave by insurgents. DDP was a needed component of the take-hold-build-transfer concept, one that hopefully the GoA will be able to sustain over the long term with help from the international community. According to a former high-ranking Afghan government official, by early 2012 DDP was already functioning well in Kandahar, Helmand and Nangarhar (Personal communication with the author). It may also serve as a model for other countries that are coping with complex situations involving insurgencies, weak governance, and ongoing combat operations, coupled with large-scale international programs.

About the Author(s)


The author is a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer, currently a Dean Rusk Fellow at Georgetown. During 2007 – 2008, he served as the political advisor to the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team in eastern Afghanistan, and as the deputy director of the Provincial Reconstruction Team section. From 2004 to 2005, he was the political advisor to the Task Force covering Regional Command–East, based out of Khost, Afghanistan. The views represented in this paper are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Government



Mon, 09/10/2012 - 12:58pm

I was the PRT S9 in Khost Province on 2010/2011 rotatation. My CA guys and I attended DSF training in Salerno prior to moving out to the COPs. We also participated in weekly DSF conference calls (Adobe BREEZE connect).

The auther here is in my view correctly outlining what we saw on the ground. It may, however, pain him to know that although the CA teams and PRT were diligent about inputting data for the DSF to CIDNE, the amount of external personal RFIs to us was pretty close to zero.

It gave us the idea (perhaps inaccurate) that no one was looking at what we sent up the chain.


Andy Tamas

Sun, 09/09/2012 - 9:36am

I worked on two evaluations of the DDP and see this article as a fine high-level summary of the program's purpose, operations and challenges. It should be required reading for anyone interested in strengthening governance and increasing the legitimacy of the state in Afghanistan - and in other countries with stability issues.