The report, prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, comes as Congress and the American public have grown increasingly restive about the human and economic cost of the decade-long war and reflects growing concerns about Obama’s war strategy even among supporters within his party.
The report describes the use of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters — a key component of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy — as a short-term fix that provides politically pleasing results. But it says that the enormous cash flows can overwhelm and distort local culture and economies, and that there is little evidence the positive results are sustainable.
One example cited in the report is the Performance-Based Governors Fund, which is authorized to distribute up to $100,000 a month in U.S. funds to individual provincial leaders for use on local expenses and development projects. In some provinces, it says, “this amount represents a tidal wave of funding” that local officials are incapable of “spending wisely.”
Because oversight is scanty, the report says, the fund encourages corruption. Although the U.S. plan is for the Afghan government to eventually take over this and other programs, it has neither the management capacity nor the funds to do so.
The report also warns that the Afghan economy could slide into a depression with the inevitable decline of the foreign military and development spending that now provides 97 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The “single most important step” the Obama administration could take, the report says, is to stop paying Afghans “inflated salaries” — often 10 or more times as much as the going rate — to work for foreign governments and contractors. Such practices, it says, have “drawn otherwise qualified civil servants away from the Afghan government and created a culture of aid dependency.”
Even when U.S. development experts determine that a proposed project “lacks achievable goals and needs to be scaled back,” the U.S. military often takes it over and funds it anyway, the report says.
It also cites excessive use and poor oversight of contractors. Although the report provides some examples of successful projects, it is critical overall of what one senior committee aide called the U.S. focus on a rapid “burn rate” of available funding as a key metric for success. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the report before its release.
Debate has begun within the White House and in Congress over how quickly to begin withdrawing the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, with senior Defense Department figures cautioning against a precipitous drawdown this summer. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has called for a “modest” decrease that would avoid jeopardizing recent combat gains.