U.S. Ambassador Seeks More Money for Afghanistan Reconstruction

By Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The United States will not meet its goals in Afghanistan without a major increase in planned spending on development and civilian reconstruction next year, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul has told the State Department.

In a cable sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry said an additional $2.5 billion in nonmilitary spending will be needed for 2010, about 60 percent more than the amount President Obama has requested from Congress. The increase is needed "if we are to show progress in the next 14 months," Eikenberry wrote in the cable, according to sources who have seen it.

Obama has asked for $68 billion in Defense Department spending in Afghanistan next year, an amount that for the first time would exceed U.S. military expenditures in Iraq. Spending on civilian governance and development programs has doubled under the Obama administration, to $200 million a month -- equal to the monthly rate in Iraq during the zenith of spending on nonmilitary projects there.

The State Department has reacted cautiously to Eikenberry's assessment, sent to Clinton in late June, even as senior officials say the administration is prepared to spend what is needed to succeed. The 2010 budget includes about $4.1 billion in State Department funding for nonmilitary purposes.

With massive amounts of money already flowing into Afghanistan, there are concerns about the country's ability to absorb it and the administration's ability to implement its programs, according to Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew.

"Right now, there is about $6 billion in the pipeline," including 2009 appropriations and a supplemental war-spending bill passed in June, Lew said in an interview. "We have a lot of money to spend right now. . . . We're not running out anytime soon."

Congress, currently on its August recess, would probably have similar concerns about whether the money could be effectively used.

"We've spent a lot of money there, not to great effect," a senior Senate staffer said. "We need to have a much clearer idea of what our goals are and what we can realistically achieve. It's premature to talk about dramatically increasing the budget."

Eikenberry, the staffer noted, is a retired three-star Army general and a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan who is used to working with far larger sums of Pentagon money.

Since 2001, the United States has spent $38 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan, more than half of it on training and equipping Afghan security forces.

Obama's strategy will bring the U.S. military force in Afghanistan to 68,000 troops by the end of this year and will almost certainly include further troop increases next year. But the president has described U.S. military involvement as only one leg of a "three-legged stool" that includes development and competent governance.

Although spending on civilian programs pales beside the military budget, Obama has pledged substantial increases in U.S. civilian personnel and development funds, focusing on agricultural development and rule of law. The size of the U.S. Embassy is scheduled to grow this year to 976 U.S. government civilians in Kabul and outside the capital, from 562 at the end of 2008.

Eikenberry's $2.5 billion request includes an additional $572 million for the expanded agriculture program. U.S. Marines, who this summer launched an offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, are working with civilian officials to try to persuade farmers there not to plant opium poppy this year. The program includes the supply of seeds and fertilizers for alternative crops, loans to farmers, and payment for work on roads and irrigation ditches.

Among the other elements of the request are an additional $521 million for stabilization efforts in conflict zones; $450 million in economic assistance funneled through the United Nations in Afghanistan; $190 million for roads, schools and civil aviation; $194 million for local government development; and $106 million in economic grants.

Lew said the State Department is working closely with the embassy to parse the request. "Frankly, at the level at which a request is made," he said, "we often go through this back-and-forth, adjusting to realities, the timing . . . in terms of absorptive capacity and all the issues around getting money out and used. Congress has to approve it.

"If the question is, did [the embassy] do a lot of good, thoughtful work, the answer is yes," Lew said. "Do we at this point have a definitive view of what their needs are? We're still working on it."

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