Military-led aid projects doomed to fail in Afghanistan

Monday, January 10, 2011; 8:35 PM

It is no surprise that military aid projects in Afghanistan are "crumbling under Afghan stewardship" ["In Afghan hands, aid projects neglected," front page, Jan. 4]. The troops are armed with good intentions, but they often neglect basic development principles, owing to a lack of expertise on aid and mounting military and political pressures.

Afghanistan's National Solidarity Program is a better alternative. Under this proven model, called "community-driven reconstruction," local engagement and accountability are as important as bricks and mortar. Afghan staff members from agencies such as mine help organize village groups and determine what they need most and who will be responsible for the viability of a school, clinic or road. It's laborious work that emphasizes local knowledge and local ownership as well as sustained commitment - indispensable if Afghanistan development is to have any hope of success.

Military-led projects erode established humanitarian principles of impartiality and independence, fail to win hearts and minds and - we now know - are ineffective. The White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress need to act on the growing evidence showing that the militarization of aid is folly.

Michael Kocher, New York

The writer is vice president for International Programs at the International Rescue Committee.

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