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In Afghanistan, U.S. 'civilian surge' falls short in building local government
"The way it is managed, it is not a District Delivery Program but a district discussion program," said Haleem Fedai, the governor of Wardak province.
Fedai blamed the holdup in part on a lack of coordination between the central Afghan government, which is implementing the program, and the U.S.-led coalition, which is paying for it with tens of millions of dollars in cash grants and construction money.
Nader Yama, a program manager for the local governance directorate, has struggled to add district-level staff - an average of 45 are needed for each district - because of Taliban fighting.
The private Afghanistan NGO Safety Office said insurgent attacks jumped by 64 percent last year, reaching a monthly peak of 1,541 in September.
"If we don't have security and freedom of movement, we can't bring civil servants in there," Yama said.
Staying in Kabul
Many past and current U.S. officials also said there is a shortage of capable civilian experts who can mentor Afghans in the field on basic civic tasks such as maintaining sewers or managing an office.
Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.
"At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces," a former U.S. official said. "It was obvious to us in the field that while the government was in Kabul, the need for governance was in the provinces and districts. It is no coincidence that this is where the Taliban put its main effort."
State Department records show there has been an increase of experts in the field, with the number of advisers increasing from 44 to 360 over the past two years, after the civilian surge was launched as part of an increased U.S. focus on building government and economic institutions at the provincial level. Current plans call for adding 100 more advisers to areas outside the capital.