KABUL — Senate Democrats plan to keep supporting Afghanistan’s reconstruction, but the spending must be linked to human rights reforms and closer scrutiny of whether the country can maintain its new programs and buildings, says a congressional report due to be released Monday.
The report, compiled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, is designed to be a road map for Afghan leaders eager to keep billions of dollars in U.S. assistance flowing into the country.
The committee’s recommendations were timed for release at the conclusion of Afghanistan’s contentious, year-long election to replace then-President Hamid Karzai. In late September, after months of tension over the results of a June runoff, President Ashraf Ghani and second-place finisher Abdullah Abdullah agreed to form a unity government.
They will share appointment powers, creating some concern in Washington that the Afghan government could become bloated with political appointees jockeying for oversight of the budget. The report warns Ghani and Abdullah, the country’s chief executive officer, that Congress plans to monitor whom they install in government.
“A higher proportion of U.S. assistance should be conditioned based on specific reforms by the Afghan government,” says the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “The U.S. should make clear to the new government that the appointment process factors into how the U.S. allocates assistance.”
But the report makes clear that the Democratic majority remains committed to funding what is already the costliest U.S.-backed reconstruction effort.
Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. government has appropriated $104 billion for rebuilding and supporting the Afghan government, military and public services. And though most coalition troops are to withdraw from Afghanistan this year, the United States is expected to keep giving $5 billion to $8 billion annually for at least a decade.
“In the 1990s, U.S. disengagement from Afghanistan proved disastrous for the country, the region and the international community,” the report states. “Today, the U.S. must avoid making the mistakes of the past and take steps to ensure the strength and sustainability of U.S. assistance spending, diplomatic posture, and regional strategy.”
But neither the Afghan government nor the Obama administration should view congressional support as open-ended, the report states. Specifically, it calls for future spending to be linked to the country’s ability to curtail corruption, combat its worsening illegal drug trade and improve its record on human rights.
The committee is particularly concerned by a recent U.N. report that says Afghan security forces have been responsible for civilian casualties, torture, beatings and theft of personal property.
“If found complicit of serious human rights violations, American support for” Afghan security forces “could diminish significantly and rapidly,” it warns.
The report, which committee staffers say took more than a year to produce, is coming out a week before the U.S. midterm elections. If the GOP picks up the six Senate seats needed to gain the majority, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would likely replace Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
But most analysts expect that Congress will remain fairly steadfast in its support of Afghanistan. Within days of taking office, Ghani signed a security agreement allowing about 10,000 American troops to remain after this year.
But the report outlines concern that U.S. taxpayers are funding tens of millions in services and buildings that the Afghan government won’t be able to maintain.
“Afghanistan stands at the crossroads as the country experiences historic political and security transitions,” Menendez said. “American lives were lost, vast resources were spent in defense of Afghanistan, and we have an obligation to ensure these gains are not reversed. The new Afghan government also has an obligation to address corruption and use U.S. taxpayer resources responsibly. U.S. assistance in Afghanistan must be defined by increased accountability, sustainability and effectiveness.”
The United States and other international donors fund about 65 percent of the $7.6 billion Afghan annual budget. John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, has noted that it needs $5 billion to $6 billion to maintain its police force and army. It now raises about $2 billion annually, he said.
“If there is not a clear plan for how program activities — especially infrastructure projects — can eventually be sustained by Afghans, USAID should not implement them,” the report states.