While the debate over a troop surge in Afghanistan rages on, there has been virtual silence on the effectiveness of another central component of the U.S.-led strategy in Afghanistan: the surge of money intended to win Afghan hearts and minds. The figures are astounding: Next year, Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds, the monies available to the military to support projects intended to "win hearts and minds," are projected to nearly double to $1.2 billion. This far exceeds the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID's) global education budget of approximately $800 million. Even more startling, our research finds that such aid might be hurting -- or at best, not helping -- U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan.
Signs of just how important a weapon aid money is for the military are cropping up left and right, most prominently in the last tenet of the counterinsurgency mantra -- "shape, clear, hold, and build." An April 2009 U.S. Army handbook, Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System, provides operational guidance to military officers in war zones like Afghanistan to use money "to win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents." The idea is to undermine insurgent support by providing a better life for local populations than militants ever could.
Addicted to Contractors
The United States is hooked on privatized warfare in Afghanistan. And it's more costly than you think.
By Allison Stanger
National security interests have always had a major influence over development assistance priorities, most notably during the Cold War. But never has aid so explicitly been viewed as a weapons system -- a fact that is having a major impact on the development assistance policies and priorities of the United States and indeed of many other Western donors. Most notable, perhaps, has been the dramatic increase in U.S. official development assistance since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. According to former Brookings Institution scholar Lael Brainard's book, Security by Other Means, the post-9/11 period has seen U.S. foreign assistance funding increase at a faster rate "than at any point since the onset of the Cold War." Marketing aid as a strategic "weapons system" is clearly a more effective way to convince Congress to appropriate funds than calling to alleviate human suffering and poverty in far-flung corners of the developing world.
The primary objective of U.S. aid to countries such as Afghanistan is also shifting -- from development for its own sake to the promotion of security. The result is that funding for insecure areas takes priority over secure areas. The main NGO coordinating body in Afghanistan reported that in 2007 more than half of USAID's large assistance program was spent in only four insurgency-affected provinces in the south, with the remainder split among 30 others. The leaked assessment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal calls for an even greater prioritization of resources "to those areas where the population is threatened." USAID's "new approach" in Afghanistan explicitly acknowledges that its development program is part of a broader counterinsurgency strategy and that its "essential initiatives" where it "will target areas" in conjunction with military forces and the Afghan government will therefore be in the perilous east and south. This prioritization of insecure over secure areas is not surprisingly being bitterly criticized by Afghans living in more stable areas, who feel they are being penalized for being peaceful.