Quote of the Day

by Joshua Foust on 5/31/2011 · 14 comments

Last year, the United States spent nearly $1.3 billion on military and civilian reconstruction operations in one district of Helmand province — home to 80,000 people who live mostly in mud-brick compounds — about as much as it provided to Egypt in military assistance.

The Washington Post, summarizing operations in Marjeh, which I guess are successful?

I’m not entirely persuaded by the money angle to opposing the war, but there is a serious question about the value we get for the money we spend, and I wish the damned Congress would stop its empty posturing through these sorts of bills and actually bother to ask a critical question of the military and administration leadership on this stuff.

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Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Don Bacon May 31, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Army Engineers Help to Rebuild Afghanistan
By Jessica L. Tozer (excerpts)
WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 – When the task to help rebuild and reconstruct Afghanistan was established, Army Col. Thomas H. Magness IV, the commander of Afghanistan Engineer District-North, initially had concerns about how much could be accomplished.
Reconstructing Afghanistan involves partnership and close working relationships with the Afghan people, Magness said, noting the pace of rebuilding is faster and more efficient than ever before.
“We have transitioned from being in construction, to finishing projects at the rate of one completed project per day,” Magness said. “I’ve never seen this kind of construction pace. But I’ve also never seen a community — in this case, the engineering and construction community — that has grown as much as it has. It has risen to the task.”

The Afghanistan Engineer District is divided into two districts, north (AEN) and south (AES).

News releases on projects are here:

AEN had an awards ceremony recently.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognizes top construction firms
KABUL – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers honored the top construction companies in northern Afghanistan during the inaugural Contractors Recognition Awards ceremony at the Serena Hotel, March 1.
The event was presented by the Afghanistan Builders Association and was attended by nearly 200 engineering and building professionals doing business in the northern portion of the country.

M Shannon May 31, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Having managed aid programs there I doubt very much the US spent $ 1.3 billion improving Helmand unless construction inside FOBs is included or the cost of the military units involved is included.

The serious money is the over $ 20 billion that the US marine contingent and $ 10 billion the Brits cost annually. The question that should be asked is why is Helmand so important. The answer is it isn’t other than it was the “Brit” province and ala Basra they needed bailing out. The Marines were happy to oblige as they would escape the clutches of the US Army and get there own Regional Command.

NATO is spending over $30 billion annually to protect what’s left of the reputation of the British Army and to give the USMC evidence that it shouldn’t be cut in coming US defence cuts.

RScott June 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

Helmand is important because it represents the largest irrigation system in the country with some of the most productive double-cropping, cash-cropping farmers who are presently producing some 70% of the opium of Afghanistan which is at the base of the government corruption..and the present economy. The corruption of local government and police makes our support, as a foreign military occupational force, comparable with the Soviet occupation under similar conditions and gives the “Taliban” at least passive support among the local people. Locally the opium poppy crop is considered an evil crop, especially in these days when more and more of their local youth get addicted and in many cases means the kids get disowned and kicked out of their extended families. Recruits for the “Taliban”? Probably yes. And while we spend millions on frequently irrelevant projects to the farmers, most of the people, we tend to ignore many of the real needs that could cost much less. Bureaucracies get judged on the amounts of money spent, numbers of contractors at work on the sites, and numbers of projects completed…sometimes. But this does no equate with real effectiveness in development/reconstruction. For example we bring in a contract team from Bolivia to teach Afghans to build cobblestone roads in an area with 4 inches of rain per year when a road grader, some gravel with adequately drained roads would be cheaper and more effective. Or the construction of a new courthouse at $800,000+ when there is virtually no functioning legal system that can be trusted by the people who tend to turn to local elders or the “Taliban” for quick and effective justice. etc etc As millions get wasted. see my website: scottshelmandvalleyarchives.org for more details.

Johny Matrix June 1, 2011 at 12:39 am

The real question is where does all this money go? As a BSO, let’s round up and say that for every 100 combat soldiers, the coalition spends $30-50K / month in non-lethal funds on development and governance. Shannon, you’re correct to doubt this number, but the issue does still stand. If we were at a true advisor force structure, this wouldn’t be our problem.

Click Copy Cash June 1, 2011 at 6:49 am

How Much, 1.3 Billion. We should get a breakdown on this and see who is controlling it. We all know that Aid gets wasted but has this ever been investigated

RScott June 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

The feed back I have been getting for several years on the spending in Helmand is that there are so many individuals, organizations, agencies, contractors, NGOs etc. involved that there is no way that the spending can be monitored. As noted in past media articles, the bureaucracies and organizations involved frequently cannot tell you where the money has gone…they dont know. And keep in mind that the Brits also have a development/reconstruction program also spending money in the area. In the past, at least within USAID, there was a research and evaluation officer, among others, that monitored and documented what was happening with projects, as well as a financial office, comptroller, that released the funds being spent…and kept records. (I was the Research and Evaluation Officer for USAID/Kabul, which included our Helmand projects, from 1971-78.) For some past and present documentation on what has been happening in Helmand see: scottshelmandvalleyarchives.org

Don Bacon June 1, 2011 at 11:40 am

Afghan inspector general questions construction spending
By Robert Brodsky
January 24, 2011
Insufficient project management and weak contract oversight are jeopardizing billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded Afghan reconstruction monies, a top federal watchdog testified on Monday.

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, who recently announced that he will resign, told the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting that efforts to build bases and training facilities for the Afghan Army and police are well behind schedule and that billions are at significant risk of going to waste.

“SIGAR’s audits of infrastructure projects in Afghanistan have identified serious problems resulting from insufficient planning, inadequate contract management, and inability to provide quality assurance and oversight, particularly in areas that are not secure,” Fields testified.
SIGAR Report April 30, 2011
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
The Congress has provided more than $69 billion to rebuild Afghanistan since 2002. The President has asked the Congress for an additional $17.3 billion for FY 2012. These funds are supporting the U.S. reconstruction strategy to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government by 2014.

SIGAR’s investigations directorate is now concentrating our resources on major contract fraud and corruption investigations where we can provide the greatest return for the U.S. taxpayer. Our results for FY 2011, through March 31, have resulted in $1.7 million in savings and more than $33.5 million in fines, penalties, and recoveries.

Herbert Richardson
Acting Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

RScott June 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm

And this one district must be Marja where we have tended to concentrate militarily. But keep in mind the size of the bureaucracies functioning in the area with the Provencal Reconstruction Team PRT in Lashkar Gah that apparently has more than 100 people, military and civilian, British and American, and in the field there are teams of civilians working with the military as Human Terrain Teams, or some such, none of which are cheap in terms of salary and security. I have seen no break down but we might expect that military/contractor staffs make up a good proportion of the money spent along with a multitude of irrelevant projects in the province, irrelevant to the double-cropping cash-cropping farmers who need help to get out of the production of opium and have periodically asked for help to do this. Opium poppy is considered an evil crop but with a good and reliable market and an informal ag. credit system with which we have been unable to compete over the past 10 years or so …with all of our irrelevant spending, not supporting key elements. For example, the farmers continue to request support for the cotton industry over the past 10 years as a prerequisite for getting out of opium. There is a functioning cotton gin built in the 1960s by the Brits with all US made ginning equipment and the farmers continue to produce cotton in this era when international price for cotton is at an all time high since at least the US civil war. But the support for this important crop to these farmers (it was the second most important cash crop in the region in the 1970s) has been virtually non-existent except for a very short time in 2002 when we brought in some very badly needed spare parts for the gin (from near Atlanta, GA) And no credit system set up in the gin as existed in the 1970s when the farmers paid off the loan when they brought their cotton in to sell to the gin, the primary buyer. In short, we are spending lots of money but not necessarily focused on the right things, and so limited effectiveness from the farmers point of view.

Johnny Matrix June 2, 2011 at 12:22 am

One of the biggest negative filters to the money pumped into the system is the chronic sub-contracting done by Afghan construction companies…one company has a tiller while the same CC doesn’t have a bulldozer so they contract out to another company…I’m sure y’all know the drill. One could argue our insistance in consistantly using these same corrupt groups or even why we (as the military) taking on this role of developmental reconstruction. This topic is a good issue to bring up…

RScott June 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

May be wrong but I think the idea was borrowed from Vietnam with the PRTs being the center focus for development work…the idea that you can win the hearts and minds of the people by spending money at the same time you are killing them. At least Pashtuns dont think that way. although they will accept the project bribes.

Dishonesty? June 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Nawa transition,
Regner acknowledges that the Marines have inadvertently created this culture. Last spring, the Marines hired about 7,000 villagers to clean out their canals. This spring, the Afghans expected the same thing — to be paid to maintain their own property.

“They learned to stop doing for themselves,” Regner said.

While the villagers appreciate the long-sought security and the millions of dollars spent, they want the Marines to fix the rest of their problems, too.

Regner and others question the wisdom of applying the strategy used here to other parts of Afghanistan.

“I’m right now dealing with the unintended consequences,” Regner said, “of overspending [and] overreliance on Marines — overreliance which has caused atrophy of some of the natural capabilities of the people.”

bat dong san June 2, 2011 at 9:25 pm

$1.3 billion for no meaning action..Money is wasted.

M Shannon June 2, 2011 at 9:32 pm

In Afghanistan the term PRT was coined in 2003 to describe security elements being sent out to protect the first governors. Ghazni was first. “Reconstruction” was used instead of “Security” to maneuver the Europeans into providing them.

The PG was supposed to run development. Very quickly this little detail was forgotten as the various PRTs started projects in the forlorn hope that welfare would reduce political and criminal violence. Of course it was never even considered what impact all this cash would have on Afghan society, corruption or worst of all funding of the insurgency.

All that mattered was getting the PRTs out the door. Much like the focus on training ANSF being quantity and not quality.

Dishonesty? June 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Lovely&peaceful town Marjah
3/9 Marine(only half marines in Marjah)
In less than 160 days, the Marines have been in 250 small arms fire fights, found more than 350 weapons caches, detained 118 insurgents, built or moved 15 patrol bases in Marjah to provide better security to the area, and also discovered more than 200 improvised explosive devices. Eighty percent of the IEDs were found before detonation
Marjah awakening II
One of the local tribal leaders in Golf Company’s area is Hadji Qatar. He was one of the first to do the handshake with the Marines. He stood up a the first group of Arbaki, local defense forces to provide protection for a market. He also provides old fashioned racketeering style protection and loan sharking. He will loan a shopkeeper enough money to buy some initial inventory with little regard for the Islamic ban on usury and charge “rent” on top of that.

Recently the Marines granted contract to somone outside Qatar’s network and the Arkbaki commander Toor Jan pressured him for a cut of the action until the Marines stepped in, reminding him who the strongest tribe really is.

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