The Fundamental Dysfunction of Reconstruction

by Joshua Foust on 6/3/2011 · 5 comments

Rajiv Chandrasekaran:

Billions of dollars worth of U.S.-funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq could fall into disrepair over the next few years because inadequate provisions have been made to pay for their ongoing operations and maintenance, according to a report to be released Friday by a bipartisan legislative commission.

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan says it “sees no indication” that the Pentagon, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are “effectively taking sustainability risks into account when devising new projects or programs.”

This is, sadly, an old-ish problem, one identified and hammered on repeatedly by the GAO and SIGAR/SIGIR. Despite that, the fundamentals haven’t changed: everything is top-down, administratively heavy, and building something is considered successful even if there’s no chance of it being maintained. In Afghanistan, we are creating a nation of ruins.

But the inability to follow through on temporary successes isn’t limited to reconstruction. For PBS this week I wrote about the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which has a similar problem:

But leaving aside the assumption that insurgencies have economic causes (there remains a debate in studies of conflict about the precise role a poor economy plays in driving conflict), it is difficult to say how successful the task force has been at accomplishing the aforementioned tasks. Over the past five years of operations in Iraq, the task force claims it got companies to pledge investments in Iraqi state-owned enterprises, create a hundred thousand jobs and restore dozens of factories to production. There simply is not enough data to say one way or another. In the reports hosted on the task force’s website and in a sponsored assessment published last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), these claims are repeated but there’s very little documentation to support them.

For example, while the amount of foreign direct investment the task force has attracted sounds impressive — nearly $8 billion in investment pledges to Iraq alone — it is important to remember that these are just pledges. From the publicly available data, it is hard to tell how much of that $8 billion has materialized, and how much is likely to. For an organization focused on attracting western investment (Paul Brinkley, the task force’s gregarious chief, is famous for flying CEOs around the war zones in Blackhawk helicopters), such a lack of concrete investment data alone should give us pause.

Sadly, it doesn’t. We remain focused entirely on inputs and not outcomes.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from 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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M Shannon June 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Why would things work in Afghanistan that don’t work in North America? We can’t sort out our own inner cities, dog patches and Indian reserves but we expect our folks, in country for short tours, unable to speak the language and afraid to leave their compounds without security details to be able to fix the Afghan economy/ political system/ social structure. Hubris.

We tout capitalism at home yet we expect workfare/ welfare/ state run business to work abroad.

What’s the answer? Education and routing out corruption over a very long time. Paying farmers to dig their own ditches isn’t the long term answer to anything.

Dishonesty? June 3, 2011 at 6:14 pm

ANCOP,elite ANP(i.e. fusion Sherlock Holmes&Rambo-according to P4)
The 408 members of the 16th Afghan National Civil Order Police class started training in October to assume their responsibilities to help secure Afghanistan’s future.
First, though, more than three-quarters of them had to learn to read.
In early December, after 14 weeks of intensive training in skills ranging from room clearance to marksmanship to handcuffing suspects, another class of police recruits was preparing for a driving demonstration to be presented at a formal graduation ceremony the next day.
Two police trucks were supposed to race around the track, weaving through cones. Instead, they crashed head-on. No one was seriously injured, but the trucks were totaled.
The goal at Adraskan is to more than double the ANCOP ranks — from 7,000 to 18,500 — by October. But most of the police trainees here can barely read, let alone drive or shoot straight.
The definition of a quality police recruit, one NATO trainer observed, is “two arms, two legs, one rifle.”
NATO and Afghan officials say many recruits sign up just for the training salary — $230 a month — and disappear after graduation.
The ANCOP is considered elite, in part, because its members supposedly can read. But out of the 408 new Afghan recruits who arrived here last October, just 70 met the third-grade literacy requirement to begin the training program.
The remaining 338 were given the option to retest after an intensive four-week literacy class designed to get them to first-grade reading levels.
The hope was that they could comprehend the training with a first-grade level, then get to third-grade level by the time they graduated. The reality was that there would be no testing before graduation to show whether they had learned a thing.
While NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan regularly highlights its efforts to “train the trainers,” many of the Afghan instructors at Adraskan appear to be of dubious quality. Some are rumored to be assigned here based on personal ties to the Afghan base commander rather than any ability to teach.
The language barriers between Adraskan’s instructors and its recruits worsened when the Italians took over the ANCOP training mission here in late 2009, according to Afghan Lt. Col. Shafiqullah Taheri, the deputy commander for training at Adraskan.
Before the Italians arrived, English-speaking Dyncorp contractors trained the ANCOP recruits, and the process was better, Taheri said.
These days, with many Italian instructors not speaking English and most translators not speaking Italian, much gets lost in translation. Nearly all the trainees speak only Dari or Pashto, but when translation is available, it’s offered only in Dari.
While Afghans skate through training, the heat is on to quickly grow the police and army.
“In theory, if they don’t pass, they are dismissed,” said Italian Capt. Nicola Bonomi. “But that hasn’t happened.”
The “pass everybody” mentality is not unique to Adraskan, according to a report last year on Afghan security forces by Andrew Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC
“Essentially, if a police trainee shows up and attends the graduation ceremony, he … passes and is considered ‘trained.’ ”

CE June 4, 2011 at 7:18 am

Just read the article and watched the video.

That is by far the most fucking farcical account of the Afghan ‘training mission’ I have read to date. Even the narrator is in on how much of a joke this all is.

I’m usually pretty upbeat, but that was depressing.

CE June 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Hahah—”inputs.” That reminds me of Petraeus’s “input/output” schpiel:

“We’ve spent much of the past year working to get the inputs right in Afghanistan,” Petraeus said. “We’ve worked to get the structures right, put the best leaders in charge, develop the right concepts and provide the authorities and resources needed for unity of effort. And with those inputs now in place, we’re starting to see the outputs.”

Yeah, I’m sure you have, boobie.

DD June 5, 2011 at 4:56 am

Maybe we should just pay the Afghans to train themselves? One day of a dyncorp contractor’s pay would be a good monthly salary for an Afghan cop/trainer. Then, maybe they would learn to police communities they understand, as opposed to policing communities we don’t understand in a manner we think might work because someone maybe read half a Guistozzi book. Then maybe we could put our efforts into fiscal responsibility, ensuring the cops were paid what they need to feed their families and assume the risk of driving over an IED or getting shot. I’m not talking a lot, again, maybe a trainer’s daily wages, for a month of policing. That way, my interpreter might have to pay more than $20 in bribes to drive from Torkham to Kabul and not have a single police checkpoint so much as give his unmarked, beat up corolla a second glance. It turns out, it is not the thought that counts, at least when it comes to our ability to train ANSF.

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