On Gauging Success

by Joshua Foust on 8/19/2011 · 6 comments

I wrote for The Atlantic a brief meditation on the nature of delivering aid in conflict zones through the DOD:

While development activities have their own value, and should exist outside any sort of military objectives, I think there is a strong role for an organization like the TFBSO to play in future conflicts. While business development activities don’t seem to affect insurgencies much, they can and do play a substantial role in reducing the systemic failures in a society that lead to unrest and protest, and thus have very definite security value. Keeping military-run development separate from USAID carries other benefits as well, keeping USAID’s civilian employees separate from the discomfort many locals feel at having their businesses supported and run by guys wearing uniforms.

However, without a strategic and political framework to guide the activities of a group like the TFBSO, it will fall prey to the exact same problems that have befallen USAID: activities driven by good intentions but ultimately divorced from any long-term plan for sustainability after the American largess stops flowing so freely. The GAO has recently pinged the TFBSO for its non-transparency and unwillingness to coordinate with other U.S. development efforts; this is a real shame, as a comprehensive framework for guiding the TFBSO’s unique programmatic activities could, potentially, make it both more effective and more accountable.

This is important to keep in mind, as there is a large, politically-connected group of people at senior levels of the Pentagon who think the TFBSO is a key, game-changing contribution to the war in Afghanistan. In Iraq, that’s a difficult case to make, at least using data. In Afghanistan, their activities are structured differently, but they continue to clash with other government agencies (not OGA, best I can tell), operate in complete antagonism with the embassy, and still don’t have good follow-through.

Things might be changing: some memos and rumors escaping OSD are hinting at some changes. But we don’t know what form they take.

I will say this much: the TFBSO is an intriguing effort. Just because it hasn’t worked out perfectly, or more precisely just because we can’t tell whether it worked or not, doesn’t mean it should be discarded. There is a role for it, but that requires calm thinking and a bit less rice-bowl protection.

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– 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 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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Nick Hanz August 19, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I wonder, maybe 15 years from now if Americans would like armed Chinese soldiers who are waging a war against Americans to then do hoax development projects, only as a pretext to find out more about the people.

These projects are a joke, only another method of siphoning out money in the name of helping Afghans. Another war crime out of the many.

Don Bacon August 20, 2011 at 10:24 am

Effectiveness is a worthy subject, but what about the corruption it brings to a backward country, as you wrote about before?
“By almost every account, the international community’s aid programs in Afghanistan have made corruption worse than ever before, and made responsible government less, rather than more likely.”

the lost flaneur August 21, 2011 at 11:59 am

I think the Americans are doing it wrong, in development sector. First of, no armed solder should act as an engineer, that freaks out the locals. Secondly, instead of bringing hundreds of American companies, they should have built capacities of the Afghan institutions, so the Afghans could deliver the aid themselves (stop singing the corruption song, most of the corruption in Afghan government is because the international community ignored its abilities). Thirdly, the USAID should stop behaving like a d**k, having more money doesn’t make you the ultimate boss, it should have cooperated more systematically with other international donors (Europeans, Japan, UN) to avoid the mess we are in right now. For instance, the services and public awareness in the health sector is far from satisfactory, there are hundreds of NGOs and initiatives active in healthcare in Afghanistan, but still thousands of mothers and children are dying at birth each year, and the majority of Afghan men haven’t learnt yet how to put a condom on! …… the reason, because the donors who fund the health projects mostly have no idea of each other’s plans, they want to spend their money as fast as possible so they can get the next “donation”. it the same inn all other aid sectors.
After ten years of messing up and wasting billions of Dollars, it’s very hard right now to clean the scene and reshape the aid delivery system in Afghanistan. Of course if there is a political will, it is not impossible.

Don Bacon August 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Ms. Alisa Stack, the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command’s deputy chief of staff for stability operations, presented a Pentagon briefing on August 18.

extracts from the briefing record:
A senior member of the Department of Defense, Ms. Stack has served for more than 22 months at ISAF Joint Command since its inception in the fall of 2009. In her position she is responsible for cultivating governance, development and unity-of-effort relations in Afghanistan. She regularly works with Afghan government officials and coalition governments, and travels throughout the country both to address efforts in the provinces, to improve Afghan government services and the connections between Kabul and local government.

. .thank you all for the opportunity to discuss my experiences over the last 22 months that I have served as ISAF Joint Command’s deputy chief of staff for stability operations.

First I should make clear what my role in the organization is. I’m responsible for ensuring that security plans and operations are synchronized, with national and provincial plans for governance and development.

Let me give you a few examples of concrete progress in governance.
* add justice centers in Marja, Nad Ali, Gereshk (Helmand)
* the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission just held a first monthly district outreach shura in Nad Ali
* Just last week, Kandahar became the first province to begin work on a comprehensive health strategy and implementation plan.
* In Helmand, the first stage of construction on our new business park is more than 50 percent complete

Examples of concrete progress in governance?
As Bugsy would say — That’s All, Folks
She had no more “achievements” to tell us about after 22 months in country.

Ron August 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

It should please those who are against nation building to know that we are not doing so.


Baba Tim August 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I hate being the turd in the punchbowl at Joshua’s site but there is only one model which has demonstrated over and over how to deliver AID in Afghanistan and that is the Ghost Team model. That model should not only be embraced by DoD it should be funded and managed by the commanders on the ground. The “civilian surge” of “experts” by USAID and other government bureaucracies was a catastrophic failure. You can’t do AID work off a FOB – we (the FRI blog) have proved that to be true just you like the Marine Corps proved you cannot bring “security” to the “local people” when based on a Big Box FOB (a lesson the Army still refuses to emulate).

Local Afghans do not mind seeing Americans with guns – in fact once they make me for an armed American everybody in the vicinity visibly relaxes because they trust Americans with guns. When they see us out in the hinterlands unarmed – that is when most Afghans get a little stressed because being out and about unarmed makes you a bandit magnate and marks you as being from the stupid tribe – not the strongest tribe. The thousands of Afghans I deal with monthly hate members of the “stupid tribe” with a passion. I do too which is probably why I get along so well with the local folk.

Until the American military wises up and develops a Sys Admin force we will continue to dump Billions down the rabbit holes of USAID and Department of State – two of the many governmental organizations that consistently fail to perform their core mission decade after decade after decade. We (Ghost Team) have spent years showing people exactly how it is done. But we lack the DC corporate office, the well paid consultants, and the ability to “spread the wealth” among the right people (read retired and active politicians). Being right doesn’t mean shit in DC. Proving the job can be done in a country where everyone else is failing to perform the same mission means nothing unless you’ve got the extra cash to buy the attention of one of our betters. As long as the stacks of OPM (other peoples money) and supply of OPC (other peoples children) stays at a reasonable level it will be full steam ahead for our unbelievably incompetent ruling class. What do they care? They have insulated themselves from the consequences of their policies and will never want for anything for the rest of their lives. The rest of us? We struggle on working longer hours, earning less for our efforts, while being constantly micromanaged by a Nanny State that never stops growing or demanding more money from us. Our complete and total incompetence at dealing with post conflict primitive countries is a harbinger of things to come.

Shoot – I just commented myself right into a foul mood and it isn’t even 0700 yet. Damn-it – I didn’t mean to start another day in paradise this way.

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