A Failure to Plan for Afghanistan’s Future

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by Joshua Foust on 7/17/2012 · 2 comments

The Washington Post reports:

The United States and its allies have devoted years of effort and billions of dollars to improve the delivery of basic services in rural Afghanistan. If Afghan leadership were to have taken hold anywhere, it might well have been in Karz, a farming area on the outskirts of Kandahar city still populated by relatives and tribesmen of the man who has ruled Afghanistan through a decade of war.

Instead, what is emerging in ever starker relief is a governance vacuum as U.S. forces begin to draw down. As the Americans leave, taking with them a main source of economic stimulus, U.S. officials and residents say what worries them most is the weakness of the local and provincial governments being left behind, which command virtually no resources and almost no authority.

The entire story is worth reading in full, as it explains in detail how hollow many of the reconstruction and political goals of the war in Afghanistan have been.

The story of Karz represents many of the lessons we need to learn about Afghanistan that my think tank, the American Security Project, is analyzing in a report I authored to be released this week. The village of Karz has suffered from a lack of planning, a failure to understand the environment, and a reliance on magical thinking — assuming that U.S. expenditure would create a sustainable political and economic environment after the U.S. leaves.

All three are lessons I identify in the upcoming report. One aspect of this planning failure that I discuss is the challenge of providing electricity. I focused the report on Kajaki in Helmand and the Tarokhil plant outside of Kabul: both hugely expensive American endeavors that are over budget and underperform. The Tarokhil plant in particular requires fuel that is too expensive to maintain without heavy American subsidy. The Post, here, mentions almost off-handedly that Kandahar faces a similar challenge:

A major source of irrigation water comes from the reservoir at the Dahla Dam outside Kandahar city, which the United States is paying about $200 million to enlarge because it is about one-third silted up. Much of the city’s electricity comes from two 10-megawatt generators that require an annual U.S. subsidy of about $50 million to pay for the diesel fuel. But that subsidy is scheduled to run out sometime during the middle of next year, forcing Afghans to either cut back on power or significantly raise fees.

Sadly, this sort of shortfall did not have to happen. It was not inevitable. It is the result of being short sighted. I will be writing analyses over the next year or so how better planning can prevent this and similar boondoggles in the future.

Photo Credit: Karla Marshall, USACE
The Bagh-e-Pul power station, situated near a Soviet-era grain silo in western Kandahar City, Afghanistan, is one of two diesel-fuel powered stations built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Prime Power Battalion that delivers electricity to the city’s residents.

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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 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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Richard Miller July 21, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Joshua, I served (actually was drafted, so I never thought of it as service) and fought in Vietnam. After all these years I’ve finally concluded that these little wars most resemble the endless round of frontier battles fought by Rome as it tried to maintain its hopelessly overextended empire. What’s remarkable is the bipartisan support we muster for these ill-conceived ventures. But their failure originates not in our misunderstanding of our enemies, but in our misunderstanding of ourselves and overestimation of our capacities. We can always find 5 ways to have done a better job, but had we done those things would we have won the wars? The only way to avoid the blood, expense and failure would be not to fight in the first place. But we fight for primal reasons that we do not understand – it’s almost comical to watch our Presidents twist and turn and then commit to war as if they know it to be fate. Ultimately we’ll stumble into the one of these things that will directly inflict unbearable pain on the American public. That’s sad and avoidable, but apparently inevitable.

Dishonesty July 26, 2012 at 4:15 am

Also, you might be surprised to find:


The Pentagon’s decision to change the standards used to grade the success of Afghan police and soldiers, who are a centrepiece of U.S. strategy for smoothly exiting the war in Afghanistan, helped it present a positive picture of those forces’ abilities, a U.S. government watchdog reported on Tuesday.

“These changes … were responsible, in part, for its reported increase in April 2012 of the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level,” the Government Accountability Office said in a new report on Afghan national security forces, known as ANSF.

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