Senate Democrats criticize US foreign aid efforts in Afghanistan

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have released a highly critical report of U.S. efforts to prop up the Afghan government.

“We need to take a closer look at how we are spending money in Afghanistan and the impact it is having on the Afghan state,” the report, prepared by majority staff on the panel, states.

The report suggests the U.S. has mistakenly inflated salaries for workers at foreign embassies, creating a “culture of aid dependency” in the country that gets more foreign aid than any other, including Iraq.

The practice has drawn qualified civil servants away from the Afghan government, raising questions about the stability of that government after foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

The U.S. spends about $320 million per month on foreign aid in Afghanistan and has spent a total of roughly $18 billion over 10 years. Most of that money has been spent on stabilization programs in Afghanistan’s south and east, but the report says evidence is scarce that the programs have promoted stability in those restive areas.

“Our strategy assumes that short-term aid promotes stability in counterinsurgency operations and ‘wins hearts and minds,' " it states. “The evidence from Afghanistan supporting these assumptions is limited. More analysis is needed before the United States continues investing significant sums of money in conflict zones in the name of stability.”

The report comes at a critical time for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

President Obama plans to begin withdrawing troops from the country this year amid fatigue in Congress and the public with the war, but some officials, including outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have been outspoken about the risks of withdrawing too many troops too soon.

Politically, the drive to leave Afghanistan appears to have increased since the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden, the man behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The committee on Wednesday will hold a confirmation hearing for Ryan Crocker, whom Obama has nominated to serve as ambassador to Afghanistan.

The report suggests that the U.S. consider a multiyear civilian assistance strategy for Afghanistan and that the U.S. re-evaluate the performance of stabilization programs in the country.

Its third recommendation is for the U.S. to focus on sustainability, as it warns that donors should not implement programs in Afghanistan if they cannot be sustained.

“We should focus on a simple rule: Donors should not implement projects if Afghans cannot sustain them,” the report said. “A sustainability strategy would consolidate our programs, increase on-budget aid, streamline our rules and controls, and pursue a limited number of high-impact programs that do not require complex procurement or infrastructure.”