As the U.S. continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, possibly all of them by the end of the year, Members of Congress are increasingly doubtful about the efficacy of U.S. aid programs.
“Afghanistan is the most corrupt country in the world,” Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R–UT), chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, said in a hearing earlier this month. This is fairly accurate according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, which scored Afghanistan’s Freedom from Corruption just above North Korea. Given this continued corruption and heightened levels of violence against civilians, Congress is right to be skeptical.
However, U.S. policymakers should also consider the cost of withdrawing completely from Afghanistan. As challenging as the aid environment is in Afghanistan, the U.S. cannot afford to turn its back on the country like it did in the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
In the past decade, the U.S. has spent nearly $100 billion in relief and reconstruction aid in Afghanistan, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2011 that during the five years prior, U.S. foreign aid had funded 62 percent of Afghan government expenses.
Chaffetz called into question the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) ability to effectively monitor its projects amidst the drawdown of U.S. forces. While Larry Sampler of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs at USAID defended USAID’s ability to do so, Steven Johnson of the GAO testified that “alternative oversight mechanisms may need to be in place and adhered to so that monitoring and evaluation of projects continue as U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan.”
Security concerns involve the safety of those hired to monitor projects. USAID will have just over 100 employees in Afghanistan by the end of the year, says Sampler, meaning that the majority of physical project monitoring will be performed by Afghans. Given that President Hamid Karzai has disbanded the Afghan Public Protection Force, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D–CA) expressed concern for the safety of these aid monitors.
U.S. assistance to Afghanistan has had a positive impact over the past several years. As Sampler stated in his testimony, “Afghanistan made the largest gains on a percentage basis in the [United Nations] Human Development Index than any other country in the past decade.” Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Lisa Curtis also wrote last month that American assistance has been important in keeping the Taliban at bay.
The Oversight Committee’s hearing was a good step in drawing attention to the challenges of providing aid to Afghanistan without a substantial U.S. and NATO troop presence in the country. The U.S. ability to deliver aid to the Afghans will no doubt be hampered by the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. But rather than throw in the towel and abruptly end assistance to Afghanistan, U.S. aid officials should adjust delivery and monitoring mechanisms to adapt programs to the new reality of a vastly diminished—or possibly even completely absent—international force presence.
Roy Howell is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.