The Wrong Time to Block Aid to Afghanistan

On Monday, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) announced she would not support foreign aid for Afghanistan until she was assured that the Afghan government had put an end to corruption.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists," said Lowey, who heads the House State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. Lowey was responding to recent reports that more than $1 billion a year are flowing out of Afghanistan to elite Afghans outside the country, and that Afghan authorities have derailed corruption investigations of politically powerful Afghans.

Lowey's statement is an understandable expression of frustration. But cutting off foreign aid now is absolutely the wrong approach for the United States to take in Afghanistan.

After several visits to Afghanistan in the last few years, Human Rights First issued recommendations to the Obama administration last year specifically recommending that the United States help train Afghan investigators on evidence collection and documentation and help Afghan prosecutors provide fair prosecutions. Current plans do just that, in addition to working with Afghan officials on improving their own detention facilities and their judiciary.

Lowey's frustration is understandable, not only because of the Washington Post's recent news stories, but also because of this report prepared for the State Department last year that reviewed a broad range of Afghan institutions and concluded that corruption is rampant and growing. Not surprisingly, thirty years of war has undermined the development of reliable and legitimate institutions, and of a judicial system able to keep corruption in check. But to keep Afghanistan from returning to Taliban rule or simply descending into chaos, the United States has an obligation to help the Afghan government develop and enforce laws that reduce corruption and improve government transparency. Given the recent reports that Afghanistan has some $3 trillion worth of natural resources it's eager to exploit, transparency will be critical to make sure the proceeds of those riches don't just get shipped out of Afghanistan like the billion dollars a year flying out of there now.

Although our NATO allies should and will be helping in this effort, the necessary "nation-building" isn't going to happen unless the United States commits to funding carefully-targeted programs designed to improve governance and reduce corruption. Continued funding can be made contingent on the acceptance and participation of Afghan leaders and institutions with this anti-corruption agenda.

Lowey is right that US aid to Afghanistan should be spent wisely, and not indirectly fund warlordsto provide security or corrupt officials to spread as graft. But the State Department and the military's Joint Task Force in charge of detention facilities in Afghanistan are just beginning their work to improve local government enough to allow the U.S. military to transition out of there. Cutting off the funding that will allow that to happen would not only undermine the development of legitimate government institutions in Afghanistan, but would make the United States' goal of eventually leaving the country that much more elusive.




David Rohde's riveting account of his captivity provides immense detail on the nature of life under the Taliban and the de facto Taliban state that stretches across southern Afghanistan and into northwestern Pakistan.

The trip confirmed suspicions I had harbored for years as a reporter. The Haqqanis oversaw a sprawling Taliban mini-state in the tribal areas with the de facto acquiescence of the Pakistani military. The Haqqanis were so confident of their control of the area that they took me -- a person they considered to be an extraordinarily valuable hostage -- on a three-hour drive in broad daylight to shoot a scene for a video outdoors.

Throughout North Waziristan, Taliban policemen patrolled the streets, and Taliban road crews carried out construction projects. The Haqqani network's commanders and foreign militants freely strolled the bazaars of Miram Shah and other towns. Young Afghan and Pakistani Taliban members revered the foreign fighters, who taught them how to make bombs.

Also the glimpses into the background and the world view of the Taliban are simply extraordinary.

Most of the guards were Afghan men in their late 20s and early 30s. Some had grown up as refugees in Pakistan. All had limited educations from government schools or religious institutions, known as madrasas. Some did not make it past junior high school. None had seen the world beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They all had relatives or friends who had been killed by Soviet or American troops. They grew up in a culture where teenage boys reached manhood and made a name for themselves by showing their bravery.

I tried to get to know one of the guards, who was preparing to be a suicide bomber. A young man in his 20s with a slim build and brown eyes, he said he had studied engineering in high school. He never attended college but was relatively well educated compared with the other fighters.

When I asked him why he wanted to die, he replied that living in this world was a burden for any true Muslim. Heaven was his goal, he said. Earthly relationships with his parents and siblings did not matter.

How does one combat the view that the Earth does not matter?  Or that Earthly relationships do not matter? Changing this world view is a project timed in decades.

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Afghanistan Policy To Focus More on Economic Development

National Security Adviser James Jones has told US military commanders there are no plans to send more troops to Afghanistan for now and that the focus instead will be on economic development and reconstruction according to story by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post.

National security adviser James L. Jones told U.S. military commanders here last week that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels here flat for now, and focus instead on carrying out the previously approved strategy of increased economic development, improved governance and participation by the Afghan military and civilians in the conflict.

The message seems designed to cap expectations that more troops might be coming, though the administration has not ruled out additional deployments in the future. Jones was carrying out directions from President Obama, who said recently, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops."

"This will not be won by the military alone," Jones said in an interview during his trip. "We tried that for six years." He also said: "The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed."

In February the President ordered an extra 17,000 troops deployed to fight a growing Taliban-led insurgency in southern and western Afghanistan. These are expected to be fully in place by the middle of July. Another 4,000 troops are expected to arrive in August to assist in the training of the Afghan army and police force. The forces are part of a build-up aimed at expanding the US military presence in Afghanistan to 68,000 troops by the end of this year, more than double the 32,000 at the end of 2008.

Furthermore, General Stanley A. McChrystal has undertaken a 60-day review designed to address all the issues in the war.

The increased focus on economic development is a welcomed development. This war cannot be won by military means alone.

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Crusaders of the 21st Century

Of all blunders to commit, this one is beyond the pale and only sure to arose the ire of the Islamic world unnecessarily. US soldiers at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan have been filmed with local language Bibles and urged to be "witnesses for Jesus" despite anti-proselytizing rules.

In the video obtained by Qatar's Al Jazeera, Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, is shown telling US soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility "to be witnesses for him."

"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down," he says.

"Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That's what we do, that's our business."

Al Jazeera's James Bays reports. I cannot in good conscience support any effort that involves proselytizing in Afghanistan. Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley must be removed from his position and reprimanded if not court-martial for breaking the military's anti-proselytizing rules. It is not our business to save souls. That is not the nature of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Whatever goodwill the President has so far engendered in his attempts to reach out to Muslims across the globe stands to be lost because of the reckless zeal of evangelical Christians who seem to view the US military as a modern day crusading institution.

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Rethink Afghanistan

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films was recently in Afghanistan. Here's another of the trailers from his upcoming documentary on Afghanistan. Brave New Films aims to foster the kind of discussion, debate and dissent that President Obama has said he welcomes. BNF's work-along with a network of bloggers, progressive leaders, magazines like The Nation, peace and justice groups-is launching much-needed Congressional hearings on vital areas such as the role and goals of the US military in Afghanistan, oversight of contractors, transparent budgeting and clear metrics to measure progress toward a defined exit strategy.

Do we really want to spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama Administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?

Watch Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, military and foreign policy experts, leading economists, and many more explain just how much the war in Afghanistan will cost us over how many years.

We must urge Congress to raise key questions about this war at once. As FireDogLake blogger Siun recently wrote, "Once again we are planning a surge with no exit plan and a continued lack of concern for the most basic protection of the civilians in the land we claim to liberate."

Learn more at Rethink Afghanistan.

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