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Development before security…is a killer

In an article that just might have been overshadowed by bigger news out of the “AfPak” region Sunday night, the New York Times reported on USAID’s project to build the Gardez-Khost Highway in Afghanistan. This 64-mile stretch of road meant to connect the two mountainous southeastern provinces of Paktia and Khost is shoddily constructed and incomplete after 3 years.

Not least among the problems was that construction began before the region was cleared of insurgents. “You are talking about pushing development before there’s security,” said a former American government official who was involved in the project.

“And you have military or politically driven timelines and locations which make no sense, or which force us into alliances with the very malign actors that are powerfully part of the broader battles we are fighting,” the official said. “No one steps back and looks at the whole picture.”

What is the cost of “pushing development” before security?

One answer: Although originally budgeted at $69 million, USAID has spent  $121 million on the project so far, and now says it expects to spend $176 million.

Another answer: Any remaining American credibility as a development actor in Afghanistan.

A better answer:

… Despite all the money spent on security…there have been 364 attacks on the Gardez-Khost Highway, including 108 roadside bombs, resulting in the deaths of 19 people, almost all of them local Afghan workers.

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  1. justaskingyoubenefit wrote:

    I think you should watch the NG or Discovery Channel show Talibanistan. In the show they actual show the struggles of building a road in Afghanistan and working with the local community.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink
  2. Greg wrote:

    It is a sad case that the road can’t be built, and more security measures need to be taken so the people can feel safe and point out the member of Al Qaeda.

    But at the same time, not all the aid has been a failure. Many schools have been built around Afghanistan and food has been delivered to the millions living in poverty.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  3. Melissa wrote:

    Building roads that help connect regions that are otherwise very difficult to access can be a relatively cheap project that can have many positive effects on development. This, however, is not the case if the road is built amidst conflict. It is a little unbelievable to think that USAID did not think to wait until the area had been liberated of insurgents. Like so many development projects it is yet another good intention. This project is going to cost nearly 3 times as much as it was supposed to and has essentially become a local deathtrap that an US aid organization built. Security needs to be a vital part of the planning stage in development.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  4. Gabrielle Green wrote:

    It saddens me to see people trying to make a difference in a region to help development but they can’t be successful because of people who don’t care about it. Building that bridge could open up alot of opportunities for the people who live there but if we don’t secure the area the project may never get completed. In my opinion, the USAID wasted a lot of money trying to push development before the area was secure of insurgents. Hopefully this project will soon be successful.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  5. Josh wrote:

    I do think it can be a very dangerous and often foolish idea to try and install development projects into a volatile and unstable region. However, sometimes it is necessary to completing the mission and ending the conflict to begin on development projects. American credibility would be destroyed if all they did was blow up houses and infrastructure and never built anything while saying “uh, it’s too dangerous right now.” On the flip side, we all agree that getting the local community to invest in buildings and programs makes them work much better, especially if they are given the lead. But that means the US must, within the same community, fight people as well as give money and project leads to others. All of these factors create a melting pot for danger, failure, potential corruption, the US supplying their enemies with money, and all around failure. However, that doesn’t mean development should be stopped just because it’s dangerous. All it means is that development, like freedom and liberty, might just have a higher price than just money.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  6. Whit wrote:

    Once again, the work of the planners has failed. You would think it would not take a genius to realize it would be a poor decision to begin construction on a bridge especially one connecting two mountains before turmoil was resolved, and insurgents completely cleared of the area. Projects designed by planners also always end up costing way more than originally proposed. With examples of poorly planned tasks failing and coming out almost every day like this, one you would think it would be a good lesson for planners, but somehow always seems to still happen.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  7. Chike wrote:

    Now that Bin Laden is dead, I think the US should wind down from Afghanistan.

    The US has neither the knowledge, desire nor resources to pursue an endless war with unclearly defined goals. The US legacy in Afghanistan will be mixed at best – the US blew up a lot of things and people and massively contributed to corruption.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink
  8. Jacob AG wrote:

    What’s the benefit of building the road?

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  9. Matthew Kelly wrote:

    I totally agree that if try to develop before you have security then developing is a lost cause. I believe that without the security element you will not have order, and with out order you can not achieve development. Until the USAID get security they will continue to spend excess amount of money because they will continue to meet destructive forces against development.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  10. Vivek Nemana wrote:

    @Jacob Wish I knew.

    Posted May 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  11. Brandon J wrote:

    It just seems like they were in such a big rush to get some positive publicity that they just blindly ran into a situation and lives were lost because of it. They could’ve talked to the government officials in the U.S. and took the time to properly assess the risk and reward of starting that project when they did. On top of the lives lost millions are gone down the drain, if they had just planned properly that bridge could making a positive difference to those living in that area.

    Posted May 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  12. Jane Han wrote:

    We can’t neatly sequence development and security in Afghanistan. For one, it’s a mistake to think local insurgents can be ‘cleared out’ once-for-all. Even if they’re stripped of all arms and warfare capabilities, why would they leave their home? Which leads to the question of root causes for joining insurgent groups—the nature of the Taliban and local insurgents has changed over the past decade, and today, economic livelihoods or a sense of purpose may be more common reasons for joining than ideology.

    The Afghan people stated security as the main factor that makes them feel optimistic/pessimistic about their country’s future, but when asked about the biggest problems they face, they stated unemployment, electricity, roads, water, and lack of health care, clinics, and hospitals (Asia Foundation’s 2010 Survey of the Afghan People).

    So it’s not as important to discuss whether development or security should come first as it is to discuss how to clarify roles and to institute effective monitoring and evaluation systems. President Obama has redefined his strategy in Afghanistan through a civilian-military approach; both U.S. State Department/USAID and Defense Department say their strategies in Afghanistan include each other. (Although, if we compare the agencies’ budget and expenditure in Afghanistan, the ‘joint’ effort seems to be more rhetoric than reality. See agencies’ websites).

    The problem is that the average troop and the average development worker have entirely different skill sets and training; yet, the job descriptions and expectations are merging (look up the ‘shape, clear, hold, build’ military strategy). So who is responsible for which outputs? If those outputs are not realized, who will be held accountable? What reporting structures, what punitive measures for non-performance?

    The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s main recommendation to State/USAID and Defense for the past five years has been strategic planning and performance monitoring (see GAO website). Not sure whether the agencies have decided to heed the recommendations this year.

    Rory Stewart had a logical, eloquent piece* suggesting U.S. and other Western countries involved in Afghanistan may need to accept an “insecure” Afghanistan in the military definition of the word, come to terms with the possibility of civil wars, and “only moderate, influence, and fund a strategy shaped and led by Afghans themselves.” It means accepting uncertainty about the Taliban, local insurgents, and the Kabul government, and facilitating “different Afghan interests sensitively enough to avoid alienating independent local groups, consistently enough to regain their trust, and robustly enough to restore the security and justice that Afghans demand and deserve from a national government.” But logistically, to forge such an “intelligent, long-term, and tolerant” partnership requires lengthening the timeline of involvement while decreasing the number of Americans in the country…

    *”Afghanistan: What Could Work” by Rory Stewart (New York Review of Books)

    Posted May 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  13. Your Majesty wrote:

    $55M overrun on a highway project. Those Taliban terrorists are a bunch of pikers.

    A REAL overrun, like the Big Dig, requires a Kennedy.

    Posted May 9, 2011 at 12:00 am | Permalink
  14. BULL wrote:

    It’s the Ho Chi Mihn Trail, without the jungle.

    Posted May 9, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink
  15. BigSoph wrote:

    A friend of mine worked as a CF Intel Officer and he heard saying that foretells the end result: The Western Armies have the watches but the Taliban has the time.
    To all those that say we should cut and run; I guess those funny brown(ish) people, especially their women, love the government they had. Let them be.
    I really wonder at times how some of these people sleep at night, knowing full well their actions would condemn millions to eternal poverty and servitude

    Posted May 9, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink
  16. TB wrote:

    From the better late than never dept of Fed Biz Ops, where USAID posts job listings and contracts:

    Title: Program Management Specialist-Roads
    Sol. #: 306-11-12-OIEE
    Agency: Agency for International Development
    Office: Overseas Missions
    Location: Afghanistan USAID-Kabul
    Posted On: May 08, 2011 7:30 am
    Current Type: Solicitation
    Base Type: Sources Sought
    Base Posting Date: May 08, 2011 7:22 am

    Posted May 9, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

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