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Afghan Reconstruction Projects May Be 'Counterproductive,' Report Warns

At a road project in Qalat, Afghanistan, last summer, U.S. forces were providing security.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt.Brian Ferguson
Reuters /Landov
At a road project in Qalat, Afghanistan, last summer, U.S. forces were providing security.

The rising hopes but still-daunting challenges facing the people of Afghanistan and their allies, most notably the U.S., were underscored again this morning by two new stories:

-- The recently departed U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne that he does not think Afghans will suffer through another devasting, multi-party civil war after U.S. combat forces are gone in 2014.

Afghans, Crocker said, have "been there and done that. ... No one wants to go back to that." Instead, he said, major politicians from various ethnic groups want to have a voice in their nation's affairs — but not at the point of a gun. And, said Crocker, because the Taliban and its allies "are equal opportunity killers" who victimize all groups, they have "actually been a unifying factor" in Afghanistan.

Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker speaks with Renee Montagne

-- But the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned in a report released today that U.S.-funded construction projects now underway in Afghanistan that are costing hundreds of millions of dollars are behind schedule and may not be finished before U.S. combat forces depart. And that means, the report said, that the projects may not be "viable or sustained by the Afghan government after completion."

"Implementing projects that the Afghan government is unable to sustain may be counterproductive to the [counterinsurgency] strategy," the inspector general reported, as they raise Afghans' hopes for electricity and other basic necessities only to dash them later.

The Washington Post writes that:

"The study calls into question a fundamental premise of the U.S. strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency — that expensive new roads and power plants can be funded and constructed quickly enough to help turn the tide of war — and it poses a sobering, counterintuitive question for policymakers in Washington: whether the massive influx of American spending in Afghanistan is actually making problems worse."

The inspector general's report is being challenged. The New York Times says that officials at the U.S. embassy and military command in Kabul, "in a joint statement, rebutted the report's findings, saying that officials had engaged in a 'rigorous process' of reviewing and refining the infrastructure projects. The projects 'have signaled to the Afghan population the U.S. government's long-term commitment to Afghanistan,' the statement said."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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