Growing Trouble for Aid Organizations in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 10 months ago

Comporting with population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine, the U.S. is gearing up for an increased civilian presence in Afghanistan, even as the military presence begins to abate in 2011.

The U.S. may be planning for a large scale military withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, but there’s every indication a significant diplomatic corps will remain in the country long afterwards.

The heavily fortified U.S .embassy in Kabul is undergoing a lightning-fast expansion in order to accomodate hundreds of American civilians arriving as part of the new counterinsurgency strategy.

Here’s what U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, says about the expansion: “Late 2008, the United States embassy — our mission here in Afghanistan — comprised of about 320 civilians and a majority of those were in Kabul. Now, about two years later, we have 1,100 civilians, still increasing.”

The idea is to create a military-civilian partnership — after the military clears an area of insurgents, civilians go in to help build up the local government, justice systems, and other institutions.

The problem is, Americans involved in this effort are arriving so fast that they’re hard pressed at the embassy to house them. A huge construction project is underway to build more offices and housing complexes. Until they’re ready, small trailers have been moved onto the current embassy grounds. Each holds at least two people. Others are crammed into existing buildings.

But who are these people who are flooding Afghanistan’s only real secure infrastructure?  “At least 100 relief workers in Afghanistan have been killed so far this year, far more than in any previous year, prompting a debate within humanitarian organizations about whether American military strategy is putting them and the Afghans they serve at unnecessary risk.

Most of the victims worked for aid contractors employed by NATO countries, with fewer victims among traditional nonprofit aid groups.

The difference in the body counts of the two groups is at the heart of a question troubling the aid community: Has American counterinsurgency strategy militarized the delivery of aid?

That doctrine calls for making civilian development aid a major adjunct to the military push. To do that there are Provincial Reconstruction Teams in 33 of 34 provinces, staffed by civilians from coalition countries to deliver aid projects. The effort is enormous, dominated by the Americans; the United States Agency for International Development alone is spending $4 billion this year, most of it through the teams.

The so-called P.R.T.’s work from heavily guarded military compounds and are generally escorted by troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.”

The plight of the aid worker is bleak, with increasing deaths, increasing numbers, lack of infrastructure and the need to use the protection of U.S. troops who will be there in smaller numbers beginning in 2011.  In fact, aid workers say that COIN doctrine leaves them exposed, and Red Cross claims that the security conditions in Afghanistan are the worst they have been in 30 years.

Spreading violence in Afghanistan is preventing aid organizations from providing help, with access to those in need at its worst level in three decades, the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

“The proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organizations to access those in need. Access for the ICRC has over the last 30 years never been as poor,” said Reto Stocker, Afghanistan head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which rarely makes public comments.

“The sheer fact the ICRC has organized a press conference… is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever-growing number of people in by now almost the entire country.”

Stocker said many areas of the country, particularly in the once peaceful north, were now inaccessible not only for the ICRC but for the hundreds of other aid groups in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month the ICRC in Geneva warned the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was likely to deteriorate further in 2011.

So Red Cross doesn’t believe that this proposed smaller footprint, high value target campaign by SOF troopers is likely to make any substantial difference in their security in 2011 and beyond.  There is great concern among civilian aid workers.  The Taliban can’t distinguish between U.S. government contractors and NGOs, and really doesn’t care.  They’re all the enemy to the Taliban.  Security is failing for all of the aid workers, and they are flooding Afghanistan in a tip of the hat to FM 3-24, as they all await the decreased presence of U.S. troops while they attempt to deliver aid and governance to the people.

And things are going just swimmingly in Afghanistan.



  • http://biophilic.blogspot.com Burk

    Hi, Cap’n-

    I doubt that even you would take Red Cross happiness as a metric of military success. They make easy target for Taliban/AQ who are frustrated with US military progress and driven to respond in whatever low level way they can.

    In the prior time periods, the Red Cross and other NGO’s were not on the Taliban’s radar screen because A) the Taliban were succeeding at degrading the ISAF and Afghan military positions, and B) insofar as they were gaining governance credibility, they wanted to leave the NGO’s alone to further governance aims.

    Now it looks as though neither aim is viable, and so NGOs become a target because they indirectly strengthen Afghan Government governance. In the competition for governance capability, the loser will be the spoiler.

    So, not to engage in excessive happy-talk which would certainly be unwarranted, but this can be taken as sign of progress, as hopefully a temporary phase.

  • TS Alfabet

    Bear in mind, too, that Karzai is, so far, proceeding with his dangerous policy of disarming the private security firms in A-stan that heretofore had protected NGO’s, aid workers and contractors.

    Under Karzai’s new policy, only Afghan government forces will be allowed to provide security.

    This is going to multiply the danger (and cost) of providing aid projects.

    It is also worth pointing out that cramming ever more people into the growing Super Fortress Embassy in Kabul is exactly the wrong solution. For one, it sends the signal that we cannot trust our civilian corps outside the Kabul “Green Zone,” implying that the enemy controls all other areas. Second, by concentrating so many assets in one place we are creating a very tempting target for indirect fires (which was a very big problem in Baghdad until U.S. forces there pushed the mortar and rocket teams out of range with the “Golden Wall”). This leads to a bunker mentality. Third, it is the very approach that has proven so deadening to our efforts in A-stan– hunkering down in ultra-fortified bases (FOB’s) and commuting to the fight. Presumably, all of these civilians who will participate in PRT’s will have to be convoyed to whatever project they are supposed to be working on. These convoys will be constantly subjected to ambush and IED attacks. Before long, the cost of the convoys will mean fewer and fewer actual contacts with the real, Afghan world and an ever greater disconnect from the problems we are trying to solve.

    Tim Lynch at Free Range International has the right idea on providing aid. Too bad no one is listening.

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  • dmouse

    Tim has a new post along these lines. good read to.


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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,NGOs and was published December 16th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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