The noise and spectacle of the messy and ever-deteriorating situation in Iraq has diverted attention and resources away from a crucial U.S. national security priority: Afghanistan. Congress today has a chance to partially rectify this mistake.
The House today votes on an economic aid package for the country that would authorize $1.6 billion per year over the next three years for reconstruction and security assistance programs in Afghanistan. This aid would provide some of the support the country needs to achieve stability and not again become a safe haven for terrorists. This package is crucial to achieving victory in Afghanistan and in defeating global terrorist networks.
The United States has made some great strides in the five years since our armed forces—in league with our allies around the world—invaded Afghanistan and ousted the ruling Taliban regime. Kabul held its first legislative elections in 30 years, created security forces, and improved access to education and health.
But operations in Iraq have turned the country’s focus away from Afghanistan. Insufficient U.S. investment in Afghanistan’s security and stability has contributed to reversals in progress there. The insurgency is growing stronger every day in Afghanistan, supported in part by rising cash flows from the opium trade, which is thriving in the country.
Reconstruction goals have also not been met, which means Afghans suffer poor and worsening living conditions. The country remains one of the poorest in the world: Seventy percent of the population lives below the poverty line; Afghanistan’s National Human Development Report ranked the country at 173 out of 178 countries worldwide in 2004. Forty percent of people in rural areas go hungry, and Afghanistan has the highest level of malnutrition in the world at 70 percent.
An economic aid package of the size the House is considering today would assist reconstruction efforts and provide the investment Afghanistan’s economy needs as a basis for a stable state. Without a functioning economy, Afghanistan will continue to backslide until it once again becomes the safe haven for terrorists it was before the U.S. operations began—when Osama bin Laden directed the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington from Afghanistan. Furthermore, a failed economy will allow for opium production to grow, providing revenues to our enemies.
The United States and the international community need to commit to a well-funded and well-managed long-term economic development effort, and the government of Afghanistan should take the lead. Aid should be accompanied by efforts to weed out corruption, which is rampant.
Reports show that 35 to 40 percent of international aid to the country is badly spent, severely undermining President Hamid Karzai’s legitimacy while, in the process, wasting millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Critical to this effort is the appointment of a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who would provide necessary oversight for the reconstruction process in Afghanistan and ensure that the much-needed assistance to the country is invested wisely and American priorities are met.
The Afghan government should take the lead in driving its economic development, but a Special Inspector General would greatly aid efforts to reduce corruption and restore the legitimacy of the government so that it can better take on the task of rebuilding. Furthermore, an Inspector General could assist in improving insufficient coordination among U.S. government agencies involved in reconstruction.
Congress has the opportunity today to renew its commitment to an economically stable and secure Afghanistan that will not again become a safe place from which terrorists can plan their operations. The mission in Afghanistan is too important to let fail.
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