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US Aid Hurts Afghans

By James A. Lucas

16 May , 2010

The White House tells us that we are releasing funds to rebuild Afghanistan. The reality, however, is that very little of the money actually will benefit the Afghan people. We are told that our nation is being very generous, mostly as a balm to our collective conscience to convince us to give our stamp of approval for that war which so far has cost over $260 billion in U.S. taxpayers' money. 1 This deception also helps to put a happy face on this war so that our attention is diverted from the people who are dying and wounded there.

Ann Jones, a former humanitarian worker in Afghanistan, not long ago blew the whistle on this scam. The author of Kabul in Winter , she reported that between 2002 and 2008 the U.S. pledged $10.4 billion for development but delivered only $5 billion of that amount, 47 percent of which was paid to American experts, who often were unqualified, instead of going to unemployed Afghans who were supposed to benefit from this aid. 2

Even when aid reaches the people of Afghanistan, it often brings undesirable results, since contractors pay much higher salaries than do the Afghan school systems; teachers and administrators have abandoned their jobs to take positions with these private contractors who get money to start literacy programs. Afghan institutions are supposed to be strengthened, not eviscerated as has been done in this case.

Seventy percent of our aid is tied to the purchase of American products in preference to those that originate in Afghanistan, compelling Afghans to buy American agricultural products, thus putting Afghan farmers out of business or driving even more of them into the poppy trade. This forces many of them to join the 40 percent of the Afghan workforce that is already unemployed. 3

But these revelations should not be surprising, since reports in prior years uncovered similar major deficiencies in the delivery of U.S. aid to Afghanistan.

In a report in 2002 for the Overseas Development Institute, Ashraf Ghani, the chancellor of Kabul University, stated that about 90 percent of the $1 billion spent on 400 aid projects was wasted.

The country's 280,000 civil servants earn an average of $50 per month, while about 50,000 Afghans work for aid organizations where they may earn up to $1000 a month. With more than 2,400 aid agencies and NGOs registered in that country, the government has had difficulty trying to retain its staff. 4

Also, this disparity of incomes means that foreign staff (3 – 4,000 foreign civilians), can afford to pay more for housing, and this raises rents to levels that ordinary people can't afford – in some areas up to 1,000 percent. 5

The Afghan government estimated in 2006 that it could build a highway between Kabul and Kandahar for $35 million, however it was eventually built by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID} at a cost of more than $190 million.

In 2005 the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported that U.S. clinics might be only a mile away, but it was hard for sick people to get to them. While a handful of health clinics were built the year before, they were placed where no trained doctors were located, because contractors did not consult with local officials or the Ministry of Health. 6 These errors could be life-threatening in a nation where the average life expectancy is 43 years, which has the 4th worst child mortality rate in the world. 7 and where the maternal mortality rate is the second worst in the world. 8

USAID projected that it would build 286 schools by the end of 2004, but only eight were completed. Although the Afghan government could build a school for about $40,000, an international aid agency undertook the task of building 500 schools, at a cost of $250,000 each. 9 It should be kept in mind that Afghanistan's average educational level is 1.7 years. 10

Not only is little of this U.S. humanitarian aid very helpful to ordinary Afghans, but it is often subverted by the U.S. policy of using aid as an integral part of its military counterinsurgency program under which Afghan civilians are given aid if they help the Americans' war efforts, although this purpose is couched in benign terminology which masks its true purpose. Many of the reconstruction teams see their role as providing services in exchange for intelligence-gathering and political activity directed against the insurgents.

UN officials in Afghanistan earlier this year criticized NATO forces and said that UN agencies would not participate in the military's reconstruction strategy as part of the offensive that was planned against Marja.

Wael Haj-Ibrahim, head of the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, observed that “if that aid is being delivered as part of a military strategy, the counterstrategy is to destroy that aid.” 11

Eight leading humanitarian organizations working in Afghanistan, including Oxfam and ActionAid, issued a joint report that was highly critical of the International Security Assistance Force, as the American-led NATO force is known, because of ‘the international militaries' use of aid as a ‘nonlethal' weapon of war,” a term coined by the U.S. military. .12

Territory changes occur during a war. If projects are associated with a particular group, often they will be destroyed as territory changes hands. That has happened frequently with projects like schools and clinics around the country.

Half the country is now inaccessible to UN aid workers. Attacks on aid workers have risen 400% since 2005, possibly as reprisals by the Taliban, who suspected that those workers were furnishing the U.S. military and others with information about the Taliban. Many humanitarian agencies have scaled back their programs. 13

This makes it difficult for UN aid workers to do their work. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The mere presence of foreign soldiers fighting a war in Afghanistan is probably the single most important factor in the resurgence of the Taliban.” 14

But the most effective humanitarian action the U.S. could take is to end the war. Killing and maiming Afghans is anti-humanitarian.


1. National Priorities Project, http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home

2. Ann Jones, “The Afghan Scam,” Tom Dispatch.com


3. Fund for Peace, June 22, 2009.

4. Toby Poston, “Millions of Dollars Worth of Aid Money is being wasted,” BBC News, February 26, 2006. http://www.rawa.org/rebuild2.htm

5. Edward Harris, “Many Afghans Resent Foreigners' Presence,” Yahoo! News, May 30, 2006.

6. Margaret Coker and Anne Usher, “Much of U.S. Aid in Afghanistan has Little Impact”, Cox News Service, Dayton Daily News, p. A-20, October 9, 2005.

7. 3.

8. Office of UN Humanitarian Co-Ordinator for Afghanistan, “Afghanistan Appeal 2001”

9. 6.

10. 3.

11. Rod Nordland, “U.N. Rejects ‘Militarization' of Afghan Aid,” February 18, 2010


12. 11.

13.“Afghanistan: Country Overview,” Madre, 2008


14. 13.