Do U.S. Troops Need to Stay in Afghanistan Longer?

Source:  Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah came to Washington D.C. to speak with President Barack Obama on Tuesday. The discussion spanned topics from successes so far in the working relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan, to current problems in Afghan government.

The joint statement press release outlined areas of funding the U.S. will be contributing to, and in what amounts. Some areas of support were merely diplomatic, for example peace effort support from the U.S. for work between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and cooperation on counter-terrorism interests the two share in common. Other areas will receive tangible donations and funding. So where is that money going, and what does it say about the biggest concerns in Afghanistan right now?

Election legitimacy and support of democracy

The United States “offered financial support for Afghan electoral operations and reform efforts” meaning money put toward the Afghan Special Commission for Electoral Reform following the 2014 presidential election, which marked “the first democratic and peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.” However, despite this positive rhetoric, the 2014 elections were surrounded by questions about potential fraud.”It was different from 2009; then it was the original warlords that committed the fraud. this time it was the Independent Election Commission that did it,” said Fazil Ahmad Manawi, former election commissioner, to the NYT. “This time the ballot stuffing even went on inside the provincial election offices.”
The fact that the U.S. is supplying funds to help improve this process, likely means this is a recognized problem still of some concern — even if de-legitimizing the current elected government by pointing it out is not the answer.

Support of Afghan security forces

The U.S. has also pledged to continue aiding the military and police forces in Afghanistan, which means ongoing aid to the Afghan Security Forces and retaining 9,800 troops on the ground up through the end of 2015. The plan for calling troops back home will be decided in 2015, and a “joint [counter-terrorism] patnership strategy” will be decided for the future for both countries in 2016 and onwards.

Economic and social support

In the interest of aiding the war on drugs, economic stability and expansion, and poverty reduction, the U.S. pledged $800 million to “economic assistance” for the “implementation of key policy reforms.” A USAID scholarship program will put $18 million toward helping women go to college in Afghanistan as well. There is one irony in lumping the social and economic needs and donations to Afghanistan, and the need to “combat corruption” and “increase transparency.”

It’s understandable, but ironic nonetheless. The emphasis being put toward reforming corruption has been ongoing, and has revealed the extent to which other forms of economic and structural financial aid offered by the U.S. has gone astray from its intended purpose. The mention of combating government corruption specifically was tacked on near the end of the press release, but it’s a significant one that’s had additional attention drawn to it by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

How smaller scale institutions utilize the money given is important, and transparency there is important, but it’s governmental accountability that is perhaps most important, and which can affect the efficacy of all other donations listed in the joint-statement. It’s not that corruption has eaten away at all progress made by Afghanistan’s government officials; there has indeed been progress. But corruption is still a major problem, and one that needs to be dealt with effectively by internal forces to ensure a strong future — not just with the watchful eye of U.S. oversight. Yes, it’s important to make the aid given into fully graspable help, directed where it’s needed by local eyes, rather than sand through the fingers of those who need it most.

The fact of the matter is, financial aid isn’t entirely without cynicism from the Afghan side either. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to U.S. politicians during his visit, saying the goal is to have their own security forces stand on their own feet in the next 10 years. “We don’t want your charity. We have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to get out and find a job. We are not going to be the lazy uncle Joe,” said Ghani, according to the Guardian. This hope for separation from both sides makes internal improvement and stability even more important for the future.

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