President Barack Obama proposed his plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan last week. Given our economic constraints and the growing “war weariness” of the American public, some have lauded the proposal. However, Americans should be wary that this is an incomplete decision. As a taxpayer, the use of my tax dollars on the longest war in our history concerns me. The possibility of this money being wasted, not to mention the sacrifice made by those who have served in Afghanistan, infuriates me.
Less than a week before this speech, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report that highlights some of the major issues that will plague our continued involvement in Afghanistan. In the wake of Obama’s withdrawal plans, the report’s recommendations are even more important. Without continued support for the “civilian surge,” there is a real possibility that the progress achieved in Afghanistan will be negated.
Some great strides have been made in Afghanistan over the past 10 years. According to the Senate report, there has been a “seven fold increase” in school attendance, and 35% of these students are girls. Afghanistan has averaged 10% economic growth each year and, because of this and other factors, nearly five million people are no longer considered to be in “extreme poverty.” However, 97% of Afghanistan’s GDP is a result of international activity within the country. Many are concerned that as the United States and coalition countries remove their troops, it will push the country into a severe economic depression.
To avoid this, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommends that all projects in Afghanistan should be evaluated and whittled down to those that are “necessary, achievable, and sustainable.” The U.S. must route more of its funds through the Afghan government and should encourage others to do the same; this will increase the Afghan government’s ownership of stability and their accountability within the country. Right now, USAID only routes 38% of its projects through the Afghan government. If the U.S. wants to ensure that these projects are “sustainable,” all levels of the Afghan government must be strengthened.
If the U.S. can follow this path and straighten government capability, it can also tackle a larger problem. The private sector and international companies offer significantly higher pay than the Afghan government. “Brain drain” is rampant within the country; the most qualified take jobs with salaries the government cannot match. If money is successfully relegated through the Afghan government, government jobs will be better paid and more desirable.
It is clear that these endeavors will take continued and enhanced interaction between the U.S. and Afghan governments. According to the Senate report, each U.S. civilian costs half a million dollars. While this may seem like a high cost, a soldier in Afghanistan costs one million a year. That means, for the same price the “surge troops” cost right now, we could send as many as 60,000 civilians to aid and assist the Afghan government.
However, on Friday, Hillary Clinton suggested that the “civilian surge” will be rolled back as well. On the contrary, the U.S. should add civilians to help establish and recognize “necessary, achievable, and sustainable” programs. However, given the budget crisis and growing distaste for the war, it is unlikely that this withdrawal of civilians from Afghanistan will be overturned.
At the very least, the American public should demand transparency throughout this process. Over the next few years, all efforts should be closely monitored to ensure that these successes will continue into the future. After 10 years in Afghanistan, it would be a travesty to see a regression in the strides that have been made.
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