WASHINGTON – By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.
The story of the Kajaki dam, the largest U.S. aid project in Afghanistan, is emblematic of the U.S. government's failing approach to development aid in Afghanistan, according to a policy brief by Mark Moyar, a former professor at the Marine Corps University and frequent consultant to U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and the Mideast.
Development aid "should be slashed immediately," Moyar concludes. Less money should be accompanied by a narrower focus away from common good programs designed to lift the whole of Afghan society and accompanied by clearer security objectives behind each program, Moyar said.
Moyar's critique of the U.S. approach to aid and development in the nearly 10-year-old war will appear this week in an online scholarly publication, Small Wars Journal, which is widely read by military officers and academics.
He argues that grand gestures such as the dam have flopped, largely because development spending does little to increase popular support during an insurgency. Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America's enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.
The assessment challenges basics of counterinsurgency theory as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan approaches and American commanders claim tactical gains ahead of the planned start of a U.S. withdrawal in July. And it comes amid questions over how the process will play out in provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, where the U.S. has devoted large amounts of money to areas it has struggled to control.
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