Securing, Stabilizing, and Reconstructing Afghanistan:

Key Issues for Congressional Oversight

GAO-07-801SP: Published: May 24, 2007. Publicly Released: May 24, 2007.

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Charles M. Johnson, Jr
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Office of Public Affairs
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Since 2001, the United States has appropriated over $15 billion to help secure, stabilize, and reconstruct Afghanistan. In February 2007, the administration requested $12.3 billion in additional funding to accelerate some of these efforts to prevent the conflict-ridden nation from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists and from devolving into a narco-state. More than 50 nations, including the United States, and several multilateral organizations are engaged in securing, stabilizing, and reconstructing Afghanistan. Progress has been made in areas such as economic growth, infrastructure development, and training of the Afghan army and police, but after more than 5 years of U.S. and international efforts, the overall security situation in this poor and ethnically diverse country has not improved and, moreover, has deteriorated significantly in the last year. The lack of security limits the success of efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan. Direct challenges to these efforts include a resurgence of the Taliban, the limited capabilities of Afghan security forces, inadequate infrastructure, limited government capacity, corruption, a largely illiterate and untrained labor force, a dramatic increase in drug production, and a lack of viable licit economic opportunities. Since 2003, we have issued five reports on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan--one on food and agricultural assistance, two on reconstruction assistance, one on efforts to establish Afghan national security forces, and one on drug control programs. We identified programmatic improvements that were needed, as well as many obstacles that limited success and should be taken into consideration in program design and implementation. A key improvement we identified in most of the U.S. efforts was the need for improved planning, including the development of strategic plans with elements such as measurable goals, specific time frames, cost estimates, and identification of external factors that could significantly affect efforts. Some additional needed improvements we identified include better coordination among the United States and other donor nations, more flexible options for program implementation, and timelier project implementation. We also concluded that several obstacles, especially deteriorating security and the limited institutional capacity of the Afghan government, challenge the effectiveness of U.S. efforts.

Responsiveness to our recommendations for programmatic improvements varied. Progress to date has been mixed in all areas we have reported on, including reform of Afghanistan's security sector. We reported that progress needs to be congruent in all five pillars of the security reform agenda established by the United States and several coalition partners. The United States has been involved to some degree with each of the five pillars and initially was charged with taking the lead in establishing the Afghan army, but has since allocated significant resources to reconstituting the police and countering the illicit drug trade. Although some army and police units have been trained and equipped, Defense reports that none are capable of independent operations, Afghanistan still has no formal national judicial system for the police to rely upon, opium poppy cultivation is at record levels, and the Afghan police often find themselves facing better armed drug traffickers and militias. In the absence of national security forces capable of independently providing security for the country, the International Security Assistance Force is helping to provide security for Afghanistan. Though reconstruction assistance helped Afghanistan elect its first president, return millions of children to school, and repatriate millions of refugees, Afghanistan continues to face reconstruction challenges, which are exacerbated by the security-related concerns. Defense, State, and U.S. Agency for International Development officials have suggested that securing, stabilizing, and reconstructing Afghanistan will take at least a decade and require continuing international assistance. Defense revised its plans to adapt to the deteriorating security situation and to rapidly increase the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces to operate with less coalition support. These modified plans call for a total of $7.6 billion for the ANSF in 2007, which is over a threefold increase compared with fiscal year 2006 and represents more than all of the U.S. assistance for the ANSF in fiscal years 2002 through 2006 combined. The costs of these and other efforts will require difficult trade-offs for decision makers as the United States faces competing demands for its resources, such as securing and stabilizing Iraq, in the years ahead.

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