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US fund to rebuild Afghanistan criticized

31 July, 2012

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KABUL: Two years ago, as the final pieces of the Obama administration's troop surge were moving into place in southern Afghanistan, American officials identified a handful of infrastructure projects that they hoped would build popular support for the Afghan government in the Taliban's heartland.

The Pentagon and State Department secured $400 million from Congress for what was christened the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund and drew up plans for seven projects, five of them aimed at increasing the electricity supply in southern Afghanistan to light shops and power factories. The projects were to be completed by mid-2013, just as the NATO combat mission was to wind down.

Yet as the remaining surge forces prepare to leave Afghanistan, significant work on five of the seven projects has not yet begun and is unlikely to be completed until well after the NATO mission ends in 2014, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government agency charged with documenting how billions of dollars in American reconstruction funds are being spent.

As a result, a program that was intended to bring soldiers and civilians together to buttress the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy could end up undercutting it, according to the report, which is to be released Monday.

The difficulties the report describes provide insight into why the results of the surge have appeared ambiguous and the broader American-led reconstruction effort in Afghanistan has often foundered, despite the nearly $90 billion that Congress has appropriated for it over the past decade.

The American Embassy and military command in Kabul, in a joint statement, rebutted the report's findings, saying that officials had engaged in a "rigorous process" of reviewing and refining the infrastructure projects.

The projects "have signaled to the Afghan population the U.S. government's long-term commitment to Afghanistan," the statement said.

The inspector general reached a starkly different conclusion: the potential help for counterinsurgency efforts envisioned by officials is "based on completed projects that are years away from completion."

End.

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