U.S. Commits to Billions in Afghanistan Aid

At the international aid conference in Tokyo there was another sign that the U.S. will continue to spend billions on aid to Afghanistan, despite serious questions about how aid dollars are spent.

At the conference donor nations pledged $16 billion in non-security aid to Afghanistan over the next four years. The U.S. contribution was not specified, but Secretary of State Clinton said that the administration intends to keep aid to Afghanistan “at or near the levels of the past decade through the year 2017.”

According to news reports the expected U.S. contribution to Afghanistan aid is $1 billion to $2.3 billion per year for the next five years. Given that U.S. non-security aid to Afghanistan has topped $1.5 billion per year since 2002, future aid levels seems likely to be at the high end of that range. That means total non-security funding will come to some $8 billion over the next four years.

Of course, that includes only economic and humanitarian aid. Security aid will cost even more. In 2013 the Pentagon requested $5.7 billion to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces, down from the previous year’s $11.2 billion. After 2014 the U.S. contribution to Afghan security aid will go down even further, possibly to $2.3 billion. Despite the steady downward trend, the four year total for security aid will easily surpass $10 billion.

The U.S. seems to be making a feeble attempt — very feeble; only in Afghanistan could $18 billion over four years be considered a cut —  to stem the massive flow of aid dollars to Afghanistan. But what’s missing is an attempt to improve accountability in Afghanistan aid.

At the Tokyo conference donors paid lip service to accountability by making up to 20 percent of the $16 billion contingent on Afghanistan’s efforts to fight corruption and improve accountability. But individual nations direct their own aid dollars, and there is no sign that the U.S., which has poured billions into Afghanistan over the past decade despite evidence of rampant corruption, will change its policy.

An estimated 85 percent of Afghanistan aid is eaten up in overhead costs or lost to waste and corruption. Instead of taking steps to make aid dollars more efficient, U.S. policymakers keep sending billions to Afghanistan. In 2002, that policy was wasteful and foolish, creating an aid bubble in Afghanistan that will burst when NATO pulls troops and funding. In 2012, pouring billions into Afghanistan aid without ensuring that it is well spent is not just foolish, it is actually dangerous. With a sluggish economy and more important defense priorities, there are better uses for U.S. taxpayer dollars.

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