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Roads over clinics

Started in Iraq to provide junior officers with authority to spend money quickly on small, high-impact projects, the CERP program was designed to complement the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). However, under Gen. Eikenberry, roads became a focal point.

At one point, said a senior military officer who served under Gen. Eikenberry, road projects accounted for nearly 70 percent of CERP funding, exceeding the capacity of the Army Corps of Engineers and leading to an 18-month backlog. The officer asked not to be named to avoid prejudicing his career.

In an Oct. 2005 memo obtained by The Times, Gen. Eikenberry informed his staff that “CERP will shift focus from projects to programs [systems]; higher capital program packages to build more capacity [i.e. roads program. I will retain flexibility throughout the fiscal year to shift funds as necessary.]”

In June 2006, Gen. Eikenberry testified before the House Armed Services Committee that better access to markets created more income for Afghan farmers and an alternative to growing opium poppies.

However, then-acting USAID Administrator James Kunder told the same hearing that the roads being built generally did not help farmers because there were not sufficient markets for them to sell their goods.

Mr. Neumann said it was wrong to suggest that they were building roads to nowhere, since “in many cases,markets don’t exist until you have roads to get to them.”

“I totally believe roads and [electric] power were the most important things we could do in Afghanistan,” he said. “As General Eikenberry has repeatedly said, ‘Where the roads stop, the Taliban begin.’ ”

Mr. Neumann conceded that the Corps of Engineers at times became overextended, but he added, “So did everyone else.”

About this time, Afghan Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi was told that no funds were available for urgent humanitarian needs, ministry officials said.

A series of high-profile projects promised by Ambassador Khalilzad, such as an agricultural school, were canceled, the two U.S. officials said. They said a burn unit built with CERP funds in Herat did not get sufficient funding to be sustainable.

Waste and abuse

At the end of last year, money spent under CERP exceeded $700 million, according to the U.S. Embassy. The huge sums opened the program to allegations of waste and abuse.

For example, the commander of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in eastern Afghanistan told a local governor: “I have $20 million to spend. What would you like me to do with it?” The comment was included in a field report given to one of the two U.S. officials by a Defense Department inspector.

In another instance, a former PRT commander in the eastern province of Ghazni used millions of dollars in CERP funds to begin building an airport in an area where one already existed.

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