BAGRAM, Afghanistan The U.S. military is expanding its humanitarian-aid and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, work that military officials say is designed to give legitimacy to the Afghan government.
The military says such help is not nation-building, but aid agencies have accused the United States of politicizing humanitarian projects in war-shattered Afghanistan. They say the military should stick to military objectives such as searching for al Qaeda suspects.
The U.S. military plans to set up a team comprising up to 70 U.S. Army civil affairs specialists, Special Forces and security troops in the eastern Afghan town of Gardez within 30 days.
The team, including engineers and medical specialists, will work primarily as a clearinghouse for aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations doing their own projects, said U.S. Army Col. Roger King, a spokesman at Bagram air base, headquarters for the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
The team will not provide security for agencies, Col. King said, nor will it tell aid agencies which projects they should do. Such teams eventually will work in cities and towns across Afghanistan, he said.
“It is a framework to coordinate the efforts of a bunch of different people, all of whom want to do good things,” Col. King said.
Rafael Robillard of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group of about 77 nongovernmental organizations, said the effort is misguided.
He said military-coordinated aid could taint the projects of the United Nations or other agencies, and armed soldiers working in conjunction with aid workers could put agencies in danger, he said.
“With the military, they have a military objective, to pacify this country and win the war against terrorists,” Mr. Robillard said.
“Coordinating aid is our business. We don’t think a foreign army should be coordinating aid. It’s really two different visions, different missions.”
The Gardez project is a shift in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan away from combat operations, even as infantry troops, Special Forces and other U.S. agencies continue search-and-seizure missions.
U.S. officials, including Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who is overseeing the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, repeatedly have denied the United States is getting involved in nation-building. U.S. political leaders, including President Bush, have shunned the term, saying it implies the United States wants to control a country’s politics or policies.
For months, U.S. forces have been involved in humanitarian projects in Afghanistan. Civil-affairs specialists regularly consult village leaders about pressing problems. Army medics, veterinarians and engineers visit rural villages, giving medical treatment to sick or malnourished Afghans, treating animals and testing drinking-water supplies.
But the arrival last month of more than 150 additional civil affairs specialists and the new regional teams indicates a more organized approach to humanitarian and reconstruction projects.
Col. King said the arrangement will buttress local governments in the eyes of war-weary and government-wary Afghans by making relief projects more efficient. It also will help to legitimize the government of President Hamid Karzai, which has little control outside the capital, where a multinational force keeps the peace.
“What it is [doing] is giving legitimacy to the local government, or the government in Kabul, so that the Afghan people will turn to their local officials for help instead of warlords or local militias,” Col. King said.