Monday, August 2, 2004

The United States lacks the security forces in Afghanistan to match an “increasing threat” from terrorist insurgents killing civilian workers, and the State Department is not adequately staffing the embassy in the capital of Kabul, says an internal Bush administration memorandum.

The memo, completed in late June and being circulated inside the government, is an assessment of where reconstruction efforts stand nearly three years after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime, which supported al Qaeda.

U.S. officials who have seen the paper say it paints a less-optimistic picture of the ongoing counterinsurgency than recent public statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In one example, the memo indicts the State Department for failing to place any Dari-speaking officers in the embassy to assist Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American fluent in his native language.

“Afghanistan has been designated as the second-highest priority of [U.S. government] foreign policy,” says the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. “In practice, Afghanistan is not receiving that priority of support. The State Department and [U.S. Agency for International Development or USAID] are struggling to provide professional staff in the numbers, with adequate tour lengths and qualifications needed to support the [U.S.] foreign-policy goals in Afghanistan.”

It adds, “There is a serious disconnect between Afghanistan’s status as the U.S. government’s second-highest foreign-policy priority and the reality of the staffing resources it receives. Both State and USAID need to re-examine their staffing policies to more effectively [meet] the Afghan Embassy’s needs.”

The seven-page report was written for the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan by a former U.S. official who worked for the coalition in the country. Officials who provided the memo asked that the writer not be identified.

The report says a system of coalition-sponsored provincial reconstruction teams has been successful in building schools and other facilities.

The problem is that the Taliban-al Qaeda terrorists are getting more effective in finding and killing undefended civilian workers not normally working within a team. The death rate, in turn, is prompting some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civilian contractors to pull out of Afghanistan. Only about two dozen foreign-assistance workers remain in the Kandahar province, south of Kabul.

The memo singles out these NGOs, some civilian contractors and USAID for not doing a particularly good job of protecting their workers. The paper says security efforts “have not been effective.” USAID spearheads the massive reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

“Most NGOs provide no security for their teams under the erroneous view that the Taliban and al Qaeda will perceive them to be politically neutral humanitarian workers,” the official writes. “Even experienced contractors have largely limited their security arrangements to posting sentries along and around major construction sites. The high casualty rates among the sentries and work party personnel confirm the inadequacy of this approach as well.

“It is possible that more people will be killed doing civilian reconstruction work than killed in military operations.”

The death toll is forcing American policy-makers to shift more projects to the protection of provincial reconstruction teams, which include a mix of contractors and the troops to protect them. But the reach of the teams is limited, because of the requirements for communications and access to aviation assets.

Thus, the memo charges, the U.S.-led coalition suffers from an “absence of a comprehensive strategy and program to address this problem.”

The answer, the former U.S. official says, is for coalition’s military arm, the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, to take on more security responsibilities.

“In some particularly insecure areas, the military may have to take over some critical programs in order to complete them on a reasonable schedule,” the memo says.

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