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How Foreign Aid in Afghanistan Can Keep Americans Secure

How Foreign Aid in Afghanistan Keeps Americans Secure
Afghanistan has a long history of anti-American sentiment and an alarming record of human rights abuses. So it may seem like a non-sequitur that USAID just pledged an additional $791 million of foreign aid in Afghanistan. As it turns out, though, that money plays an important role in national security.

American wars in the Middle East were only the culmination of a long series of events that have left Afghanistan dangling precipitously on the edge of stability. Soviet occupation was followed by a bitter civil war that pitted Afghan communists against Mujahideen insurgents. That war gave rise to the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist political party that has been responsible for more than three-fourths of civilian casualties every year since 2010. Though elections in the country have been held regularly since 2004, they have often been undermined by widespread intimidation and electoral fraud.

Given Americans’ qualms about sending monetary support to undemocratic regimes — and Afghanistan is undemocratic by any measuring stick — it seems odd that the country would receive such a substantial portion of USAID’s budget. In fact, in 2012, more money was funneled into Afghanistan than into the next three recipients (Pakistan, Jordan and Ethiopia) combined. If the United States is committed to promoting human rights and government accountability across the globe, why does it devote so many funds to a country that neither shares its values nor respects its demands for transparency?

The answer, in large part, lies in promoting stability. USAID is often associated with distributing much-needed goods like food, medicine and hygiene supplies. But that is far from its only role. Of the $12.9 billion spent in Afghanistan in 2012, fully 75 percent went towards security assistance, helping to train military and police forces.

This was necessary, of course, as Americans were preparing to withdraw — a move with the potential to destabilize the Middle East entirely. By investing nearly $10 billion in fortifying the Afghan military and another $3 billion in its economic development, USAID hoped to leave the region secure enough to avoid having to send troops back in.

The American military withdrawal did not go as planned, of course, but the foreign aid in Afghanistan continues. The fresh wave of $791 million will be invested in Afghan-led, sustainable development, a reaffirmation of the U.S. desire to fortify Afghan institutions and invest in its people — and a strategy for avoiding having to re-engage in military conflict in the future.

U.S. Central Command Commander General James Mattis once remarked before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Given the spending priorities for U.S. aid in Afghanistan, it is clear that the money directed at the country is important to preserving stability in the Middle East, which, ultimately, serves to keep Americans safe.

Madeleine Read

Photo: Flickr