INTERVIEW-UK aid effort in Afghanistan "dysfunctional"
By Luke Baker
LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) – Britain’s aid efforts in Afghanistan are failing, undermining military gains and fuelling the Taliban insurgency, a think-tank with long experience in the country said on Wednesday.
The Senlis Council, an international policy group with offices across Afghanistan, said research in the country’s violent southern provinces in recent weeks showed next to no impact from Britain’s Department for International Development.
“DFID in Helmand is dysfunctional, totally dysfunctional. Basically it should be removed and its budget should go to the army, which might be better able to deliver assistance,” Norine MacDonald, Senlis’s president, told Reuters.
Senlis’s outspoken comments come at a testing time for Britain, the United States and their NATO allies, with the seven-year struggle to bring security to Afghanistan under intense scrutiny and widely seen as falling backwards.
The Department for International Development (DFID), the government’s foreign aid arm, has spent 490 million pounds ($980 mln) on Afghan reconstruction and development since 2001 and is budgeted to spend another $210 mln this year.
But Senlis, which has more than 50 employees conducting research in Afghanistan, said there was little evidence of aid and development projects working and said refugee camps that lacked aid were now hotbeds of Taliban recruitment.
“If DFID think they are making a difference in Lashkar Gah and other towns, they clearly haven’t been out to take a look. I haven’t seen any signs of DFID aid or development projects,” MacDonald said, referring to the main city in Helmand province.
DFID dismissed the criticism, saying it had spent around $70 million in Helmand in the past two years, building roads and bridges, providing sanitation and wells, and supplying funds to boost small business development.
“Our funding has helped the Afghan government to set up almost 500 community development councils, empowering local communities to meet their needs,” a spokesman for DFID said.
The organisation said it was aware of 23,000 internally diplaced people in Lashkar Gah and said it was working with the United Nations and other agencies to provide aid to them.
LOOKING FOR SUPPORT
Senlis’s criticism comes a time when Western powers our struggling to coordinate their effort to help Afghanistan.
The United States has criticised its European allies saying many of them don’t know how to conduct counter-insurgency operations and that others have shown a distinct unwillingness to commit more troops to combat roles in Afghanistan.
Around 42,000 troops under NATO command are currently serving in Afghanistan, a fraction of the force in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Britain on Wednesday for talks with Foreign Secretary David Miliband, ratcheting up efforts to coordinate the Afghanistan operation and see if it can strengthened.
But there are also frictions between NATO and the Afghanistan leadership. Afghan President Hamid Karzai last month rejected the United Nations’ choice of Britain’s Paddy Ashdown — a former high representative in Bosnia — to be “super-envoy” to the country, regarding him as too much of a “viceroy”.
Senlis said in its report “Afghanistan – Decision Point 2008” that NATO needed to double its force if it were to have any impact against the Taliban, which it said was fully entrenched throughout southern regions of the country.
MacDonald said Taliban militants, or those allied to the movement, were in control of most roads in Helmand and were running checkpoints dressed in stolen Afghan police uniforms. (Editing by David Clarke and Ralph Boulton)