U.S. aid officials have been forced to delay three large development programs intended to support the American military strategy in southern Afghanistan at a critical, make-or-break moment in the war.
The initiatives, which are supposed to support local governments, agricultural development and job-training efforts, have been held up by bureaucratic missteps and funding cuts by Congress, according to senior U.S. officials. As a result, the programs will not begin until much of the summer fighting season has concluded.
Military commanders have voiced dismay that the initiatives, to be run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, have been pushed back. “Our flank is exposed” without these programs, said one senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan.
After repeated complaints from the military, USAID is scrambling to implement interim measures. Senior agency officials insist the delays will not affect the delivery of agricultural aid or assistance for local governance.
“There will be no gaps in USAID’s stabilization programming this summer,” said Earl Gast, the agency’s director in Afghanistan.
But in the case of the program to support local governments — designed to help train officials and fund small reconstruction projects — the interim efforts will not be as robust as the delayed initiative, according to development specialists familiar with the issue.