Wednesday, January 05, 2011

New US Congress will look into cutting Afghanistan development aid

In US politics, many Republicans were voted into Congress because they promised to cut government spending that the public viewed as out of control. When they begin, the new members of Congress will look to make major cuts in development aid to Afghanistan.

Under President Obama, development aid become just as important as military power in the Afghanistan strategy, so the budget for that aid increased greatly under him. Republicans will look to cut back the State Department budget while not upsetting their friends in the military. Critics warn that such cuts could hurt the easing poverty in Afghanistan, which has certainly helped to fuel the war.

From the Mail and Guardian, writer Missy Ryan tells us the next political battle and how it might impact Afghanistan's poverty.

A senior Republican aide said many lawmakers in the new Congress would be reluctant to fund State Department or aid programmes, especially those in conflict zones, in part because they believed the department had poorly managed its activities in Iraq.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who will chair the new House Foreign Affairs Committee, has said she will seek to cut "fat" across State Department and foreign aid spending.

The Democratic aide warned such cuts would impair Washington's ability to buy some stability in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan with programmes to build roads, train government officials and more during a pivotal period.

But Democrats will also be taking a harder look at reconstruction efforts as lawmakers heed the lessons of November polls, which reflected voter worries about the struggling economy, jobs and burgeoning US debt.

Both parties are concerned about the effectiveness of aid efforts that have been marred by reports of corruption even as Washington in 2010 rolled out its "civilian surge" that tripled the number of diplomats and aid workers.

A special auditor for Afghan reconstruction said last month waste and fraud may have cost taxpayers "well into the millions, if not billions, of dollars" since the United States began such efforts following the Taliban ouster in 2001.

For fiscal 2011, Obama has requested about $16-billion to build Afghan security forces, improve a weak government and fund development, roughly the same amount set aside for 2010.

Intensified civilian efforts are a cornerstone of Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, where officials seek to deter locals from supporting the Taliban by providing basic services and tackling poverty, just as vital as military operations.

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