Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

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“Rebuilding Afghanistan’s shattered agrarian economy is fundamental to President Barack Obama’s strategy of stabilizing the country and turning around an increasingly deadly war that claimed a record 76 U.S. and allied casualties last month. Where security and agriculture have improved, opium-poppy cultivation has fallen. If that can be achieved nationwide, the Taliban insurgency would lose a major source of revenue, and Obama could reassure a Congress dubious of investing more in aid where past programs have failed.”

“We can’t succeed in Afghanistan if the Afghan people aren’t successful in agriculture,” says Otto J. Gonzalez, a farming adviser to Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While eight in 10 Afghan workers are farmers, agriculture accounts for only one-third of economic output, which the International Monetary Fund estimates at about $12 billion. The illicit poppy economy is worth as much as $3 billion annually to traffickers, warlords and the Taliban, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.”

[…]

Obama’s strategy is to coordinate military and noncombat efforts: Troops clear an area of insurgents, and civilians help restore the local economy and government services.

He will have added 21,000 U.S. forces for a total of 68,000 by year-end and will almost double the number of aid workers and diplomats to 1,000. The U.S. Agriculture Department will have 64 staff members by early 2010, up from three in 2003. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry wants even more; he’s requested 350 additional civilians.

Holbrooke called the focus on farming “the most successful thing we’ve done so far,” during an Aug. 12 panel hosted by the Center for American Progress, a Washington public-policy group. “We have increasing evidence that it’s really disrupting the Taliban,” denying them money to buy weapons and pay underemployed peasants to fight, he said.

That would be welcome news. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has bemoaned the “heartbreaking” waste of billions of dollars on failed aid programs, and U.S. lawmakers have threatened to slash funding if Obama can’t prove his plan is working. He budgeted a record $2.76 billion in noncombat assistance for Afghanistan this year and has requested $2.8 billion for 2010.

Keep in mind – the US turned Vietnam into a net importer of rice through USAID during the war there…

You can read the full Bloomberg story here: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a3gmOHmrBxcs

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Written by johnwendle

August 27, 2009 at 11:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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