Afghan Oversight Hearing Shows Civilian Surge is Progress, but Even Strong Civilian Capacity Needed

July 19, 2010 By Meghan Simonds

Last Thursday, the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee held its first in a series of hearings about Afghan corruption problems and U.S. aid to Afghanistan.  The hearing comes as part of Chairwoman Lowey’s commitment to investigate concerns about rampant corruption in the country as she withholds $3.9 billion in FY 2011 U.S. assistance for Afghanistan.

During the hearing, members of the Subcommittee raised alarm about corruption in the Afghan government and the need for greater accountability of how U.S. taxpayer dollars are being utilized.  Witnesses, including the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Major General Arnold Fields, USMC, (Ret.), assured that investigations are underway.

At the same time, the hearing highlighted that the American civilian surge in Afghanistan is a sign of progress.  Both General Fields and GAO’s Director of International Relations and Trade, Charles Johnson, praised the civilian surge in Afghanistan as a measure of such progress.  When asked by Chairwoman Lowey about progress being made with respect to U.S. assistance funding, Johnson said, “The one area that we have reported on and we have seen some progress in is the fact that the U.S. government now has identified a specific strategy for Afghanistan and has developed an integrated civilian-military coordinated plan for Afghanistan.”

USAID Inspector General, Donald Gambatesa, indicated that there is still a need for more American civilians on the ground, particularly from USAID, to bolster our efforts there.  General Fields’ testimony expressed the same need.  Answering Chairwoman Lowey’s question on progress he said, “During my most recent visit to Afghanistan, which was in May, I’ve seen evidence, really, of the civilian surge actually taking hold. We’re not there with appropriate numbers. We’re not there yet with the distribution of those civilians, but our audit work will bear this out.”

Their testimony, highlighting the need for increasing civilian capacity abroad in Afghanistan, shows the ever-growing call for a “smart power” approach to our development and diplomacy abroad.