October 27, 2014

Chairman Menendez Releases Report on "Afghanistan in Transition: The U.S. Civilian Presence and Assistance Post-2014”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a report authored by the Democratic majority staff today, titled: "Afghanistan in Transition: The U.S. Civilian Presence and Assistance Post-2014.”

The report examines the development challenges that remain in Afghanistan following the recent political transition and offers a series of recommendations for U.S. assistance approach and civilian presence.

“Afghanistan stands at the crossroads as the country experiences historic political and security transitions,” Menendez said. “American lives were lost, vast resources were spent in defense of Afghanistan, and we have an obligation to ensure these gains are not reversed.  The new Afghan government also has an obligation to address corruption and use U.S. taxpayer resources responsibly. U.S. assistance in Afghanistan must be defined by increased accountability, sustainability, and effectiveness.  This Senate Foreign Relations Committee majority staff report offers a perspective on how we should consider engaging the new government in Afghanistan.”

The report includes the following recommendations:

    • Increase Incentives:  A higher proportion of U.S. assistance should be conditioned based on specific reforms by the Afghan government. The U.S. should make clear to the new government that the appointment process factors into how the U.S. allocates assistance.
    • Refocus Reform Priorities: The U.S. has set aside $100 million in a reform incentive fund for the Afghan government.  The following reforms should be prioritized in conversations with the Afghan government:
      • Enhanced Budgeting and Revenue Collection
      • Support for Women’s Political, Economic and Social Rights
      • Renewed Efforts to Address Corruption and the Illicit Economy
    • Security Assistance and Protecting Human Rights: Robust U.S. support for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be contingent on respect for human rights. The State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) must be actively engaged at every step in the process of determining the suitability of security assistance recipients.  Economic Support Fund assistance for Afghanistan should include at least $10 million for DRL grants to Afghan organizations for conducting oversight of the security sector.  Given the scale of assistance and concerns about robust oversight, this report also recommends an interagency review mechanism to address reported rights abuses.
    • Sustainability: The State Department and USAID should produce detailed plans for the sustainability of assistance programs in Afghanistan, without which Congress cannot make fully informed funding decisions. If there is not a clear plan for how program activities – especially infrastructure projects – can eventually be sustained by Afghans, USAID should not implement them. 
    • Lessons Learned and Interagency Information Sharing: There must be an interagency assessment of the efficacy of U.S. funded large-scale infrastructure projects and stabilization programs, including whether such programs achieved their stated goals, the challenges associated with civilian-military cooperation, and the unintended consequences of such programming in a conflict environment. DoD and USAID should also establish criteria whereby information on development projects implemented by the military can be safely transferred and included in the Afghan Info database.
    • On-Budget Assistance: The U.S. must increase efforts to bolster the capacity of Afghan governing institutions through direct on-budget assistance to Afghan ministries.  USAID should also enhance the capacity of government watchdog organizations that can further scrutinize the work of government ministries receiving on-budget assistance. 
    • Tiered Monitoring: The State Department and USAID should provide regular reports to Congress on the challenges of monitoring assistance programs in insecure environments.  Programs that cannot be sufficiently monitored should be terminated.  
    • The New Silk Road Initiative: The State Department should invest more sustained senior level engagement and funding to realize the goals of the New Silk Road initiative, including utilizing up to $150 million in Afghanistan Economic Support Fund assistance to bolster economic connectivity between Afghanistan and its neighbors in the region.  Planning for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 should be reviewed to ensure the dedication of adequate resources towards these objectives. The State Department and USAID should also look to better integrate the NSR initiative with its democracy and governance goals in the broader region. 
    • Communicating the Policy: The U.S. Government should clearly state the critical national security interests in Afghanistan to the American public and work to generate support for continued robust engagement.  The USG should work to reassure Afghanistan and our allies in the region that the U.S. remains committed to the security and economic prosperity of South and Central Asia.
    • Personnel: The State Department and USAID should institute staffing measures to ensure more continuity in diplomatic and assistance engagements, including more incentives for diplomats and aid workers to serve extended tours.
    • Special Immigrant Visas: As the drawdown of U.S. troops continues, the State Department should accelerate the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process to prevent any unnecessary backlog of applicants.  The U.S. Congress should expand the number of SIVs offered to Afghan staff that have worked for the U.S. and extend the program through the end of 2016. Future authorizing legislation on SIVs should also allow for newly arrived SIV recipients to work in the U.S. for the State Department, USAID or other agencies working to support U.S. interests in Afghanistan. The USG should identify creative ways to ensure that SIV recipients’ knowledge and expertise is captured to ensure continuity of effort. 
    • Promoting Regional Integration: The State Department should continue efforts to integrate the Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan into the Bureau for South and Central Asian Affairs and USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs into the Asia Bureau.

Chairman Menendez traveled to Afghanistan in February 2013 to examine U.S. assistance programs and our diplomatic posture.


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