For nearly sixteen years in Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has sought to deliver effective development results in a war zone. Its most extensive program since Vietnam, the effort has pushed the agency well beyond its traditional boundary of delivering development aid. This report—which is based on field experience in Afghanistan, interviews, and a review of retrospective analyses—examines the challenges of working amid conflict while, despite generous funding, subject to shifting political and security objectives and high expectations. Its recommendations are specific and targeted to future endeavors in similar environments around the world. 

Summary

  • The demands on USAID in Afghanistan since 2002 have pushed it well outside its traditional boundaries.
  • Expectations were high that USAID would provide development to match the major U.S. military effort: delivering enduring development results in a war zone and billions of dollars of assistance in the face of ever-changing priorities and urgency in a country torn apart by decades of civil war.
  • Running throughout have been trade-offs, and at times tension between short-term security and political objectives, using quick-response actions and longer-term development efforts needed to strengthen institutions, support economic growth, reconstruct destroyed infrastructure and build a state after decades of civil war.
  • Short-term stabilization programs or long-term development programs in areas with active ongoing conflict have had limited enduring impact. Targeted humanitarian assistance has had more impact.
  • Clarity is essential for short-term, quick-impact, quick-response programs, especially in regard to related timelines, sustainability issues, risks, the impact of exogenous events on stability, governance and “hearts and minds” programs, and the broader strategic policy requirements to achieve stated U.S. political and security objectives. Keeping expectations reasonable, especially in complex environments, is imperative.
  • As much as possible in a war zone situation, proven development principles—such as local systems, sustainability, evidence-based design and implementation, strong monitoring and evaluation, and country ownership—need to be maintained. Requisite analyses up front are essential, as is focus on institutions and local capacity.

About the Report

This Special Report examines the challenges the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) encountered while working in a war zone, despite generous funding, subject to high expectations for long-term institutional development results and constantly shifting U.S. short-term political and security objectives. Based on field experience in Afghanistan, interviews with key practitioners, and a review of retrospective analyses, the report was drafted while the author was an interagency professional in residence at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). The report reflects the author’s viewpoints and opinions and not those of USAID or USIP.

About the Author

William Hammink is a recently retired career minister in the U.S. Foreign Service and has thirty-six years of experience working with USAID, including as mission director in Afghanistan, India, Sudan, and Ethiopia and assistant to the administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Related Publications

Seize This Moment for Afghan Peace Talks

Seize This Moment for Afghan Peace Talks

Monday, May 21, 2018

By: Johnny Walsh

Even though fighting continues, nearly all serious observers believe a political settlement in Afghanistan is the only plausible alternative to open-ended war. So, while Taliban leaders over the last month have announced their annual spring offensive and disputed Kabul and Washington’s sincerity about making peace, they concurrently show signs of flexibility in how they envision a potential peace deal.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

ISIS Seeks to Threaten Afghan Democracy with Latest Assault

ISIS Seeks to Threaten Afghan Democracy with Latest Assault

Thursday, May 3, 2018

By: USIP Staff; Johnny Walsh

With last week’s attack aimed at discrediting the electoral process and dissuading Afghans from participating, the Islamic State has made clear that it intends to suppress Afghanistan’s democratic development. Afghanistan’s burgeoning independent media is one of the country’s major success stories and most-trusted institutions.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Democracy & Governance

Grading Counterterrorism Cooperation with the GCC States

Grading Counterterrorism Cooperation with the GCC States

Thursday, April 26, 2018

By: Leanne Erdberg

This testimony covers the following questions: (1) How have GCC countries addressed violent extremism and terrorism within their own national borders; (2) How have GCC countries addressed violent extremism and terrorism regionally and internationally; and, (3) What recommendations can enable future GCC efforts to go beyond eliminating today’s terrorists and prevent terrorism from emerging in the first place?

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Civilian-Military Relations; Violent Extremism

Scott Worden on the Taliban in Afghanistan

Scott Worden on the Taliban in Afghanistan

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By: Scott Worden

Following the horrendous bombing outside a Kabul voter registration center, Scott Worden shares his sobering analysis and commentary about the continuing war in Afghanistan where he says most agree that a military victory is unlikely. The conflicts grinding stalemate, Fall 2018 elections and presidential elections due a year from now concern Worden especially with today’s Taliban announcement of a new fighting season and rejection of President Ghani’s peace offering.

Violent Extremism; Electoral Violence; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications