by Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway
In September 2002, nearly a year after an American-led coalition deposed the
Taliban, the United States launched what would become an aggressive effort
to build or refurbish as many as 1,000 schools and clinics by the end of
2004, documents show. However, design flaws and construction errors caused
the initiative to fall far short.
By September 2004, congressional figures show that the effort's centerpiece
-- a $73 million U.S. Agency for International Development program -- had
produced only 100 finished projects, most of them refurbishments of existing
buildings. As of the beginning of this month, only about 40 more had been
finished and turned over to the Afghan government.
Internal documents and more than 100 interviews in Washington and Kabul
revealed a chain of mistakes and misjudgments: The U.S. effort was poorly
conceived in a rush to show results before the Afghan presidential election
in late 2004. The drive to construct earthquake-resistant, American-quality
buildings in rustic villages led to culture clashes, delays and what a USAID
official called "extraordinary costs." Afghans complained that the initial
design for roofs made them too heavy to build in rural areas without a
crane, and the corrected design made them too light to bear Afghan snows.
Local workmen unfamiliar with U.S. construction methods sometimes produced
At the outset, USAID and its primary contractor, New Jersey-based Louis
Berger Group Inc., failed to provide adequate oversight, documents state.
Federal audits show that USAID officials in Kabul were unable to "identify
the location of many Kabul-directed projects in the field." Officials at
contracting companies and nonprofit groups complain that they were directed
to build at sites that turned out to be sheer mountain slopes, a dry
riverbed and even a graveyard.
Employees of a Maryland-based nonprofit relief agency hired to monitor
construction quality demanded a $50,000 payoff from Afghan builders -- a
scene captured in a clandestine videotape obtained by The Washington Post.
Last year, the head of the State Department's Afghanistan Reconstruction
Group, Phillip Jackson "Jack" Bell, ended his tour at the U.S. Embassy in
Kabul by delivering a blistering rebuke to USAID.
"The most important programs -- including roads, schools and clinics -- are
in serious trouble," Bell wrote, according to a draft of his previously
undisclosed memo. "The health program was well on its way to becoming a
disaster." . . .
Eric Margolis, "Deja Vu in Afghanistan,"
Toronto Sun, December 19, 2002
Andrew North, "Doubts
grow over US Afghan strategy," BBC News, November 23, 2005
Ann Jones, "Why it's not
working in Afghanistan," Asia Times, August 30, 2006
Kim Sengupta, "
Afghanistan: Campaign against Taliban 'causes misery and hunger,"
Independent, September 6, 2006
A CorpWatch Investigative Report," corpwatch.org, May 2, 2006