U.S. Backs Off Rebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq

WaPo fronts news that the United States is pulling back in its Aghanistan rebuilding efforts.

U.S. Cedes Duties in Rebuilding Afghanistan

Four years into a mammoth reconstruction effort here that has been largely led, funded and secured by Americans, the United States is showing a growing willingness to cede those jobs to others. The most dramatic example will come by this summer, when the U.S. military officially hands over control of the volatile southern region — plagued by persistent attacks from Islamic militias — to an international force led by the NATO alliance. The United States will cut its troop strength by 2,500, even though it is not clear how aggressively NATO troops will pursue insurgents, who have shown no sign of relenting. At the same time, the U.S. government is increasingly allowing Western allies, or Afghans themselves, to take on the tasks of rebuilding a country that has suffered more than two decades of fighting and remains beset by poverty, drugs and insurgency.

The United States says that its shifting approach complements Afghanistan’s evolution into a self-sustaining democracy and that Washington has no plans to pull out altogether. “The Afghans have to have enough space to make their own decisions, even to stumble sometimes,” said U.S. Ambassador Ronald Neumann. “But we shouldn’t leave them without critical support before they’re strong enough.”

As the U.S. presence becomes less visible, however, Afghans are starting to question whether the U.S. support is sufficient. Some Afghan officials express concern that the Bush administration’s priorities are simply shifting elsewhere and that the United States may abandon their country prematurely, much the way it did in the early 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

Funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which topped $1 billion for 2005 and has helped build highways, schools and clinics across the country during the last four years, will be reduced to just over $600 million in 2006, unless Congress appropriates more money.

On one of the biggest threats facing the country, the illicit drug trade, the United States has largely ceded leadership to the British government and is pinning its hopes on Afghan provincial governors to eradicate poppy fields. Although U.S. officials have warned repeatedly about the need to curb the burgeoning opium business, they have so far spent only modest amounts to help and now say Kabul must take the initiative.

Politically, too, the United States has been less willing to exert its influence. The previous ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, played a strong, high-profile role here, negotiating directly with recalcitrant regional leaders and openly advising President Hamid Karzai. Neumann, who arrived several months ago, is a quieter presence who rarely interferes in Karzai’s decisions. Earlier last month, to the surprise of many Afghans, the U.S. Embassy stood by silently during a struggle for the leadership of the new parliament, in which Karzai’s government was believed to have backed a radical Islamic scholar and ex-militia leader accused of past human rights abuses over a more moderate candidate who had run against Karzai for president.

Some foreign allies are encouraged by the signs that the United States is willing to loosen its grip and allow others a greater role in the country’s rebirth. Several Afghan officials said they welcomed the increased responsibility. “We don’t want to be a permanent burden on the international community,” said Defense Minister Rahim Wardak. “This country has been defended by us for 5,000 years. That is our duty.” Still, Wardak noted, the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. support after the decade-long Soviet occupation ended in 1989 precipitated a civil war that culminated with the Taliban movement taking power. “I hope the international community, and especially the U.S., has learned the lesson of what happened,” he said. “I hope that history will not repeat itself this time.”

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s front page report by on a similar trend in Iraq.

U.S. Has End in Sight on Iraq Rebuilding

he Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say. The decision signals the winding down of an $18.4 billion U.S. rebuilding effort in which roughly half of the money was eaten away by the insurgency, a buildup of Iraq’s criminal justice system and the investigation and trial of Saddam Hussein. Just under 20 percent of the reconstruction package remains unallocated. When the last of the $18.4 billion is spent, U.S. officials in Baghdad have made clear, other foreign donors and the fledgling Iraqi government will have to take up what authorities say is tens of billions of dollars of work yet to be done merely to bring reliable electricity, water and other services to Iraq’s 26 million people.

“The U.S. never intended to completely rebuild Iraq,” Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the work, told reporters at a recent news conference. In an interview this past week, McCoy said: “This was just supposed to be a jump-start.”

Since the reconstruction effort began in 2003, midcourse changes by U.S. officials have shifted at least $2.5 billion from the rebuilding of Iraq’s decrepit electrical, education, water, sewage, sanitation and oil networks to build new security forces for Iraq and to construct a nationwide system of medium- and maximum-security prisons and detention centers that meet international standards, according to reconstruction officials and documents. Many of the changes were forced by an insurgency more fierce than the United States had expected when its troops entered Iraq.

In addition, from 14 percent to 22 percent of the cost of every nonmilitary reconstruction project goes toward security against insurgent attacks, according to reconstruction officials in Baghdad. In Washington, the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction puts the security costs of each project at 25 percent.

U.S. officials more than doubled the size of the Iraqi army, which they initially planned to build to only 40,000 troops. An item-by-item inspection of reallocated funds reveals how priorities were shifted rapidly to fund initiatives addressing the needs of a new Iraq: a 300-man Iraqi hostage-rescue force that authorities say stages operations almost every night in Baghdad; more than 600 Iraqis trained to dispose of bombs and protect against suicide bombs; four battalions of Iraqi special forces to protect the oil and electric networks; safe houses and armored cars for judges; $7.8 million worth of bulletproof vests for firefighters; and a center in the city of Kirkuk for treating victims of torture.

At the same time, the hundreds of Americans and Iraqis who have devoted themselves to the reconstruction effort point to 3,600 projects that the United States has completed or intends to finish before the $18.4 billion runs out around the end of 2006. These include work on 900 schools, construction of hospitals and nearly 160 health care centers and clinics, and repairs on or construction of nearly 800 miles of highways, city streets and village roads.

While progress in both Afghanistan and Iraq are impressive given the starting points and the presence of large guerilla sabotage campaigns, much more is needed. As Juan Cole notes,

The US gives $2 billion a year to Egypt and $3 billion a year (actually much more) to Israel. The US budget is something like $2 trillion. Isn’t rebuilding Afghanistan to the point where it doesn’t fall into chaos again and threaten the world as a result worth as much as helping Egypt and Israel remain at peace? Half of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product now comes from poppy sales. Europe is being flooded with its heroin, and the danger of narco-terrorism on a Colombian scale is ever present.

Even if it makes tactical sense for there to be a non-U.S. face on these efforts, it is certainly within our budget and our interests to shell out a couple billion a year targeted rebuilding efforts in these societies.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Congress, Democracy, Middle East, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ken says:

    At the same time, the hundreds of Americans and Iraqis who have devoted themselves to the reconstruction effort point to 3,600 projects that the United States has completed or intends to finish before the $18.4 billion runs out around the end of 2006. These include work on 900 schools, construction of hospitals and nearly 160 health care centers and clinics, and repairs on or construction of nearly 800 miles of highways, city streets and village roads.

    That 18.4 billion dollars, borrowed from the Communist Chinese, will cost us taxpayers twice that when interest payments are included. Interest paid by American taxpayers to the Communists, of course.

    Any American can think of far more worthy projects, right here at home, that money should have been spent on instead of in Iraq.

  2. Devil's Advocate says:

    Yeah, Bush needs the money and the troops to go to war with Iran. I heard rumors that the Irani would welcome us with flowers, candies, smiles, and hugs…

  3. Wayne says:


    Could you give a link to someone in Bush administration that said that Iraq would welcome us with flowers, candies, smiles, and hugs? I heard references to it by the left many times but have never seen a quote from anyone in the administration.

  4. McGehee says:

    I second Wayne’s request. The only clear memory I have of any such claim at the time is from war opponents using it as a strawman.

  5. Shocked says:

    I recall Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld all suggesting that we would be greeted as “liberators” by the Iraqi population in various venues including congressional hearings and Sunday news programs. Those statements probably morphed into flowers and hugs, etc. by opponents of the war. I will try to find specific links to those statements made by Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

  6. Anderson says:

    Hilzoy at ObWi has a good roundup. The “flowers” stuff is shorthand, but what was really said was bad enough. I reproduce briefly some of her quotes:

    Cheney: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.”

    Rumsfeld: “‘There is no question but that they would be welcomed [upon invading Iraq],’ Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces. ‘Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaeda would not let them do.'”

  7. James Joyner says:

    I would note that both Cheney and Rumsfeld were right. Rumsfeld’s observation is hardly disputed, is it? Christopher Hitchens deals well with the other.

  8. anjin-san says:

    The most damaging document supporting this claim is not secret, and remains one of the most important artifacts of the prewar debate. It is the transcript of “Meet the Press” from March 16, 2003, in which Vice President Cheney gave voice to the administration’s optimistic assumptions that have now been laid low by reality.

    Host Tim Russert asked whether “we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there” in Iraq “for several years in order to maintain stability.” Cheney replied: “I disagree.” He wouldn’t say how many troops were needed, but he added that “to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.”

    Russert asked: “If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?”

    Cheney would have none of it. “Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I’ve talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. . . . The read we get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but what they want [is to] get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.”

    Russert: “And you are convinced the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shiites will come together in a democracy?”

    Cheney: “They have so far.” And the vice president concluded: “I think the prospects of being able to achieve this kind of success, if you will, from a political standpoint, are probably better than they would be for virtually any other country and under similar circumstances in that part of the world.”


  9. Anderson says:

    JJ, the problem was that Cheney & Rumsfeld didn’t bother to ask what happened the day after that. If they were a corporation, they’d be liable for gross negligence.

  10. Wayne says:


    We were greeted as liberators by most Iraqis and still considered by most Iraqis to be liberators. It only takes a small faction to cause troubles. Just look at the violence in many of the US major cities, which is higher the violence in Iraq.

    As for your statement that Cheney opinion that “to suggest that we need several hundred thousand troops there after military operations cease, after the conflict ends, I don’t think is accurate. I think that’s an overstatement.” One can say conflict hasn’t ended but that would be lame. However, Cheney was correct. The approximate average has been around 120 to 130 thousand. So it hasn’t even reached a couple of hundred thousand and falls well short of several hundred thousand. So where in the statement in the Meet the Press interview was Cheney opinion wrong?

  11. anjin-san says:

    Clearly we have never had enough troops on the ground to really secure the country. Does anyone dispute that the current level is insufficient to get the job done?

  12. anjin-san says:


    You speak for “most Iraqis”?

    Wonder what most Iraqis think of that…

  13. McGehee says:

    Wonder what most Iraqis think of that…

    Go ask them.

  14. LJD says:


    You provided lots of nice references to prove a point about your ASSUMPTION: that things are not going well, that there are not enough troops on the ground, that the insurgency is winning…

    Do yourself a favor, stop watching network news.

  15. Eli Rabett says:

    Reality is a mixed bag

    For example Taking everything into account, do you think the coalition invasion of Iraq has done more harm than good (46%) or more good than harm (33%)? The same (16%)

    Is Iraq much better off (11%), somewhat better off 31%), somewhat worse off (24%) or much worse off (15%) than before the U.S. invasion? Bout the same (17%)

    Read the whole thing. Question 12 is extremely depressing.

  16. LJD says:

    Why cherry pick the responses to paint a grim picture? Although the Iraqis understandably show some negativity, they seem to be doing o.k. From the survey you provided:

    1. 95% of those surveyed have a TV.
    7.A. Without electricity- Before the war: 68%, In the last 4 weeks: 47% (improvement)
    7.B. Without clean water- Before the war: 36%, In the last 4 weeks: 32% (improvement)
    7.F. Afraid to worship- Before: 54%, After: 5% (How interesting!)
    7.G. Freer to speak mind: 64% (No kidding?)
    24. 84% have the same or increased their family income since the invasion.

    Their negativity towards our troops does not seem to be based on their experiences, rather the sensationalism in the media (unfortunately ours included) On how the troops have conducted themselves:
    9. 54% based on things “they’ve heard” (CNN?). 7% based on personal experience.
    13. Only 6% of those surveyed (and their families) had any contact with US Military at all!

    Do they want our help, and do they think their freedom was worth it?
    16. If the coalition left today, 53% would feel LESS safe.
    17. If it was not for the US and GB, 89% feel Saddam would NOT have been ousted.
    23. 61% feel ousting Saddam was WORTH IT.

    How do they feel about their security and the “assistance” received from their Arab neighbors?
    20. 69% feel they would be in danger because of supporting the CPA.
    22. 66% say the Arab world was too supportive of Saddam.

    My point is that there is a big difference between how the Iraqis feel, and how they’re actually doing. Just like here in the US, they’re bombarded by negative images in the media. So, if you’re depressed, it’s only because you choose to be.

  17. julia says:

    Funds to rebuild and implement things like the “ink blot” strategy were troops hold a locality, an improving infrastructure and economy soften the population and control is passed to locals would seem essential.

    Howver key figures in the Bush administration don’t believe in foreign aid or nation building. And perhaps coincidently control of reconstruction in Iraq is being passed from these parties to the State Department.

    I have long believed that those who truly hope for success in this war should stop focusing on leftists and demand explanations of specifics and analysis of problems rather than vague, Stalinist promises.

    This is an example of what we should focus on, not Howard Dean or all the rest, but proof that this war is being waged seriously.

  18. Robert says:


    The war isn’t being waged seriously.
    It’s being waged the way it is, because it breeds chaos.
    When there is chaos it is easier to steal.
    How do you think that $8 billion was lost?

    I know, the RNC told you it was welfare queens driving their Cadillacs and illegal immigrants.
    The RNC lies, and the press (which are run as for-profit corporations) are paid BIG MONEY to keep Americans confused.

    And it works.
    Good for them. Bad for Americans.

  19. anjin-san says:


    I think the last time I watched network news was in the 80s. I get my news from the Economist, US News & World Report, World Press Review & The Christian Science Monitor.

    So I guess your “assumption” is that anyone who does not agree with you is too lame to find hard news and misled by the dreaded “MSM”…

  20. LJD says:

    Oh, my mistake. I meant to say Comedy Central.