Subcommittee wanting

Senators urged to reform USAID for Afghan fight

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The main US foreign aid agency needs urgent reform so it can address the threat of failed states and danger posed by instability inAfghanistan and Pakistan, a former USAID chief said Wednesday.

The United States Agency for International Development has to move beyond poverty reduction as a main goal because it is "insufficient as a mission alone for USAID (to address) threats facing America," said Andrew Natsios, who ran the agency from 2001 to 2005.

The agency's efforts need instead to be directed at confronting crumbling governments to deal with "state fragility and state failure," Natsios told a Senate foreign relations hearing.

He called for the agency's central focus to be reorganized in concert with defensive efforts, notably in Afghanistan and Pakistan, because collapsed countries are the major threat to US national security interests.

"Where was (Osama) bin Laden's headquarters before he fled to Afghanistan -- a failed state? It was in Sudan, another failed state, before that in Somalia, another failed state," said Natsios, who has also served as a special envoy to Sudan with a focus on the war-wracked region of Darfur.

Natsios urged the bipartisan panel to understand that the issues need to be dealt with "from a developmental standpoint."

Threats posed by instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan are "direct and grave challenges to our national security at home," agreed Steven Radelet, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Development.

Radelet told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, titled "USAID In The 21st Century," that the agency should be directed in line with President Barack Obama's new strategy for the war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Stability in these crucial areas will remain elusive unless development outcomes are achieved," he said, noting that key parts of Obama's strategy are "core development activities."

Delivering basic health and education services, introducing alternative sources of livelihoods for Afghan poppy growers, building infrastructure and "stimulatingrobust economic growth in the impoverished border regions of Pakistan that are home to extremists" are areas in which USAID's input would be invaluable, he argued.

Natsios and Radelet said that if USAID is to act effectively, it needs autonomy from the State Department, which centers on diplomacy and is not endowed with the technical expertise for directing development.

So long as USAID is under the wing of the State Department it "remains confused and dysfunctional," Natsios said.

"Having foreign aid programs run by 20 different federal agencies embarrasses the US government abroad," he added.

"Contradictory programming, endless transactional costs in program implementation, time delays, interagency fighting, and unclear decision making" contribute to a chaotic approach to development, he said.

The bulk of US economic aid has been administered by USAID since its inception at the height of the Cold War in 1961.

But Natsios blasted what he called "a focus on downsizing USAID's presence around the world" over the last 15 years.

Citing the agency's efforts at development amidst conflicts, he argued that "you cannot win a war by withdrawing from the battlefield, which is what we're doing now ... it is a disaster.

"No great power can maintain its preeminence without a robust foreign aid program," he said.

Reconstruction funding on Afghanistan aid since 2002, according to the Congressional Research Service, has amounted to some 32 billion dollars, including seven billion of development funding directly from USAID.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged on Monday, however, that the billions of dollars in US aid spent in Afghanistan to help the country recover from decades of war and failed governance have largely been a wasted effort.

"It's heartbreaking the amount of money that was spent ... and the failure of being able to produce results," she said on her flight to The Hague for an Afghanistan conference, according to US media.