Conflict & Justice

Pulitzer winner writes sharp takedown of failed US civilian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan


Afghan residents watch a patrol by US Army soldiers from Delta Company at Qalacha village in Kandahar on Sep. 10, 2012.


Tony Karumba

Reuters investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Rhode covered Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq for eight years.

Now he's written a book, titled "Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East," that shreds America's lack of civilian assistance programs during the wars.

Here's what "dozens of US officials" told Rohde, from an excerpt of the book published in Reuters:

Over and over, people from divergent backgrounds had reached the same conclusion: The best way to counter militancy was working through local allies and creating economic growth. Deadly force was necessary at times, but the civilian effort was as important as the military.

The US, by contrast, "rushed into countries, relied primarily on military force, and expected immediate change."

Ryan Crocker, who served as the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, explained to Rohde the American mindset of the US in those countries.

“'Let’s punch out their lights and realign their society,'” Crocker said. “And then when we find out the latter is more difficult than we expect, we say ‘OK, let’s go somewhere else.’ That’s what our enemies count on — and our allies fear.”

Rohde notes that of the roughly $1.3 trillion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, 95% went to military costs.

He cites a major Oxfam study that found that 40 percent of foreign aid spent in Afghanistan eventually returned to donor countries in the form of contractor profits and consultant salaries.

He zeroes in on DynCorp International, a former Texas-based aviation maintenance company that became the State Department's one-stop shop for everything from training local police to performing housekeeping on a base.

From Reuters:

Between 2001 and 2011, the firm received $7.4 billion in contracts from the State Department and Pentagon in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was the third-largest American contractor in the two wars, behind only the massive oil and defense conglomerate Halliburton and Agility, which provided food to US troops in Iraq.

The military firepower followed by little assistance to civilians reminds us of Charlie Wilson — the Texas Congressman who helped funnel millions of dollars to fund Afghan fighters in 1980s during their war against the Soviets but was rebuffed when asking for money for schools.

"These things happened," Wilson said. "They were glorious and they changed the world ... and then we [screwed] up the end game."

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