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Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan

July 29, 2014 Comments off

Lack of Planning in $34.4 Million Department of Agriculture Soybean Program in Afghanistan (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

The Honorable Tom Vilsack Secretary U.S. Department of Agriculture

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for your response to my inquiry letter dated April 17, 2014, concerning the Soybeans for Agricultural Renewal in Afghanistan Initiative (SARAI) funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). After examining the materials that you provided, I’m concerned about the viability of the project and the apparent lack of analysis and planning performed prior to the project’s initiation. I’m most troubled by the following issues:

• The USDA confirmed that soybean production in Afghanistan has not met expectations and that there are doubts concerning the long-term sustainability of a soybean processing factory built as part of the project.

• The project’s implementer, the American Soybean Association, did not conduct feasibility or value-chain studies prior to initiation of the project in 2010.

• Scientific research conducted for the UK Department for International Development between 2005 and 2008 concluded that soybeans were inappropriate for conditions and farming practices in northern Afghanistan, where the program was implemented.

• Despite the lack of prior planning and analysis, and despite evidence that may have put the success of the program in doubt, USDA provided $34.4 million in commodities, transportation, and administrative funds to ASA for SARAI.

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Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown
Source: RAND Corporation

This study explores Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the implications for the United States after the departure of most American forces from Afghanistan. Iran has substantial economic, political, cultural, and religious leverage in Afghanistan. Kabul faces an obdurate insurgency that is likely to exploit the U.S. and international drawdown. The Afghan government will also face many economic difficulties in future years, and Afghanistan is highly dependent on international economic aid. Additionally, the biggest problem facing Afghanistan may be political corruption. Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States though. Although Tehran will use its cultural, political, and economic sway in an attempt to shape a post-2016 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests there: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.

This study examines Iran’s historic interests in Afghanistan and its current policies in that country, and explores the potential implications for U.S. policy. The research is based on field interviews in Afghanistan, the use of primary sources in Dari and Persian, and scholarly research in English.

New From the GAO

June 11, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office

Reports

1. Nuclear Weapons: Ten-Year Budget Estimates for Modernization Omit Key Efforts, and Assumptions and Limitations Are Not Fully Transparent. GAO-14-373, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-373
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664003.pdf

2. Health Care Access: Improved Oversight, Accountability, and Prioritization Can Improve Access for Native American Veterans. GAO-14-489, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-489
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664009.pdf

3. Managing for Results: OMB Should Strengthen Reviews of Cross-Agency Goals. GAO-14-526, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-526
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664021.pdf

Testimonies

1. Biosurveillance: Observations on the Cancellation of BioWatch Gen-3 and Future Considerations for the Program, by Chris Currie, acting director, homeland security and justice, before the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, House Committee on Homeland Security. GAO-14-267T, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-267T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664000.pdf

2. Afghanistan: Oversight and Accountability of U.S. Assistance, by Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, House Committee on Foreign Affairs. GAO-14-680T, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-680T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664033.pdf

3. Information Technology: Reform Initiatives Can Help Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness, by David A. Powner, director, information technology management issues, before the Subcommittee on Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. GAO-14-671T, June 10.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-671T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664031.pdf

4. VA Health Care: Ongoing and Past Work Identified Access, Oversight, and Data Problems That Hinder Veterans’ Ability to Obtain Timely Outpatient Medical Care, by Debra A. Draper, director, health care, before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. GAO-14-679T, June 9.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-679T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/663935.pdf

SIGAR — Baghlan Prison: Severe Damage to $11.3 Million Facility Requires Extensive Remedial Action

June 5, 2014 Comments off

Baghlan Prison: Severe Damage to $11.3 Million Facility Requires Extensive Remedial Action (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

After construction of the Baghlan prison was completed in November 2012, building settlement occurred, which led to serious structural damage including wide cracks to three buildings. As a result, one building was demolished. Two other buildings also have collapsing walls and cracked structural beams and columns and will likely need to be rebuilt. The Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and its contractor, Omran Holding Group (OHG), an Afghan firm, do not agree on the cause of the building settlement and remain in negotiation regarding OHG’s responsibility for repairing the facilities and assuming the cost of those repairs. Nonetheless, both parties agree that OHG did not fully comply with all contract requirements. For example, OHG failed to construct a required stormwater management system and substituted lower-grade plumbing materials that had been prohibited by INL. OHG also failed to deduct 10 percent from its billed invoices to create a retainage fund as required by the contract. This led to an $807,254 shortfall in funds, which should have been retained for INL’s protection in the event of a contract dispute.

CRS — Afghanistan: Drug Trafficking and the 2014 Transition

May 19, 2014 Comments off

Afghanistan: Drug Trafficking and the 2014 Transition (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Afghanistan is the world’s primary source of opium poppy cultivation and opium and heroin production, as well as a major global source of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabis resin (hashish). Drug trafficking, a long-standing feature of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban political economy, is linked to corruption and insecurity, and provides a source of illicit finance for non-state armed groups. Based on recent production and trafficking trends, the drug problem in Afghanistan appears to be worsening—just as the U.S. government finalizes plans for its future relationship with the government of Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond and reduces its counternarcotics operational presence in the country to Kabul, the national capital. As coalition combat operations in Afghanistan draw to a close in 2014, and as the full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces is achieved, some Members of the 113th Congress have expressed concern regarding the future direction and policy prioritization of U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan in light of diminishing resources and an uncertain political and security environment in 2015 and beyond.

SIGAR — Afghan Customs: U.S. Programs Have Had Some Successes, but Challenges Will Limit Customs Revenue as a Sustainable Source of Income for Afghanistan

April 29, 2014 Comments off

Afghan Customs: U.S. Programs Have Had Some Successes, but Challenges Will Limit Customs Revenue as a Sustainable Source of Income for Afghanistan (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

A nation’s ability to control its borders is essential in controlling the flow of licit and illicit goods and assessing appropriate tariffs and customs duties. Customs revenue is a major component of Afghanistan’s national budget, which is currently funded through a combination of domestic revenue collections and aid from international donors. For Afghanistan’s 3 most recent fiscal years, customs revenue collections produced $698 million-$1.1 billion annually, accounting for 44-48 percent of total domestic revenue collection. However, domestic revenues continue to fall short of expenditures, and international assistance is expected to decline in coming years. As a result, increasing the Afghan government’s collection of domestic revenues is a main objective of both the U.S. and Afghan governments.

According to USAID, CBP, and TAFA officials, corruption impacts all levels of the customs process and is the biggest problem affecting Afghan customs processes and revenues. The scale and impact of corruption in Afghanistan’s customs process is difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, USAID and ACD officials hypothesize that eliminating or significantly reducing corruption in the customs process could potentially double the customs revenues remitted to the central government. The BMTF also noted that criminal networks use intimidation to smuggle commodities, resulting in the estimated loss of approximately $25 million annually for wheat and rice imports at a single customs location. In a separate estimate, TAFA officials stated that approximately $60 million is lost annually to commercial smuggling. Further complicating efforts to combat criminal and patronage networks are reports from BMTF advisers that Afghan employees are being kidnapped and intimidated because they are listening to the BMTF advisers and properly collecting customs duties.

To help reduce corruption, the Afghan and U.S. governments proposed streamlining and automating customs processes. Two major innovations in the automation of customs processes—a risk management system and an electronic payment system—were started under TAFA. The risk management system, created to facilitate the targeted inspection of imported cargo, is designed to optimize the use of limited security resources and decrease transit times. While the ACD accepted the risk management system in principle, it reportedly considered it too difficult to operate and chose to adopt a scaled down approach, with the successive implementation of specific parts of the risk management system over a period of years.

Similarly, progress in implementing an electronic payment system for customs duties has been slow. Currently, customs fees in Afghanistan are processed in cash at the inland customs depots where the imported cargo is inspected and assessed customs duties. This system can lead to customs brokers traveling long distances with large quantities of cash to pay customs fees assessed on imported goods. The current cash-based payment system is inefficient, leaves customs brokers vulnerable to theft, and increases the opportunities for corruption. According to USAID and TAFA program officials, at the conclusion of the TAFA programs in August 2013, the ACD had the equipment and technical knowledge needed to launch a pilot system. However, USAID officials stated that the electronic payment system was delayed, due in part, to a proposal by an Afghan official to allow only one Afghan bank to process all of the electronic customs payments. This arrangement would have given the selected bank a significant and improper advantage over its competitors. Although the risk management and the electronic payment systems are highlighted in the TAFA and ATAR contract documents as important anti-corruption measures, SIGAR found that the ATAR contract does not require the implementing partner to meet annual targets for implementing these systems.

SIGAR — Department of State Assistance to Afghanistan: $4 Billion Obligated Between 2002 and 2013

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Department of State Assistance to Afghanistan: $4 Billion Obligated Between 2002 and 2013 (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

Congress appropriated $96.57 billion between fiscal year (FY) 2002 and FY 2013 for Afghanistan reconstruction, principally for the Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

DOD, State, and USAID rely extensively on contractors and other implementing partners to undertake reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. To provide more effective oversight and to meet our reporting requirements to monitor contracts and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has requested information from U.S. government agencies concerning how and where U.S. funds appropriated for the reconstruction of Afghanistan are spent. In February 2013, SIGAR issued an inquiry requesting that all U.S. Government agencies conducting reconstruction activities in Afghanistan provide comprehensive information on all contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements awarded for those activities, from fiscal year 2002 through the date of the inquiry. This report provides an analysis of the information obtained in State Department’s response. This report does not include any recommendations. SIGAR is presenting this data here to inform Congress and the U.S. taxpayer how their reconstruction dollars are being spent in Afghanistan.

My office found that State Department data for contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements awarded prior to calendar year 2005 included some entries that were not clearly related to reconstruction in Afghanistan. However, State data for contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants issued after 2005 are considerably more reliable and, after careful analysis, we were able to identify contracts relevant to Afghanistan with a reasonable level of confidence.

See: More than Two-Thirds of Afghanistan Reconstruction Money has Gone to One Company: DynCorp International (AllGov.com)

New From the GAO

April 1, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Puerto Rico: Information on How Statehood Would Potentially Affect Selected Federal Programs and Revenue Sources. GAO-14-31, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-31
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661335.pdf

2. Puerto Rico: Informacion Sobre Como la Estatidad Afectaria Determinados Programas y Fuentes de Ingresos Federales. GAO-14-301, March 4.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-301
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661704.pdf

3. National Preparedness: HHS Has Funded Flexible Manufacturing Activities for Medical Countermeasures, but It Is Too Soon to Assess Their Effect. GAO-14-329, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-329
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662121.pdf

4. Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs. GAO-14-340SP, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-340SP
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662183.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/662072

5. Programa Para Mitigar Activos Problemáticos: Es necesario un mayor esfuerzo en el control de préstamos equitativos y en el acceso a los programas de vivienda por parte de personas sin dominio del ingles. GAO-14-457, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-457
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662186.pdf

6. American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Economic Indicators Since Minimum Wage Increases Began. GAO-14-381, March 31.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-381
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662128.pdf

7. Missile Defense: Mixed Progress in Achieving Acquisition Goals and Improving Accountability. GAO-14-351, April 1.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-35
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/662199.pdf

8. Afghanistan: Changes to Updated U.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework Reflect Evolving U.S. Role. GAO-14-438R, April 1.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-438R

CRS — Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests

March 31, 2014 Comments off

Central Asia: Regional Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

U.S. policy toward the Central Asian states has aimed at facilitating their cooperation with U.S. and NATO stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and their efforts to combat terrorism; proliferation; and trafficking in arms, drugs, and persons. Other U.S. objectives have included promoting free markets, democratization, human rights, energy development, and the forging of East-West and Central Asia-South Asia trade links. Successive Administrations have argued that such policies will help the states to become responsible members of the international community rather than to degenerate into xenophobic, extremist, and anti-Western regimes that contribute to wider regional conflict and instability. Soon after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, all the Central Asian “front-line” states offered over-flight and other support for coalition anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan hosted coalition troops and provided access to airbases. In 2003, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also endorsed coalition military action in Iraq. About two dozen Kazakhstani troops served in Iraq until late 2008. Uzbekistan rescinded U.S. basing rights to support operations in Afghanistan in 2005 after the United States criticized the reported killing of civilians in the town of Andijon. The Kyrgyz leadership has notified the United States that it will not extend the basing agreement. U.S. forces will exit the “Manas Transit Center” by mid-2014 and move operations to other locations. In recent years, most of the regional states also have participated in the Northern Distribution Network for the transport of U.S. and NATO supplies into and out of Afghanistan.

Lessons for a Negotiated Settlement in Afghanistan — If History Serves as a Guide

March 21, 2014 Comments off

Lessons for a Negotiated Settlement in Afghanistan — If History Serves as a Guide
Source: RAND Corporation

Historical insurgencies that ended in settlement after a stalemate have generally followed a seven-step path. A “master narrative” distilled from these cases could help guide and assess the progress toward a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond

March 18, 2014 Comments off

Democracy in Afghanistan The 2014 Election and Beyond
Source: RAND Corporation

Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential election is the most important political event in that country’s decade-long transition to democracy. A successful election would be a major blow to the Taliban and al Qaida, and would renew Afghan efforts to bring the war to a favorable conclusion. The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan would be a major setback for similar groups worldwide, many of which look to Afghanistan as a sort of template for how to accomplish a jihadist takeover. By contrast, a failed election and a renewed push by the Taliban could become a rallying cry and a morale boost to the same groups. Because the stakes are high, the international community should recognize that, despite a dozen years of frustration and halting progress, Afghanistan’s political and economic reconstruction needs one more push before the milestone election. Helping Afghanistan across the electoral finish line will increase the odds that the country will find some sort of solution to its internal stability and, thus, be able to deny safe haven to al Qaida and its affiliates.

New From the GAO

March 13, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Report and Testimonies
Source: Government Accountability Office

Report

1. Financial Audit: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Funds’ 2013 and 2012 Financial Statements. GAO-14-303, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-303
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661692.pdf

Testimonies

1. Afghanistan: Key Oversight Issues for USAID Development Efforts, by Charles Michael Johnson, Jr., director, international affairs and trade, before the Subcommittee on National Security, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-448T, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-448T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661699.pdf

2. U.S. Postal Service: Action Needed to Address Unfunded Benefit Liabilities, by Frank Todisco, chief actuary, applied research and methods, before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. GAO-14-398T, March 13.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-398T
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/661638.pdf

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources

March 11, 2014 Comments off

New Maps of Afghanistan Provide “Fingerprint” of Natural Resources
Source: U.S. Geological Survey

A coalition of scientists from the United States and Afghanistan today released high tech maps that will help Afghanistan chart a course for future economic development. These maps represent a milestone as Afghanistan is the first country to be almost completely mapped using hyperspectral imaging data.

The coalition of the U.S. Geological Survey, the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, and the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), was created by the U.S. Department of Defense, to share American international science and technology as a strategic tool for promoting economic development.

“Hyperspectral data from this research provides a fingerprint that identifies Afghanistan’s natural resources,” said Dr. Suzette Kimball, acting USGS director. “This detailed data serves as the backbone of crucial scientific information needed for economic development of natural resources as well as the potential to identify water, biological and natural hazard information.”

Hyperspectral imaging is an advanced imaging technique that measures visible and near-infrared light reflecting off the Earth’s surface. Researchers use hyperspectral imaging spectrometer data to identify and characterize mineral deposits, vegetation, and other land surface features.

Direct Assistance: USAID Has Taken Positive Action to Assess Afghan Ministries’ Ability to Manage Donor Funds, but Concerns Remain

February 5, 2014 Comments off

Direct Assistance: USAID Has Taken Positive Action to Assess Afghan Ministries’ Ability to Manage Donor Funds, but Concerns Remain (PDF)
Source: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

From January 2011 to August 2013, Ernst & Young and KPMG completed public financial management assessments of 16 Afghan ministries. Both contractors, who met almost all contract requirements, concluded that all of the 16 ministries assessed were unable to manage and account for funds unless they implemented recommendations included in the public financial management assessment reports. In the 16 public financial management assessments, Ernst & Young and KPMG identified 696 total recommendations for corrective action, ranging from 24 for Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (Afghanistan’s national power utility) to 63 for the Ministry of Public Health. Of these, the contractors rated 41 percent of the recommendations as “critical” or “high risk.”

CRS — Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (updated)

January 31, 2014 Comments off

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The United States and its partner countries are reducing military involvement in Afghanistan as Afghan security forces assume lead security responsibility throughout the country and the Afghan government prepares for presidential and provincial elections on April 5, 2014. The current international security mission terminates at the end of 2014 and will likely transition to a smaller mission consisting mostly of training the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF). The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in June 2011, was reduced to a “pre-surge” level of about 66,000 by September 2012, and is expected to fall to 34,000 in February 2014. The “residual force” that will likely remain in Afghanistan after 2014 is expected to consist of about 6,000-10,000 U.S. trainers and counterterrorism forces, assisted by about 5,000 partner forces performing similar missions. The U.S. troops that remain after 2014 would do so under a U.S.-Afghanistan security agreement that has been negotiated but which President Hamid Karzai, despite significant Afghan public a nd elite backing for the agreement, refuses to sign until additional conditions he has set down are met. Fearing instability after 2014, some ethnic and political faction leaders are reviving their militia forces should the international drawdown lead to a major Taliban push to retake power.

CRS — War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress

December 27, 2013 Comments off

War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This is a critical time for U.S. efforts in the war in Afghanistan. U.S. military engagement beyond December 2014, when the current NATO mission ends, depends on the achievement of a U.S.- Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), specifying the status of U.S. forces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai threw the BSA process into confusion by introducing new terms and conditions after a deal had been reached by negotiators. Even if a BSA is reached, U.S. decisions are still pending regarding the scope, scale, and timeline for any post-2014 U.S. force presence in Afghanistan. President Obama has indicated U.S. readiness, in principle, to maintain a small force focused on counter-terrorism and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Afghanistan After the Drawdown

December 15, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan After the Drawdown
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The United States has now been at war in Afghanistan for more than a decade. The sacrifice in blood and treasure has been substantial. Some 2,300 American servicemen and women have lost their lives, more than 19,000 have been injured, and nearly $650 billion has been spent over the course of the United States’ longest war. The results, however, can only be described as inconclusive. The reach and effectiveness of the Afghan central government remain circumscribed, challenged by various armed groups and undermined by pervasive corruption. The economy has grown rapidly, albeit from a low starting place, but remains largely dependent on international aid flows that will certainly shrink.

The combination of high costs and middling returns has left the American public increasingly skeptical of the utility of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. The 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that brought the American military to Afghanistan in 2001, only reinforced that perception. Yet the United States retains interests in Afghanistan, including preventing the reemergence of a terrorist safe haven and promoting stability in the region, which could be further undermined by a total withdrawal of American military forces.

As this Council Special Report explains, 2014 will be a pivotal year for Afghanistan. An election will, presumably, bring a new president to Kabul. The U.S. military will complete its transfer of responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces, making the war effort Afghan-led. And, as donor financing begins to come down, the Afghan economy will need to find sustainable, internal sources of growth.

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help

December 13, 2013 Comments off

Contractors Who Worked in Conflict Zones Suffer High Rates of PTSD, Depression and Get Little Help
Source: RAND Corporation

Private contractors who worked in Iraq, Afghanistan or other conflict environments over the past two years report suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression more often than military personnel who served in recent conflicts, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Researchers found that among the contractors studied, 25 percent met criteria for PTSD, 18 percent screened positive for depression and half reported alcohol misuse. Despite their troubles, relatively few get help either before or after deployment.

Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States: A Focus on Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya

December 9, 2013 Comments off

Fostering Synergies for Advancing Women’s Rights in Post-Conflict Islamic States: A Focus on Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya
Source: Brookings Institution

Finding common ground among diverse stakeholders on women’s rights in Muslim-majority states is critical to advancing democracy and human development. This paper examines ways to champion and sustain progress on women’s rights amid renewed Islamic constitutionalism by searching for common approaches among Muslim women activists, members of the ulama, and legal advocates.

CRS — Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (updated)

December 6, 2013 Comments off

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The capacity, transparency, and legitimacy of Afghan governance are considered crucial to Afghan stability after U.S.-led NATO forces turn over the security mission to Afghan leadership by the end of 2014. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but the government remains weak and rampant with corruption. Even as the government has struggled to widen its writ, President Hamid Karzai has concentrated substantial presidential authority through his powers of appointment at all levels. But, he is constitutionally term-limited; presidential and provincial elections are scheduled for April 5, 2014, and Afghanistan is beginning to transition from the Karzai era. Several major figures—some close to Karzai and others opposed—have registered to run for president; many of their slates include faction leaders long accused of human rights abuses. Some candidates are concerned that Karzai will use state machinery to favor a particular candidate. Fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) was extensively documented, but Afghan officials, scrutinized by opposition ties, civil society organizations, and key donor countries, have taken some steps to limit the potential for fraud in the April 2014 elections.

Fears about the election process are fanned by the scant progress in reducing widespread nepotism and other forms of corruption. President Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same bodies have faltered from lack of support from senior Afghan government leaders who oppose prosecuting their political allies.

No matter the outcome of the Afghan leadership succession process, there is concern among many observers that governance will founder as the United States and its partners reduce their involvement in Afghanistan.

President Karzai is appealing to nationalist sentiment to attract Taliban support to rejoin Afghan politics, but Afghan civil society activists, particularly women’s groups, assert that a full reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics could reverse some of the human and women’s rights gains since 2001.

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