The Obama administration was so successful in adding to the ranks of U.S. civilians on-the-ground in Afghanistan that it overlooked key challenges that may undermine its progress, according to a new report.
"Even with the able leadership of Kabul's senior officers, the best of intentions and the most dedicated efforts, Embassy Kabul faces serious challenges in meeting the administration's deadline for 'success' in Afghanistan," said the report, released Friday by the State Department inspector general's office.
Problems such as a shortage of housing, lack of qualified personnel and a lack of organization, are taxing an overworked U.S. civilian workforce. There are nearly 1,000 U.S. civilians in Afghanistan representing at least 10 different U.S. agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense, Agriculture, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, as well as the CIA, FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. From working in ministries to military teams, the personnel behind the surge in the U.S. civilian force is part of President Obama's civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.
"The unprecedented pace and scope of the civilian buildup, the need for these new officers to arrive in Kabul before support infrastructure expansions have been completed, and the complexity of establishing arrangements to equip the new subject-matter experts for success in the field will constrain the ability of these new officers in the short-term to promote stability, good governance, and rule of law (ROL) in Afghanistan," the report said.
The report came after two months of inspections at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul last fall, from September to November. At the time, about 600 U.S. direct-hire employees were in Afghanistan, a doubling of civilians since January 2009. The number had increased to nearly 1,000 this January.
"The need to expand the already over-burdened life support systems (housing, food, security, transport) in Kabul and in the field to support the new staff has itself become a major short-term challenge," said the report, which described members of provincial reconstruction team staff deployed outside of Kabul housed in makeshift lodgings with no heat or running water.
Temporary duty officers in Kabul were housed in 65-bed modified cargo containers with common bath facilities for months at a time, according to the report.
"Embassy leadership is fully aware of these shortcomings and actively engaged in negotiations with coalition partners and Department of Defense commanders to rectify them," the report concluded. "However, it is not likely that accommodations available for this civilian upsurge will be adequate in the short term absent support by interagency officials for embassy efforts. Conditions on the embassy compound are already strained beyond capacity, and, despite the embassy's efforts, there will be serious challenges in residential and office space."
There were three apartment buildings with a total of 144 single and double occupancy units, and occupants of the "well-appointed apartments universally reported satisfaction with their units, and stated that living in one of the apartments made a significant difference in their morale and quality of life," according to the report.