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Afghanistan war: USAID spends too much, too fast to win hearts and minds

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Related: How USAID lost hearts and minds in Afghanistan

A firehose of spending has been unleashed: Through an account called the Economic Support Fund, US spending on Afghan development rose from $1.4 billion in 2008 to roughly $2 billion in 2009 and in 2010, and President Obama is requesting it jump to $5 billion in 2011. Some in Congress are starting to balk, questioning any more aid until Afghan corruption can be curbed.

Among the skeptics of the surge is Andrew Wilder, a professor at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who has conducted fieldwork in southern Afghanistan. His research questions the whole notion that development will win over Afghan hearts and minds and contribute to stability.

"The main drivers of instability in southern Afghanistan are not largely related to poverty or lack of reconstruction or social services," says Mr. Wilder. Instead, corrupt government is a large part of the problem.

But, the current thinking that lack of development is an irritant has the United States spending what Wilder calls a "tsunami of cash" – a response that may actually be making things worse.

The danger is that large amounts fuel perceptions of waste and corruption among Afghans when projects don't live up to the price tags. The big budgets also scare off experienced nonprofits that don't want to jeopardize quality by scaling up too quickly.

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