Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2015

US Reconstruction Aid for Afghanistan: The Dollars and Sense

Catherine Lutz, Sujaya Desai

November 2014

Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University


The United States, and its allies, the UN, NGOs, and the World Bank, have injected billions of dollars into what is commonly termed the "reconstruction" of Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. This paper focuses on United States spending on aid in Afghanistan, describing the rationale government officials have given for the aid, what they have spent money on, who has profited from the contracts to provide aid, and what the consequences of that spending have been in terms of benefits to the people of Afghanistan or the United States. The central findings of this review of US government investigative reports and existing field-based scholarship are that reconstruction aid has been allocated primarily to re-arming and policing Afghanistan, with poor or even counterproductive outcomes in both security and other-than-security domains. Furthermore, US companies have been among the primary beneficiaries of this aid, despite widespread fraud, waste, and dysfunction. In contrast to a focus on human needs, and rather than rebuilding the basis of a modern state, reconstruction has been focused on furthering United States security interests. Reconstruction thus sets the foundation for continued violence and impoverishment in the years to come.