Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule, undermining President Hamid Karzai’s hope to reduce the presence of US advisers in the country, according to US and Afghan officials familiar with the program.
It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 “key terrain” districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.
Meanwhile, many of US experts deployed as part of a “civilian surge” to help strengthen local government remain hunkered down in Kabul, removed from the front lines where they are most needed.
“For a lot of reasons, the civilian surge never amounted to what it was claimed to be,” said a US civilian adviser based in southern Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Building local government is considered important to countering the influence of the Taliban and preparing the way for a withdrawal of US combat troops. Afghan and US officials, however, say the work is far from finished.
By the end of last year, the program was supposed to have finished initial assessments of 42 districts, said a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. But the Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Governance completed just 15 evaluations. At this pace, the assessment phase would wrap up in the middle of 2015, a year after President Barack Obama plans to end combat operations for the US-led coalition.
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