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HL U.S. aid to Afghans reportedly wasted

Credit: Los Angeles Times

DD 04/29/90


TWIN CITIES Mpls.-St. Paul (MSP)

Edition: METRO

Section: NEWS

Page: 06A

Origin: Peshawar, Pakistan

LP Millions of dollars in U.S. aid earmarked for the reconstruction of Afghanistan have been squandered through mismanagement, inefficiency and miscalculations by the United Nations office in charge of the project, according to independent relief agencies, Afghan professionals, U.N. workers and Western diplomats. The program was begun in October 1988 as a multimillion-dollar international effort to rebuild Afghanistan after a decade of war. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on salaries, offices, vehicles and housing since then - but only a handful of roads, canals and villages has been repaired.

TX Poor accounting or no accounting has led to double-funding of projects, some of which have yet to begin. In numerous cases, money or materials have been used for the wrong purpose. In one instance, funds earmarked for rebuilding a road between villages were spent on an illegal logging road that has further ravaged a rural area. In another case, scores of oxen purchased for returning farmers under a U.N. project were eaten by the refugees, who had been given nothing to care for the animals. The most controversial and costly of all the projects funded by * the office of the U.N. coordinator, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, is a multimillion-dollar effort, funded largely by the United States, to help clear Afghanistan of millions of land mines. The mines continue to kill or maim people returning from refugee camps in Pakistan. A U.N. official who worked on the mine-clearing project called it "as scandalous as the mine fields themselves." The United Nations has spent nearly $3 million teaching 7,494 Afghans in mine-clearing procedures at a Pakistani army facility, but now, a year later, most of the trainees have disappeared. Most of those remaining are considered unqualified, and fewer than 50 have gone into Afghanistan to begin work. Shakil Khan, a retired Pakistani army major who heads the mine-clearance program, conceded that costly mistakes have been made. "It is a very important and well-founded criticism," Khan said of the charge that training funds were wasted. "But this is the first time the U.N. has taken up this kind of program. Now we have learned from mistakes and we think the whole operation will improve this year." Still, some critics insist that large-scale waste will continue in the reconstruction project because of the way it is structured, with all the major U.N. agencies working in Afghanistan under the control of Sadruddin's office, which is thousands of miles away in Geneva. U.S. officials, in a report last month, said: "There is not a single (U.N.) agency head in Islamabad who thinks the management approach is working, nor is there any embassy in Islamabad that will speak favorably of it. And worse, there seems to be little or no prospect for improvement." U.S. officials were upset when Sadruddin refused last month to use part of the mine-clearance money to fund a U.S. project in Afghanistan that was using trained personnel and dogs that can sniff out mines. Sadruddin said in a letter to the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan that the U.S. project violated the dogs' animal rights. He said the mines had been placed by people and should be removed by people. The $1.5 million U.S. program, which is funded separately by the U.S. Agency for International Development, has problems of its own. The dogs are from Thailand and apparently understand only Thai commands. Thai military instructors and interpreters had to be brought in for two months to train the U.S. dog handlers, who then had to train Afghan workers through other interpreters.

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