US Urged to Spend More on Afghan Aid

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. spending on aid work in Afghanistan is only a fraction of what the American military spends, and too much of the aid money pays the high salaries of expatriate employees, an international aid agency said Tuesday.

Airstrikes from U.S.-led coalition forces, meanwhile, killed a “large group” of insurgents in southern Afghanistan early Tuesday, the coalition said in a statement. A provincial police chief said 14 militants were killed in the operation.

Though the government aid arm U.S. Agency for International Development has spent more than $4.4 billion in Afghanistan since 2002, the British-based aid agency Oxfam said that figure is dwarfed by U.S. military spending here — some $35 billion in 2007 alone.

“As in Iraq, too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and subcontractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs,” said the report, which was prepared for a British parliament committee. “Each full-time expatriate consultant costs up to half a million dollars a year.”

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said it couldn’t immediately comment.

The report said “urgent action” is needed to avert humanitarian disaster and that millions of rural Afghans face “severe hardship comparable with sub-Saharan Africa.”

The report said donors must improve the efficiency of its aid work with a greater use of Afghan resources.

“Some two-thirds of U.S. foreign assistance bypasses the Afghan government that officials say they want to strengthen,” Oxfam said.

Since the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has received more than $15 billion from the international community. Oxfam said continued aid will be crucial to Afghanistan’s development for years to come.

The group said the education and health sectors in Afghanistan have improved dramatically since 2001, but that more work needs to be done. It noted that though school enrollment is up, only 50 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls attend primary school. The numbers drop to 20 percent and 5 percent, respectively, for high school classes.

Of 220 schools in Daykundi province, it said, only 28 have buildings. Of 1,000 teachers, only two are professionally qualified.

In the southern province of Uruzgan, meanwhile, coalition and Afghan forces used airstrikes to kill a “large group” of insurgents that had tried to ambush the troops, the coalition said.

The authorities recovered the bodies of 14 dead militants alongside their weapons, said Uruzgan’s police chief Juma Gul Himat.

Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said around 10 Taliban were killed in the fighting near Tirin Kot, the provincial capital.

The coalition said about 125 Taliban fighters attacked the coalition and Afghan forces with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire during a “botched ambush.”

Afghanistan has seen record levels of violence this year. More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency related violence in 2007, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

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