The Commander’s Emergency Response Program is a Waste of Money

This site has previously published a nearly complete record of all projects in Afghanistan under the CERP program.  We highly recommend that people look at the raw information themselves to understand the massively vague and seemingly unaccountable nature of much of the spending.  For those within the public, media, or academia who actually wish to view the raw information on a project by project basis, please see the following items:

For other documents related to similar “aid programs” in Afghanistan and Iraq, please see the Money as a Weapon System (MAAWS) guides:

A canal crossing point between the farming communities of Hawr Rajab and Adwaniyah is completed south of Baghdad Feb. 22. The project was funded by the 3rd Infantry Division’s Commanders Emergency Response Program funds and re-establishes the link between the two regions, which was damaged by insurgent improvised explosive devices. The blood on the canal crossing pictured shows where the ceremonial sacrifice of six goats took place. (Courtesy photo)

In Afghan hands, aid projects neglected (Washington Post):

Roads, canals and schools built in Afghanistan as part of a special U.S. military program are crumbling under Afghan stewardship, despite steps imposed over the past year to ensure that reconstruction money is not being wasted, according to government reports and interviews with military and civilian personnel.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan have spent about $2 billion over six years on 16,000 humanitarian projects through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which gives a battalion-level commander the power to treat aid dollars as ammunition.

A report slated for release this month reveals that CERP projects can quickly slide into neglect after being transferred to Afghan control. The Afghans had problems maintaining about half of the 69 projects reviewed in eastern Laghman province, according to the audit by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The spending in Afghanistan is part of the $5 billion provided to U.S. military commanders for projects in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004. The new report is the latest to identify shortcomings and missteps in the program, whose ventures have included the Jadriyah Lake park in Iraq, planned as a water park but now barren two years after a U.S. military inauguration ceremony.

The dilapidated projects in Afghanistan could present a challenge to the U.S. strategy of shifting more responsibility to Afghans. Investing in infrastructure, notes President Obama’s December review of the war, “will give the Afghan government and people the tools to build and sustain a future of stability.”

“Sustainment is one of the biggest issues with our whole strategy,” said a civilian official who shared details from a draft of the audit. “The Afghans don’t have the money or capacity to sustain much.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Defense Department is preparing a response to the audit.

Costly civilian plans sputter in Iraq (UPI):

The wreckage of a Baghdad water park symbolizes failed U.S. efforts to win over Iraqis with civilian projects, some commanders say.

The Jadriyah Lake park by the Tigris River was opened with fanfare in August 2008 and drew large crowds for the rest of the year, The Washington Post reported Monday.

But religious authorities objected, and by the next spring, the local power supply was reduced, the water pumps stopped and the lake dried up. Today, much of the compound is in ruins.

The park was among the projects funded by the $5 billion Commander’s Emergency Response Program, which was intended counter extremism. But U.S. auditors have said the program has been used for expensive boondoggles of doubtful value. Often, the Iraqi government had no say in the ventures and has refused to keep them going.

Even some U.S. commanders are beginning to question the fund, seeing little evidence that the millions pumped into Iraq — and now Afghanistan — have achieved its goals.

1 comment for “The Commander’s Emergency Response Program is a Waste of Money

  1. Knowledgeable guy
    August 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    You’re generalizing and misrepresenting the program in it’s current form. You are absolutely correct that prior to 2008, many projects were a waste of funds, were unsustainable when handed over to GOI/ISA, or were of doubtful value. Lumping what has happened since then in with the original nonsense that took place under the less stringent standards of the early war poorly represents the success of the program since controls were put in place to prevent much of the waste you describe. As a former Project Purchasing Officer (PPO) who has actually been responsible for the expenditure of CERP dollars, I can tell you without reservation that I would never have been able to convince anyone to let me re-build a water park (sticking with your example…) with CERP funds after the Surge started and the rules changed. Additionally, in Iraq CERP has been largely shut off since 2007-2008 in favor of I-CERP (Same program, but funded by GOI). SoIz programs notwithstanding, we spent approx. $15,000.00 USD in CERP funds in the last year I was there on infrastructure and/or governance projects. Finally, the spending data on your site indicates that expenditures in Afghanistan are generally appropriate under the stated purpose of the program. By far, the largest category is Other urgent Humanitarian and Reconstruction Projects (key word is “urgent.” CERP dollars are meant to be easily accessible for, among other things, urgent needs…). If you really want to make headway in this debate (and maybe even be helpful), stop chasing the numbers on CERP and start chasing the selection and review process.

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