Foreign Aid: How the West Funds Terrorism

Posted on December 12, 2013 by


This week the US and UK announced the suspension of ‘non-lethal’ aid to Syria. This is because the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) is being increasingly eclipsed by Islamist rebels, some of whom recently united to form a 45,000 strong force. Humanitarian aid will continue to enter Syria through non-governmental organisations and charities, but direct aid is to cease due to concerns about who would receive it. This, however, isn’t a new problem. Nor is the removal of assistance entirely because of events in Syria. Islamism in Syria merely serves to highlight a problem the US, the UK, and others have faced for years: not all pledged funding reaches the desired recipient. Corruption, bureaucracy and ‘enemies’ often get in the way.

Let’s start with Syria. There’s a simple reason why the West has not, on a large scale at least, armed the rebels: Libya. Arms supplied to the Libyan rebels fighting Moammar Gaddafi found their way across the border into neighbouring conflicts. Western weapons were used against French forces in Mali, and members of Islamist groups wield them in Syria. The US rhetoric on Syria has always been in terms of red lines and controlled airstrikes: more expensive but less risky to US personnel elsewhere. Any intervention would utilise the same ‘no boots-on-the-ground’ policy (with the exception of covert black-ops teams) that was used in Libya.

Governmental infrastructure in Afghanistan is inconsistent and rife with corruption. Pre-invasion warlords still hold sway in society and improvements are slow to take effect. As of June 2013 the total bill for US aid to Afghanistan is $96.57bn and in 2011 alone the US sent $12.9bn. However, in a recent report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) criticised the supervision of foreign aid. SIGAR aims to ‘provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities’  and provides quarterly reports on the use of foreign aid funds. In its latest report the Inspector General said that it cannot assure the DOD that ‘the funds provided directly to the Afghan government to fund and equip the ANSF are sufficiently protected and used as intended.’ This is a stinging criticism of both the US financial assistance delivery system and corruption in the Afghan bureaucracy.

Also in the news this week, international aid agencies are having to pay money to Somali terrorist group al-Shabab in order to deliver humanitarian support to people living in areas they control. This was especially prevalent during the 2011 famine. A report from the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) found that al-Shabab often demanded ‘registration fees’ that ranged between $500 and $10,000 depending on the region and the nature of the proposed project. After an agreement was reached additional taxes were sometimes charged. Some NGOs were able to avoid paying fees after they ‘allocated significant resources and time to understanding the group, developing relationships and pursuing dialogue.’

Finally, a report from a group called Development Initiatives based in Bristol, UK featured in the Guardian estimated that at least 20% of funds earmarked for foreign aid never leave the donor country. According to the study, $22bn of over $100bn pledged assistance in 2011 never reached the countries it was intended for. Clearly there is a discrepancy between what is promised and what is delivered.

What to conclude from this? Giving money to developing countries is not nearly as simple as allocating the funds. In the simplest cases money is often diverted or siphoned off due to corrupt officials, in other circumstances agencies are faced with a choice between funding terrorism and abandoning people who need help. The withdrawal of assistance for the Syrian rebels is a sign that the US and UK governments are beginning to realise the pitfalls of sending aid to war torn countries. Clearly more must to be done to ensure that money goes to the people who need it.

CC Image Courtesy of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Flickr.