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Is US aid to Afghanistan helping win the war? Doubts are increasing.

As Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill this week, some analysts are saying that US aid, aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, is not helping the military win the war.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / March 15, 2011

In this photo provided by ISAF Regional Command (South), Army 1st Sgt. Raymond Dakos assigned to 1-66th Armor, 4th Infantry Division, patrols near Combat Outpost Kowall near the village of Tabin, March 8, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill this week, some analysts wonder if US aid in Afghanistan is helping the US military to win the war there.

U.S. Navy Ensign Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

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Are the billions of dollars in aid money that the United States is spending in Afghanistan helping the US military to win the war there?

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This will likely be a key question on Capitol Hill this week as Gen. David Petraeus, commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, testifies at three separate hearings, the first of which begins Tuesday, on the US military’s progress in that country.

Increasingly, some defense analysts are coming to the conclusion that development aid is not, in fact, helping America win its war in Afghanistan. In reaching these conclusions, these analysts are increasingly calling into question one of the key tenets of the military’s current war-fighting strategy.

IN PICTURES: Fighting continues in Afghanistan

This strategy, known as counterinsurgency, is widely interpreted as the effort to win a competition for the hearts and minds of the Afghan population. Critical to this effort, defense officials have long argued, is aid money that the US military spends in small villages and towns. Help citizens improve their quality of life, they say – by building wells and schools with US aid money, for example – and the more supportive they will be of the US war effort.

This is because much of current military doctrine also holds that insurgents are better able to garner support among Afghans if the local citizens have economic, governance, or security grievances. The argument goes that if Afghan citizens don’t feel as though they are getting needed services such as water or electricity from the Afghan government – or if they feel the government is too corrupt – they will transfer their support to the insurgency.

But in many areas of insurgent-dominated Afghanistan, “development spending has done little to increase popular support for the government, casting doubt on the counterinsurgency and development theories that have inspired this spending,” says Mark Moyer, a former professor at Marine Corps University and a Pentagon adviser, in a widely circulated paper published by Small Wars Journal, a policy publication.

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