News & Analysis

AFGHANISTAN: Cashing In on the Decision to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan, Oct. 30, 2015, original

In August, the nation’s top military officer came to President Barack Obama and bluntly asked him to break a promise to bring the last American troops home from Afghanistan by the time the president left office.

Obama had been repeating the vow for years, but Gen. Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States needed to keep at least 5,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 to ensure that the Islamic State didn’t take root there and to prevent al Qaeda from moving back into the country. In July, the Pentagon discovered that the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks had been running a pair of large training camps in southern Afghanistan, including one that covered nearly 30 square miles.

The president, anxious to prevent Afghanistan from turning into another Iraq, told Dempsey that he was willing to consider the troop request. First, though, he wanted the general to tell him the “no kidding” cost of keeping U.S. forces there — including what the Pentagon would pay the thousands of contractors needed to house, feed, and support U.S. military personnel. Wisened after years of overseeing two wars, Obama didn’t want to let the additional cost of contractors escape him, particularly since the military rarely includes it in its proposals. The exchange was first reported by the Washington Post. The White House declined to comment on the president’s decision-making.

That Obama even factored “in contracting costs marks an evolution in the way leaders think,” said Sean McFate, a professor at the National Defense University and the author ofThe Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. “Just 10 to 15 years ago, contracting costs came as an afterthought,” he said. “Now they are part of strategic planning. This makes sense, since the majority of ground personnel are contracted.”

This is certainly true in Afghanistan, where there are 30,000 contractors working for the Defense Department, according to the latest Pentagon tally. Of these, roughly 10,000 are U.S. citizens. The rest are local or third-country nationals from states like Nepal. The Pentagon figures don’t include the thousands of other contractors working for the State Department, USAID, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

That means Obama’s decision to extend America’s longest warwon’t just keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan longer than had been expected; it will also keep thousands of contractors there, ensuring that the gold rush sparked by the 2001 invasion continues for the next several years.

That’s good news for companies like Fluor Corp. and DynCorp International, which have been providing U.S. troops with things like electricity and laundry services on their Afghan bases for years. They and the other contractors working for the military stand to earn billions of dollars per year.

It also means the U.S. government is going to have to continue to provide close scrutiny of their work, as major contractors have been accused of overbilling the government, failing to deliver what they promised, abusing their labor force, and, in some cases, committing outright fraud.

But contractor wrongdoing will be even harder to detect in the years ahead because the ongoing military drawdown will make it extremely difficult for government auditors to travel the country and check on specific projects. U.S. civilian personnel conducting contractor oversight only have access to about 10 percent of the country today, according to an official in the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

“With the drawdown of [coalition] forces in Afghanistan, the ability of U.S. government personnel to go out and kick the tires in order to provide proper oversight is limited,” said John Sopko, the current head of SIGAR, in a statement to Foreign Policy. “With less of the country accessible, it means the American taxpayer is footing the bill for billions of dollars in projects that a U.S. government employee may never see.”

While Obama may have gotten a clearer picture of the costs of an extended mission in Afghanistan, the American public did not. There was no mention of how much money it would cost to delay the drawdown when Obama finally announced in early October that he had decided to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of next year before reducing that footprint to 5,500 for 2017 and beyond. (Under Obama’s original 2014 proposal, only 1,000 troops, all based in Kabul, were scheduled to stay in the country beyond 2016.)

But Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has come up with a good back-of-the-envelope way of estimating the cost of operations in Afghanistan based on funding trends from 2005 to 2013.

When analyzing the data over that time period, Harrison discovered a linear relationship where the total annual cost of operations in Afghanistan equals the number of troops deployed multiplied by $1.3 million — the cost per year of keeping each soldier or Marine in the field — plus $6 billion in fixed costs that don’t vary with the size of the force.

This means the additional cost of keeping 5,500 troops in Afghanistan in fiscal year 2017 is about $13 billion. That would come on top of the money Washington would be spending on American reconstruction projects and to pay for the Afghan security forces.

“So all in [all], it would probably end up being about $20 billion,” Harrison said. A large portion of that would go to contractors who are involved in everything from maintaining weapons for Afghan forces to building new infrastructure projects across the country.

That doesn’t mean that’s the number you’ll see the Obama administration requesting for its war budget though, Harrison noted.

In recent years, the White House has used its war spending bill — also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund — to finance the purchases of $20 billion to $25 billion worth of weapons and other programs that really belong in its base budget. That has allowed it to effectively hide the true cost of some of its procurement efforts. But, Harrison noted, it means the “OCO budget is no longer a good indication of actual war costs.”

As for contractors, the number in Afghanistan has been steadily falling from its peak of 117,000 in 2012, as the number of U.S. troops on the ground shrinks. There were 15,000 more contractors working for the Defense Department in the country last October than there are today.

But with Obama’s announcement, that steady reduction will come to a halt, especially among the major contractors who directly support U.S. troops by providing them meals, doing their laundry, and keeping the lights on at the bases in Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Bagram. In Afghanistan, the big players are DynCorp International, based in McLean, Virginia, and Fluor Corp., based in Irving, Texas.

The hundreds of millions of dollars these contractors stand to gain because of the delayed withdrawal in Afghanistan mirrors the lucrative deals the Pentagon has signed with the companies charged with supporting the expanding American troop presence in Iraq. There, contractors like SOS International are winning bids to provide everything from meals to perimeter security at Iraq’s Besmaya Compound and Camp Taji.

The contractors stand to pocket even more in Afghanistan because more U.S. troops are deployed there and the reconstruction effort is ongoing. In early October, DynCorpwon a $154 million one-year contract modification to continue providing support to American troops in Afghanistan. According to the company, the contract covers everything fromproviding the bases with electrical power to sewage and waste management and even food and laundry services.

DynCorp’s original contract for base support in Afghanistan had been awarded in 2009 and has earned the company more than $6 billion.

The State Department has also relied heavily on the company to perform work in war zones, especially in Afghanistan. Of the $4 billion the State Department spent on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013, DynCorp won 69 percent, or $2.8 billion, according to an April 2014 SIGARreport.

But DynCorp is not without controversy. It has been chargedwith overbilling the government millions of dollars. SIGAR is also investigating the company, along with Fluor, in connection to reports of human trafficking in Afghanistan. The inspector general has collected evidence that shows that third-country nationals from India, Nepal, and elsewhere have been enticed by labor recruiters to pay improper “recruitment fees” and “kickback payments” to obtain their jobs working for these companies on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

In a statement to FP, DynCorp said it has put policies and procedures in place to educate employees about and prevent human trafficking.

“The company has developed a strict code of ethics and business conduct, which includes a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking; created a position of chief compliance officer; introduced global training programs; and has taken a number of additional steps to ensure a compliant, ethical, [and] successful workplace,” a spokeswoman for the company said.

Fluor said it also strictly adheres to a policy of zero tolerance for human trafficking.

“We take any alleged violation of that policy very seriously,” a Fluor spokeswoman told FP.

Fluor said it promptly responded to a request for information from SIGAR in July 2014 and has not heard from the inspector general’s office since.

The company will “proudly continue” to support U.S. and coalition forces “in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world as directed and for as long as there are requirements,” the spokeswoman told FP.

KBR, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton, used to play a much bigger role in Afghanistan, but after years of winning contracts without having to compete for them and facing charges of fraud and overbilling — not to mention failing to protect soldiers from harmful chemicals in Iraq — the Pentagon decided to change things up and let other companies compete for the business.

While KBR is not providing base support to American soldiers in Afghanistan, it still is working on American military contracts in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and other countries.

The Supreme Group, headquartered in Dubai, has also seen its business in Afghanistan dry up. It used to feed up to 130,000 troops a day in Afghanistan, raking in a total of $6.8 billion, but lost its multibillion-dollar contract in 2012 to one of its competitors, Dubai-based Anham FZCO.

Then, in December 2014, executives from the Supreme Group pleaded guilty to major fraud against the United States, admitting it had overcharged the government hundreds of millions of dollars for food and water. It agreed to pay $389 million in fines and damages.

In a more staggering case of Washington’s quid pro quo economy, retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was hired in 2008 as president of Supreme Group’s U.S. branch, after giving the company the New Contractor of the Year award in 2007 when he was serving as head of the Defense Logistics Agency, which oversaw the company’s contract in Afghanistan.

The Supreme Group has continued to provide fuel to U.S. and NATO forces, even after it lost its giant food contract. British military police are now investigating claims that the company may have overcharged as much as $700 million in fuel contracts, the Guardian reported last month.

Meanwhile, Anham’s contract is valued at $8 billion. In 2013, the company admitted to the U.S. Commerce and Treasury Departments that it had shipped some of its supplies through Iran because the main route through Pakistan had been closed.

These are just some examples of why close scrutiny of overseas contractors is needed, but SIGAR warns that oversight in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly restricted because of security reasons.

American civilians are only allowed access to areas in Afghanistan within a one-hour round trip of an advanced medical facility. Because of this, U.S. government officials — from the Pentagon, the State Department, and USAID — cannot visit reconstruction projects that altogether total more than $725 million of U.S. taxpayer dollars.


HAITI, DEVELOPMENT: Could a Superfood Help Save Haiti’s Forests? [No!]


Haiti is the most impoverished country in the northern hemisphere, and trees, or the lack thereof, are part of the problem.

After centuries of agricultural exploitation and the population’s demand for charcoal and fuel wood, 98 percent of Haiti’s landscape is deforested, leaving the country vulnerable to environmental disasters. In 2008, four storms in quick succession resulted in flooding responsible for 800 deaths and $1 billion in damage. The massive earthquake that same year killed more than 220,000 people.

Numerous studies have supported the link between deforestation and poverty in the country. One hundred thousand children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, less than half of households have access to safe water, and one-third of the women and children are anemic. Everyone from conservationists to actor Sean Penn sees trees as the answer. The question is, which trees?

Some believe the answer could be moringa, a native of the Himalayan foothills in northwestern India and the latest imported ingredient anointed with “It Superfood” status (see also: quinoa, acai, chia). The tree—called variously “the miracle tree,” “tree of life,” “mother’s best friend,” and the “never die tree”—can shoot from seed to 15-foot stature in the span of a year; flourishes in hot, dry subtropical climates; and can be put to use from root to pod. Nutritionally, moringa has more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than oranges, more vitamin A than carrots, more iron than spinach, more potassium than bananas, and just as much protein as eggs.

Could two of Haiti’s problems—deforestation and poverty—be solved by moringa?  It’s a potential solution floated by Oakland-based social enterprise company Kuli Kuli, in a partnership with the Clinton Foundation and a Haitian nonprofit, theSmallholder Farmers Alliance, to develop a new moringa supply chain in Haiti. That chain would result in Kuli Kuli’s newest product, a Soul Cycle–appropriate cousin to 5 Hour Energy called Moringa Green Energy Shots, to be sold nationwide at Whole Foods.

Chef José Andrés is in on the action, too. His nonprofit organization, World Central Kitchen, is working to improve nutrition in Haiti and other developing nations using moringa and is also promoting recipe competition on Instagram, using the hashtag #MoringaInspired.

Kuli Kuli has succeeded with this model before. In Ghana, the planting of 60,000 moringa trees has provided a sustainable livelihood for 500 women farmers for the past three years and enabled Kuli Kuli to launch its Moringa Superfood Bars in stores in the U.S. Kuli Kuli pays 30 percent over the market price, and it prepays for harvests to ensure that the crop remains sustainable.

But while its nutrition benefits are irrefutable, is mass-planting moringa the right reforestation tactic for Haiti? S. Blair Hedges, director of the Center for Biodiversity at Temple University, doesn’t think so.

“Although it is true that [Moringa oleifera] has benefits for humans (food, medicine), the major claim made, that Haiti would benefit by reforestation with this species, is misleading,” Hedges, whose work preserving Haitian flora and fauna has led to the discovery of several new species of Haitian frogs, wrote in an email.

“Moringa has been grown in Haiti for over 50 years and so is far from being an invasive species,” Kuli Kuli CEO Lisa Curtis told TakePart. “We’re not bringing anything new to the country; we’re simply working with smallholder women farmers to help them plant more moringa trees and develop an export market for value-added moringa powder.” The trees, she added, would be grown alongside limes, coffee, and other vegetable crops.

“It would put money in someone’s pocket but would not solve Haiti’s environmental problems or protect Haiti’s rich biodiversity,” Hedges said. That, he added, would require a more local solution.

“A forest full of native Haitian species would do much better in stopping erosion, protecting water resources, and providing food, shelter, and energy for the Haitian people,” he continued.


HAITI: Election – The Polls, Candidates, and Issues in the Presidential Election


With Haiti’s plethora of presidential candidates, polls show some aspirants rising to the top, though the frontrunner remains unclear. Two polls give different results of voters’ first choice among 54 candidates. The likeliest scenario? No candidate will get more than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day, October 25, and a runoff will take place December 27.

Who’s Leading the Polls?

A cellphone poll by Florida-based Integrated Communications and Research gives governing-party candidate Jovenel Moïse a 7.7 percentage-point lead over second-place candidate Jude Célestin. Meanwhile, an in-person poll by the Research Office in Computer Science and Economic and Social Development (known locally as BRIDES) puts Célestin ahead of Moïse by 18.4 points. That said, the surveys do agree on the third-place candidate: Senator Moïse Jean-Charles.

Who Are the Top 5 Candidates?

This election marks a second run for president by Jude Célestin of the Alternative League for Progress and Haitian Emancipation party, or LAPEH. Célestin ran in 2011 under the Unity Party of then-President René Préval, but dropped out when the Organization of American States contested the first-round of voting results, which originally put Célestin ahead of Michel Martelly, who eventually became president. With a Swiss education in mechanical engineering, Célestin took a job in the government’s road construction agency in 1997, becoming director in 2006 under Préval. Célestin is running on a campaign platform to boost job creation and fight government corruption. He has also voiced support for harmonious relations with the Dominican Republic.

Jovenel Moïse is the presidential candidate representing the current ruling Haitian Tèt Kale Party, or PHTK. Moïse is promisingto further the Martelly administration’s efforts on education and tourism. As head of Agritrans, Haiti’s first agricultural free zone dedicated to exporting bananas, Moïse is also a proponent of creating jobs and increasing exports through the agricultural sector. “In terms of arable land, we have nothing to envy of other producers at the level of the Caribbean,” he said. This summer, Haiti’s Departmental Electoral Office of Litigation (BCED) consideredaccusations that Moïse used a portion of Agritrans funds to finance his electoral campaign, but ultimately approved his candidacy in June. The presidential bid is Moïse’s first political race.

Presidential candidate and former Senator Moïse Jean-Charles has long been one of the Martelly government’s most vocal critics. Hefirst entered the Senate in 2009 as a representative of the country’s North department, where he served on the Foreign Affairs, Natural Resources and Rural Development, Finance, and Agricultural committees. He also won three terms as Milot mayor from 1994 to 2004. Though Jean-Charles represents the Pitit Desalin party, he was a mayor under the banner of Fanmi Lavalas—the party of Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

His campaign platform focuses on accelerating Haiti’s low growth rate and combating extreme poverty by investing in agriculture. Meanwhile, he’ll change the way funds from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe are distributed so that they are used for infrastructure projects, science and technology education, and police officers. He has also repeatedly called for the withdrawal of the UN’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Like Jovenel Moïse, Jean-Charlesfaced scrutiny from the BCED into his campaign finances.

Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas is the only female presidential candidate in the race to rank among the five most popular candidates. A human rights advocate and a medical doctor who helped open clinics across Haitian communities, Narcisse has experienced a fair dose of political turbulence in her life. After Aristide’s 2004 overthrow and exile in South Africa, Narcisse sought asylum in Miami. Both returned to Haiti in 2007 and Aristide named Narcisse the official party spokesperson. Later that year, a group of armed men kidnapped Narcisse and a fellow party member, allegedly for political reasons. She was released three days later. Today, her campaign platform focuses on rule of law, education, and increasing national production, especially through the strengthening of small and medium businesses. Narcisse served in public office as general director for the Health Ministry during Aristide’s second administration, and has worked for the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the UN. The doctor also worked for the United States Agency for International Development, a point on her résumé that at least one other candidate has used against her, given controversy over international aid in Haiti.

Lawyer Jean-Henry Céant of the Renmen Ayiti (“Love Haiti”) party ran for 2010 and registered as one of the leading candidates per some polls at the time, enjoying Fanmi Lavalas support as Aristide’s notary. His campaign focuses on four constituencies: the Haitian diaspora, farmers, women, and young people. At a rally at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Céant called for amending the country’s 1987 constitution to include the Haitians living outside the country in political matters.

What Are Voters’ Top Concerns?

Without a doubt, Haitians are the most concerned about the economic situation in their country. Economic growth slowed from 4.2 percent in 2013 to 2.7 percent in 2014, affected, in part, by a devastating drought that slashed agricultural production. Though Haiti reduced the share of its population living in extreme povertyfrom 31 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2012, it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In 2011, the unemployment rate hit 40.6 percent, and stands at about 50 percent in urban areas,according to the UN’s World Food Program.

While health and water access are not such prominent voter issues, they nonetheless present challenges. A 2010 cholera outbreak, which killed 8,592 people and infected more than 700,000 through August 2014, continues to affect Haitians. Less than 50 percent of households have access to clean water. Haiti is also still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake, with damages amounting to some $8 billion in a country with a GDP of $8.7 billion and nearly 80,000 Haitians still living in tent cities five years later.


AFGHANISTAN: Pakistan and Afghanistan: The new Great Game

 Pakistani people light candles to pray for the victims who were killed in an attack at the Army run school in PeshawarThe Peshawar school attack was widely condemned.   Image copyright EPA

Ever since the Pakistan Taliban massacred 132 schoolboys in a Peshawar school last December, the Pakistan army has been confronting some of the country’s militants, with unprecedented determination.

But the campaign is still patchy. While the Pakistan Taliban have been forced on to the back foot, other Pakistan-based militant outfits have been left undisturbed.

Publicly, Pakistani officials insist that they no longer make a distinction between the “good” Taliban (proxy forces of the Pakistan state) and the “bad” Taliban (which mount sectarian or anti-state attacks).

But privately they argue the army has to prioritise which groups to confront first. The immediate, urgent task, they say, is to fight the militants who have caused tens of thousands of deaths within Pakistan itself.

Afghan attacks

It means militant groups such as the Haqqani network, which focuses most of its efforts on Afghanistan, can fight on unimpeded. The group, which is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is believed to have mounted a series of attacks on Kabul this summer.

It has been a devastating campaign. In the first six months of 2015, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented the highest level of civilian casualties in the country since it began keeping authoritative records in 2008.

Similarly, the Afghan Taliban have stepped up their military activity – most recently in the city of Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan.

Kabul for years has complained that many Afghan Taliban leaders live in and around the Pakistani city of Quetta.

When asked about the issue, Pakistani military officials say that, with as many as three million Afghans in Pakistan, it is difficult to be sure who is living where.

The lack of an outright denial is deliberate. The perception that Pakistan controls the Afghan Taliban gives Pakistani officials diplomatic leverage. If the West wants peace in Afghanistan, they are implicitly suggesting, it will have to secure Pakistani co-operation to deliver it.

In fact, history suggests that the Afghan Taliban, while happy to accept Pakistani support, are quite capable of ignoring Islamabad’s instructions and formulating their own policies.


When the new Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, won power in 2014, he said improving the relationship with Pakistan was a top priority: if Islamabad would cut its links with the Afghan Taliban, then Kabul would try to prevent anti-Pakistan forces finding sanctuary in Afghanistan.

The two countries, he suggested, could only find stability by working together.

But for all the hope that President Ghani engendered, Islamabad and Kabul have reverted to hurling accusations at each other. And the distrust seems set to continue.

Geostrategic concerns

Senior Pakistani military officers say one of the reasons they have a continued interest in Afghanistan is because India is extending its influence there.

Islamabad fears that, among other things, Delhi is using its presence in Afghanistan to build a closer relationship with Baloch separatists, who for a decade have been fighting to split away from Pakistan.

The issue is especially sensitive because of Pakistan’s plans to construct the China Pakistan economic corridor. The planned trade route will run through Balochistan, close to the Afghan border, down to the new deep-sea port of Gwadar.

Pakistan is hoping the corridor could generate billions of dollars of revenue.

It is a highly complex geostrategic situation.

Put at its most succinct, Pakistani strategists are supporting Islamist militants to counter Indian intelligence officers working with Baloch nationalists to thwart Chinese traders.

It all shows the extent to which the Great Game, in which outside powers struggle for control of Afghanistan, is alive and well.

The Great Game

  • Strategic rivalry between the British and Russian Empires for control of central Asia during the 19th and early 20th Centuries
  • Officially ended with the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, which divided Persia into three zones, declared Afghanistan an official protectorate of Britain and said that neither Russia nor Britain would interfere in Tibet’s internal affairs
  • Britain’s Capt Arthur Conolly is generally considered to have coined the term
  • Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel Kim is set against the backdrop of the Great Game, which brought the phrase into the mainstream

As has so often been the case in the past, the stability of Afghanistan depends on it being left alone. But the regional powers all see the country as a place that can cause them problems.

The result is that many of Afghanistan’s neighbours sponsor local, tribal and religious militias so as to prevent anyone else’s proxy getting control.

It is a process Afghan civilians recognise all too well because, more often than not, they are the ones caught in the crossfire.


AFGHANISTAN, DEVELOPMENT: The Next Refugee Crisis: Afghanistan


WASHINGTON — With the war in Afghanistan heating up, thousands of Afghan refugees are fleeing their country. But Iran and Pakistan, which house most of the Afghan refugees from previous cycles of violence, are increasingly unwelcoming. So the new exodus has begun to flow toward Europe, already inundated with Syria’s refugees.

Yet these Afghans have attracted little attention from Western policy makers; they do not seem to recognize the Afghans’ desperation, and the challenges their flight poses for Afghanistan, its neighbors and Europe. For Afghans, it is a recurring nightmare. Like previous exoduses going back to the 1970s, this one is stripping the country of precisely the professionals who are vital to its future as a modern state.

President Obama has an opportunity to change that on Thursday by putting the issue high on his agenda, and calling international attention to it, when he hosts Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Washington.

The new surge of refugees began with the Taliban’s offensive this year, and intensified after fighting reached populated areas like Kunduz. Last month, employees at Afghanistan’s passport agency said they were issuing an average of 2,000 passports daily — triple the number of six months ago.

In recent decades, most Afghan refugees have wound up in Pakistan, which now hosts nearly three million. But refugees there complain that this year, officials have been forcing them to return home. The International Organization for Migration says 90,000 Pakistan-based Afghans did just that since January. Now the government refuses to extend identity cards for 1.5 million refugees, many of whom have been in Pakistan for decades, when their permits expire at year’s end.

Iran, too, has been deporting refugees. One reason is fear that Afghans with ties to the drug trade will compound Iran’s own drug-use problems.

Deportation can be a harsh sentence. Some returnees end up in United Nations camps near Jalalabad, a stronghold for former Taliban militants who joined the Islamic State. The danger may be worst for ethnic Hazaras; they are Shiite Muslims, and many fled slaughter by the Taliban.

Afghans cannot expect much help from their own government. One official American report says the State Department stopped funding a training program for Afghanistan’s refugee and repatriation ministry last year after finding the ministry corrupt and dysfunctional.

Helping Afghan refugees is not an easy issue for Pakistani officials, who already deal with a million internally displaced Pakistanis fleeing conflict in their own border areas.

So the Afghan exodus increasingly looks to Europe as its destination, after a perilous trek across Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean.

According to United Nations and European estimates, more than 20 percent of the roughly 500,000 people who have arrived this year via the Mediterranean have been Afghans.

The flow poses a serious challenge for Europe, which is already experiencing its greatest refugee crisis since World War II and needs no further scapegoats for its anti-immigration demagogues to attack.

But if Europe closes its doors to them, that would only shift the challenge back to Pakistan, where Afghans could be expected to resume arriving in greater numbers. Even in normal times, tens of thousands of Afghans pass back and forth monthly through two border checkpoints, most of them as legitimate temporary visitors. The temptation to cheat at those crossing points would increase even as other desperate Afghans stepped up the flow across more porous parts of the border. That would surely exacerbate a growing public resentment of Afghan refugees, whom many Pakistanis already associate with terrorism, drug abuse and a drag on their economy.

So the world must acknowledge the plain fact that Afghanistan’s refugees need help. Their own government, beleaguered by war and its own dysfunction, is not up for the task, and its two largest neighbors are increasingly indifferent to their plight.

It is unrealistic to expect Pakistan to voluntarily accept more Afghan refugees. Still, it should better help those already there. Mr. Obama should press Mr. Sharif to extend the identity cards about to expire. He should urge a more gradual and humane repatriation process. And he should assure Mr. Sharif that Americans remain committed to financial support for international aid programs that assist Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran — programs now under budgetary pressure.

Iran, which houses the second-largest Afghan refugee population, has extended the visas of 450,000 Afghans. Yet Afghans there also report forced deportations and other bad treatment. According to one recent report, Iranian border policemen shot and killed seven Afghans trying to enter the country. These policies must end.

As for the Western countries, the European nations whose troops took part in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan should ensure that Afghans are included in any European Union quotas that distribute refugees among member states. And Washington should expedite special visas for those Afghans who worked for the United States government or military and say that their lives are endangered. In September, at least 13,000 Afghans and Iraqis with that status were still waiting.

And, if security can be assured, international aid groups should accelerate the creation of safe zones within pacified areas in the country, where the United Nations says the total internally displaced population numbers nearly a million. These people need incentives to stay in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, some of Afghanistan’s other neighbors should band together to help. Bordering countries in Central Asia, along with Russia, China and Iran, all need more stability in Afghanistan and fear the specter of heavy refugee flows into their countries; they should pool funds to support the formation of permanent safe areas inside Afghanistan, in places like Bamian Province that still enjoy relative stability.

Given the lack of quick fixes for Afghanistan’s violence, corruption and economic distress, safe areas may be the best possible incentive for Afghans to remain in their country. It is only a stopgap, but one that might help keep a dangerous crisis in check.

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