March 6th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Report warns of overwork at U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan

A State Department inspector general's report says the U.S. Embassy staff in Afghanistan suffers from morale problems, overwork and the constant demands of visiting VIPs, which the report calls "war tourism."

The inspector general warns that problems may increase as the embassy doubles in size in coming months.

"Morale at Embassy Kabul has been challenged by the stresses of an almost 100 percent personnel turnover, a massive civilian buildup at a frenetic pace, the redesign of development assistance programs, the continuing high volume of official visitors, and the need to support an extended presidential strategy review," the report says.

Because of the time difference between the United States and Afghanistan, it says, the ambassador and top aides often must work through the night on video conferences with Washington.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was part of the lengthy White House meetings President Barack Obama called to hammer out a new Afghanistan policy.

"From October 1 through November 12, 2009, Embassy Kabul participated in 10 late-night video conferences, some called at the last minute, between 9:00 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. (local time), in addition to other video conferences scheduled during working hours," the report says.

"Three nights in a row during the month of November, the ambassador participated in video conferences between midnight and 2:00 a.m. ... The OIG (Office of the Inspector General) team witnessed one day when the ambassador had to cancel his next day's activities in order to get enough rest after being up virtually the entire night preparing for and participating in a video conference with Washington. On occasion he has to leave for previously scheduled travel a matter of hours after a 3:00 a.m. video conference terminates."

The report says the embassy is expected to increase from 531 employees in January 2009 to more than 1,300 by the end of 2010, with most of those people assigned to the facility in Kabul.

"Conditions on the embassy compound are already strained beyond capacity, and, despite the embassy's efforts, there will be serious challenges in residential and office space," the report says.

For hundreds of Americans working outside Kabul with provincial reconstruction teams or other field offices, there are what the report describes as "primitive conditions without basic housing and sanitation."

The report says what it calls "a steady stream of high-level visitors and congressional delegations" cause a flurry of extra activity at an already busy embassy, with some visitors making special requests and last-minute travel changes.

"Some describe the incredible volume of visitors from all branches of the federal and even state governments as 'war tourism,'" the report says. "As of October 1, 2009, the embassy had supported approximately 100 groups of visitors, totaling over 700 individuals, and accounting for over 30,000 bed nights. Approximately a dozen more congressional delegations were expected before the end of 2009."

The inspector general's report also takes a somber view of attaining U.S. goals.

"Even with the able leadership of Kabul's senior officers, the best of intentions, and the most dedicated efforts, Embassy Kabul faces serious challenges in meeting the administration's deadline for "success" in Afghanistan," the report says.

"The unprecedented pace and scope of the civilian buildup, the need for these new officers to arrive in Kabul before support infrastructure expansions have been completed, and the complexity of establishing arrangements to equip the new subject matter experts for success in the field will constrain the ability of these new officers in the short-term to promote stability, good governance, and rule of law in Afghanistan."

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