By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Complicating the Obama administration's plan to ramp up civilian aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the State Department employs just 18 foreign service officers who can speak the language of the region where the Taliban insurgency rages, according to records and interviews.
Two of them work in Afghanistan, both in the capital, Kabul Peshawar, Pakistan
"It's a grim illustration of two problems," said Ronald Neumann
The Pashto language is the main tongue of the
mountainous Pashtun region that straddles the border between Pakistan
and Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda recruit and operate.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
The State Department has long failed to meet its language needs. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 30% of State Department employees based overseas in "language-designated positions" could not speak and write the local language well enough to meet basic requirements.
The language deficit is one reason the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks Defense Department
9/11 terrorist attacks
The California-based Defense Language Institute
has given 10,000 people some basic exposure to Pashto through mobile
training units, spokesman Brian Lamar Indiana
The State Department's efforts have been more modest. In addition to the 18 foreign service officers who are proficient in Pashto, 82 speak Dari, State's Bureau of Human Resources said in an e-mail. It said 20 Dari speakers are in Afghanistan.
Those figures will improve, said Ruth Whiteside, who directs State's Foreign Service Institute, which is training 13 diplomats in Pashto and 37 in Dari. A larger 2010 budget will expand those numbers, she said.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, responsible for billions of dollars in aid programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was unable to say, despite repeated requests, how many of its employees speak Afghan languages.
In addition to the ROTC program, Indiana University trains military members of Provincial Reconstruction Teams that are an integral part of the Afghan counterinsurgency, said Paul Foster, who runs the program. The teams include State Department and USAID personnel, but "those people have never come to us," he said.