Paktika PRT civil affairs team chief working to reshape Afghanistan’s future with help from Afghan forces

Written by U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Mark Lazane Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs Saturday, 17 April 2010 02:12

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Capt. Phillip Stone, civil affairs team chief and officer in charge of the Orgun detachment of the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team, speaks to local residents of Warjana Kalay, Orgun district, during a recent civil affairs mission to gain an understanding of the village’s most-pressing needs and concerns. The Paktika PRT is a joint team whose mission is to help legitimize the government of Afghanistan through development, governance and agricultural initiatives. Stone, a native of San Diego, Calif., now living in Hackensack, N.J., is deployed from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester, Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team Public Affairs)PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan- U. S. Army Capt. Phillip Stone, the civil affairs team chief and officer in charge of the Orgun detachment of the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team, has a plan to improve governance, security and overall quality of life for members of the eastern part of Paktika province, a large province located in eastern Afghanistan not far from the Pakistan tribal areas.

“When we work with villages, we are going to put the elders in charge and reinforce their positions,” said Stone, a 13-year Army veteran originally from San Diego, Calif., now living in Hackensack, N.J. “Once you start putting them in charge and reinforcing the people in those positions of responsibility, you create trust in the local people that they know those elders are who they go to in the village in order to get something accomplished.”

The mission of the Paktika PRT is to assist in the stabilization and security of this remote province. However, rather than going out and actively combating insurgent activity, the PRT focuses on other causes of instability, chiefly: healthcare, development, governance and agriculture initiatives.

The PRT is a collection of military and interagency partners who help provide the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the tools necessary to provide for the long-term needs of the provincial population.

Stone’s mission with the PRT is somewhat different than the missions of other Coalition forces in the area. The difference between the missions leads him to constantly ensure his motives and activities are in accordance with the goals and motives of other units in the battle space.

“We have to make sure we are always synchronized here not only with the maneuver units but also with the local government and what they see as their priorities,” Stone said.

On one recent mission, members of the Afghan National Army along with members of Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team, visited three villages in the Orgun district to assess the security, economic and agricultural situation in the area.

While in the villages of Warjana Kalay, Balay Kalay and Tsinowkho Kalay, ANA and PRT members sought out village elders to ask them about their concerns, assess their economic situations and to convince the local population of the positive effect coalition forces can have in the region. In a land that is still influenced heavily by tribal affiliations, the village elders are respected people in their communities and often serve as spokesmen for their neighbors.

Once Stone and his civil affairs team, who are deployed from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Reserve, locate village elders, they speak with them to try to gain an understanding of the true needs of the village. Common shared concerns include lack of clean and irrigable water, lack of quality healthcare and security concerns in the village.

Stone listens intently to the elders’ concerns, but doesn’t make promises to individuals regarding specific projects they discuss. Instead, Stone gathers the information and works with GIRoA and U.S. agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of State to find affordable, efficient and lasting solutions to village problems.

Stone, who is responsible not only for the Orgun PRT detachment but for all civil affairs activities throughout eastern Paktika, feels that measurable progress has already been made.

“We are able to go into a lot of different villages other PRTs couldn’t go to in the past due to the added security around us,” he said. “But if we were to just go out and do our own thing any way that we wanted, we would be undermining the very government that we are trying to assist. Anything that we do here has to be worked in conjunction with the local government.”

“We are relatively new to this area, so we haven’t seen lots of the projects that we are creating, nor will we see most of them in their completed state,” said Stone. “It will probably be the next team that sees the end results of the projects that we are doing here, and that’s okay. When you see the end result of the projects your team has supported, it’s great. Knowing that I can make a difference is one of the best parts about this job.”

In order to bring rule of law and a sense of governance down to the village level, the responsibility must be shouldered by more than just Coalition forces, said Stone.

“The Afghan people need to trust each other,” Stone said. “They really need people that are interested in the overall welfare of the people rather than their own. There are so many good individuals out there working hard, but the small minority, such as anti-Afghan forces, taints the pool for the rest of them.”

“We all have to work together to solve the problems in this province,” said Capt. Salim, the Afghan National Army commander for the area who often goes on missions with the PRT. “Our country has been at war for 30 years. You can have a mine planted to harm your children or you can plant a beautiful tree. Which would you rather have?”

Stone’s team exemplifies the counterinsurgency strategy currently underway throughout Afghanistan. In the COIN strategy, Coalition forces not only try to root out enemy fighters and limit civilian casualties, they also work to build up and support the local governments. This will ultimately control Afghanistan’s future after Coalition forces’ work is complete.

“In my opinion, COIN is a type of warfare centered and focused on the populace,” Stone said. “In today’s operations, there isn’t a clearly-defined frontline battle that we’ve seen in the past. The battle is for the support of the local population. In an insurgency, the local population can either support the enemy by giving them safe haven, supplies and the ability to function in their area, or Coalition forces can work with the local population to help them side with us and deny them those things.”

Stone’s efforts to engage the public in discussions of security and governance do not go unnoticed by the local villagers.

“We hear sometimes from anti-Afghan forces that we shouldn’t listen to the Coalition forces or trust anyone who comes into our village, but we don’t listen,” said Mohammed Kalim, a local shopkeeper who lives near the village of Tsinowkho Kalay. “We will work with our coalition partners because we know working with them is the key to having a bright future.”