PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (31 May 2010) – Operation Enduring Freedom won’t be won with bullets and bombs alone.
While combat operations rage on, a quieter narrative unfolds in the background. It’s the story of new schools, new opportunities and new challenges.
Those who understand it, like U.S. Army Maj. Bryce Jones, a Reserve civil affairs officer with the 405th Civil Affairs Bn., say it’s critical for winning the war.
“We want to get the populous to say ‘you know what—we don’t need Taliban anymore because Coalition Forces are making our lives better,’” said Jones, a Henefer, Utah resident, who spent eight months helping to implement U.S.-funded development projects in Panjshir province.
Development is particularly important in Regional Command East, one of five regional joint task force command territories in Afghanistan. This territory, the battle space of Combined Joint Task Force-82, is roughly the size of Mississippi. It contains 14 of the country’s 34 provinces surrounding the capital, Kabul, and about 9.9 million people, who make up roughly a third of the country’s population.
Dawn Liberi, the civilian counterpart of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of CJTF-82, said 41 of the 81 regional development zones selected by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for special attention are found within RC-East.
Liberi said the two largest sources of U.S. government money, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, contributed a total of about $900 million to development and governance projects in RC-East since June 2009. The two programs contributed in roughly equal amounts.
In order to understand what this money means—to understand the broad development strategy—an acquaintance with the key concepts and key players is essential.
The old saying, “Catch a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” captures much of the essence of the buzzword Capacity Building.
Capacity Building is a term that underscores the ultimate ISAF goal of leaving Afghanistan with sustainable, self-sufficient institutions.
“Capacity Building is really enabling—Afghans in this case—to essentially do the tasks that they need to do in order to make their country work, to make it run,” Liberi said.
While Capacity Building takes place at the institutional level, much of the most important work happens through person-to-person interaction, Liberi said. For example, one civilian from the Department of Agriculture began hosting weekly demonstrations to show Afghans how to farm better. Fifty Afghans arrived to the first demonstration, 150 to the second and 800 people to the third.
Capacity Building requires a change in mindset for troops who have been trained to have a “Go get ‘em attitude,” Jones said.
“It takes so much patience for us because military guys naturally want to solve the problem on our own ... but you’ve got to help them solve their own problem,” Jones said. “They’ve got to come up with the idea; they’ve got to come up with the way to do it.”
How is it that diverse civilian entities and the military are able to function together coherently in the same battle space? Unified Action is the answer.
Unified Action has two components, Liberi explained.
“First and foremost it’s enabling all of the civilian agencies under the United States government to essentially work together in a chain of command, if you will, under chief of mission authority, which comes from the ambassador,” Liberi said. “So instead of having separate agencies doing different things on their own, Unified Action enables there to be one structure and one unified chain, which didn’t exist before. The second thing that it does is enables the civilians at each level to be counterparts to the military.”
U.S. Army Maj. Gary R. Kramlich of Minot, N.D., an operation analyst with CJTF-82, explained why Unified Action matters.
“Unified Action is putting the right people in the right place with the right skills,” Kramlich said. “The military’s very good with organization. We have the equipment to sustain ourselves in any environment, but we’re not necessarily the best qualified to teach mayors how to be mayors. We’re not the best qualified to teach farmers how to be farmers. But people from Department of State, people from Department of Agriculture, people from USAID, are.”
Combined Action is the integration of ISAF and the Afghan troops into a single team. While Combined Action is usually talked about in reference to combat operations, Kramlich said there is “no doubt” about its being important to development as well.
“The United States military and NATO mission has incredible capacity, but we struggle when and comes to understanding the culture, we struggle when it comes to understanding the language and that’s why (our Combined Action with the ANSF) is building the right solution. They understand the people, they understand the tribal dynamics, they understand the sensitivities that we may inadvertently make worse.”
Kramlich said the benefits of Combined Action have been tremendous. He cited the teamwork of ISAF and ANSF during the national election as a particularly conspicuous example of success.
In early 2002, Army units called Coalition Humanitarian Liaison Cells were the first military vehicle for furthering development in Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban rule. These were the forerunners of today’s Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
PRTs are diverse U.S. and NATO military units of typically less than 100 members, who can be either military or civilian. It’s hard to summarize the diverse array of tasks they engage in, but the most important include mentoring Afghanistan’s provincial-level officials, providing oversight and quality control for contracted projects, and helping provincial development councils approve and implement development projects. PRTs often provide the funding for projects through CERP and USAID.
PRTs in RC-East organize and implement a wide range of projects using at least 80 percent local labor. These projects focus on such different things as education, rule of law, health and sanitation, and transportation. The Parwan PRT is involved in constructing a 26-room high school and a 16-classroom girls school. The Panjshir PRT used local labor to complete about 25 miles of a road that will eventually connect Kabul to China via Badakhshan province, the panhandle of eastern Afghanistan.
There are currently 27 PRTs operating in Afghanistan. Of these, 14 are in RC-East.
Agribusiness Development Teams function similar to PRTs but are more focused on projects that deal with agriculture. They regularly engage in building greenhouses, conducting quality control on local slaughterhouses and planting trees.
Compared to PRTs, ADTs are relative newcomers. According to the Army’s handbook for ADTs, the ADT originated in 2007 when Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, Director of the Army National Guard, Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, and civilian and military leaders in the state of Missouri developed the idea to deploy troops with expertise in agriculture.
The 2007 brainstorm resulted in the creation of the Missouri National Guard’s 935th ADT. Several other states followed suit, including Texas, Nebraska, Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Liberi said she has never known of an ADT being targeted in an IED attack. When she asked a group of ADT troops about this, they attributed the lack of attacks to the fact that they provide valuable services to the population, she said.
RC-East contains eight of the nine ADTs in Afghanistan. Speaking of these, Scaparrotti said, “They’re worth their weight in gold.”
District Support Teams are similar to PRTs but they operate at a more local level of government. (For a rough analogy with the United States, think of provinces as states and districts as counties.) DSTs were formed largely to keep PRTs from being stretched too thin over large amounts of territory, Kramlich explained.
DSTs, company-sized elements with mixed military and civilian members, are excellent exemplars of Unified Action. Ideally, each DST would contain three civilians, one from USAID, one from the Department of Agriculture and one from the Department of State. The civilians in DSTs stay at district centers for 12 to 18 months in order to establish long-term relationships with district-level officials.
Kramlich said the increase in the number of DSTs in RC-East has corresponded with the “civilian surge” throughout Afghanistan.
Both Liberi and Scaparrotti mentioned DSTs as important components to the development success CJTF-82 has found over the course of the last year. CJTF-82 began their deployment at a time when no DSTs were operating in RC-East.
“We now have 19 District Support Teams in RC-East and it will go up to 23 very shortly,” Liberi said during a May 11 interview. This represents more than half of the DSTs in Afghanistan.
The complicated nature of the development mission means there is no easy way to gauge the success of a given PRT, ADT or DST. Circumstances may dictate that it is best for a PRT to avoid pushing a project too quickly so that it can make its way through the proper Afghan channels. A good example of this is how the Panjshir PRT worked to establish a landfill in their area of operations.
The unit met with the mayor of Bazarak, the capital of Panjshir province, to discuss the project of building a landfill, Jones said. Getting the mayor to accept the idea was the easy part. A landfill expert worked with the mayor to find an area that met all the specifications.
“We realized it wasn’t going to come to fruition while we were there and we didn’t care,” Jones said. “The key thing is we wanted to get it started so the new PRT could come in and say ‘oh guess what we have an area for a possible landfill, in our nine months we can make progress toward that. We may not get it running, but we can make progress.’”
It may sometimes seem like “three steps forward, two steps back” to those at the local level who deal with the nuts and bolts of the issues, but the big picture numbers give some reason for encouragement.
“Under the Taliban there were 700,000 kids in school now there are 7.2 million; a lot of that is because of programs we’ve enabled the ministry of education to develop,” Liberi said. “As (a result) of programs with the Ministry of Health, 80 percent of Afghans have access to healthcare where they didn’t before. So these are the kinds of programs that have made a difference in people’s lives.”
Further reasons for encouragement can be found in a quarterly survey, conducted by ISAF, which asks Afghans questions like, “Have the following services improved in the last 12 months?” for a variety of services. The most recent survey, completed in April, used 20 male surveyors and 20 female surveyors to gather the viewpoints of more than 6,000 Afghans in every district of RC-East. The survey showed that, for many services, Afghans were more likely to agree to the statements in 2010 than they had been in 2009. For instance, 71 percent said boys’ education had improved (a 7-percent increase), 56 percent said girls’ education had improved (a 5-percent increase) and 66 percent said roads had improved (a 21-percent increase).
Kramlich said the improvements in basic services translate into greater trust in GIRoA.
“We find that if it’s a PRT that’s doing it, if it’s an ADT that’s doing it, whether it’s us doing it through CERP funds whether it’s a non-governmental agency providing those services, they still see it as the government of Afghanistan providing the services to them, and that’s the part that keeps them looking to GIRoA as the best alternative to the Taliban,” Kramlich said.
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