Interesting Anti-Civilian Bias

by Joshua Foust on 5/17/2009 · 2 comments

Nick Dowling continues his dispatches from Northeast RC-East:

A Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan operates as a combined military-military-military-military-civilian unit. The idea is that counterinsurgency and stability operations required civilian agency capabilities. In reality, PRTs are almost entirely military, even though many of the officers are air force pilots and ship drivers with little or no experience in reconstruction operations. PRTs are supposed to have a State, USAID, and USDA representative in their command group but often these civilians have not shown up, are on TDY, go on leave or transfer every three months, or don’t work effectively on the PRT.

A strong exception to this stereotype of PRT dysfunction is the Laghman PRT. The PRT Commander, LTC Steve Erickson, USAF, really impressed us with his description of how he and his USAID rep talk through COIN and development principles in their operations. Laghmanis are known as particularly clever and well educated Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns along the southern branches of Alingar and Alishing rivers and the fertile plains around Mehterlam. The more remote parts of the province do offer some pockets of insurgency and Erickson and his team have responded with a popular COIN reconstruction strategy focused on roads.

Right, the military is a constant (nine whole months running governance in an entire province!), while those unreliable civilians are always gone, or on vacation, or can’t “work effectively” on the PRT. Notice that the PRT commander has a name, but his “USAID rep” does not. That’s to say nothing about those “particularly clever” Laghmanis, and I guess all those Pashai who crowd out those southern Alisheng Pashtuns.

While Dowling notes, indirectly, the problems associated with the extremely short PRT rotations (nine months is NOT enough time to come in cold and know the power players of a region to operate effectively), and is absolutely right that the entire PRT system needs to be fixed from top to bottom, I’m really curious as to why the military guys he meets have names, but none of the civilians do. Would he consider that to be part of the problem? That even the “thinkers” and trainers traveling through the country focus only on the military, only humanize the military, while the civilian agencies are written off as faceless, worthless bureaucracies? For example: what is Dowling’s basis for speaking so broadly and definitively about the ineffectiveness of civilian PRT personnel?

These sorts of questions rarely make it into mil-journals. They need to: if the U.S. military is going to be the permanent lead agency in these sorts of conflicts, then it must be able to account for the non-military actors on our side. Otherwise, the dysfunction will continue unabated.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Dan May 17, 2009 at 9:20 am

Some of it may be classic in-group bias. It looks to me the same as when support troops are called fobbits, denegrating any prior service or commands they may have had (hating the player instead of the game). People favor what they like and belittle the targets of their jealousies.

mj May 19, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I thought the State Dept. was the lead on PRTs, not the military. The idea was for the other departments to get involved and provide some manpower to share the burden. These are supposed to be civilian outfits. Why aren’t there more civilians on the PRTs? Just put more State Dept. and USAID civilians on the PRTs, what’s the problem.

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