Karzai Is Actually Right

by Joshua Foust on 2/8/2011 · 9 comments

I have a new piece up at the AfPak Channel:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, everyone’s favorite punching bag in Afghanistan, has decided provincial reconstruction teams — PRTs — are, in fact, bad for his country. “The Afghans want to have a government of their own. The Afghans don’t want a government from abroad,” Karzai told reporters in Kabul. “The transition means giving the whole thing to Afghan ownership and leadership. Naturally then the PRTs will have no place.” …

However, the Afghan government is how the United States will eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. Building a stable Afghan government that can defend itself is one of the main pillars of the Obama administration’s strategy for the country, and when PRTs funnel hundreds of millions of dollars away from Afghan government control and oversight — however troubled — they are directly undermining the very government the United States is relying on for victory. This is why the World Bank has thrown millions of dollars at various “capacity building” projects in the country in an effort to improve its administration and oversight. It is also why funneling more aid through the government — however gradually — is actually better for the long-term health of Afghanistan, even if it contributes to aggregate corruption.

More there, as always…

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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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Burk February 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Hi, Registan-

This is rather mysterious. Do you see the Afghan government supplying analogous security, services, stability, expertise, and grassroots empowerment as is being done by the PRT’s? Isn’t Karzai just attacking any progressive and effective governing element he can (as do the Taliban, incidentally) in order to bolster his corruption and warlord networks? If your thesis is that warlordism is THE native solution, and thus will be the final solution sooner or later, isn’t that aiming a little low? Isn’t Karzai cooking up a disaster where Afghanistan returns right down the drain towards corruption, warlordism, and ultimately civil war? I found a recent article at small wars highly illuminating.

Don Anderson February 9, 2011 at 6:20 am

Joshua and Karzai are right…

The simple fact of the matter is that sooner rather than later the function of PRTs(not done very well nor in a sustainable manner) must merge with the local provincial government.

ISAF lost in space as always should clearly recognize both the logic and inevitablility of this coming change and work towards an immediate transition.

Karzai did not say anything wrong, he just said what must be a near future result. Our people are behind the eight ball not him on this issue.

And he is correct, we should have started to do this at least a year ago, when he started to request it.

Sometimes we don’t know how to listen well also. Listening is just as important as “demanding” in Kabul and with Afghans.

A skill we need to improve post haste.

james February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm

He is right but leaving out an important point. Corruption. If we started funneling money to the Afghan government how much would make it out TO the provinces?

M Shannon February 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm

PRTs were first formed in 2002 to provide security to the newly appointed provincial governors. The “R” was put in to convince (trick) the Europeans in ISAF to leave Kabul and start operating in the hinterland.

The problems with the PRTs are serious and probably not solvable:

1. Force protection rules ensure that movement outside the wire is expensive, slow and costly. Roughly $ 200,000 per trip for US gov employees. 16 soldiers, four MRAPS and 48 hours notice to check on the state of a bridge 600 m from the PRT isn’t the way to win a war.

2. Because USAID doesn’t actually do work a system of sub-contracting exists which fuels corruption and funds the insurgency.

3. PRTs live in a world of two prices- the normal price and a 400% higher PRT price for materials.

4. PRTs split ISAF command which violates the often violated principal of unity of command. There are two US Army S-2 shops on some FOBs who normally don’t talk to each other except in extremis.

5. PRTs employ educated Afghans as translators who would be better used in the government o private sector.

6. PRTs often attempt projects at odds with government advice or desires.

The answer? I don’t think development is a necessary or perhaps even helpful part of COIN but if you insist on improving irrigation to opium fields then shut down the PRTs and hire an engineering firm to be the Provincial Public Works Branch with projects requested by the PGs, DGs and mayors and vetted through USAID in Kabul. Forbid sub-contracting and make hiring and buying as transparent as possible.

M Shannon February 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I would add that getting rid of PRTs would reduce the logistic burden on ISAF and reduce the bribes paid to the insurgency an criminals for passage of convoys.

Since many PRT folks are civilians or reservists closing them would save billions annually.

Getting rid of PRTs would be safer for Afghan civilians as “ROE” incidents would decline.

The engineering firm I mentioned above should operate in low profile, on the economy and not off FOBs. The fewer expats employed the better.

RScott February 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm

The PRTs should have included branches of local government from the start, in many cases people who at least know the area and would have many local contacts, if not relatives. The PRT personnel could have worked in a counterpart relationship with the Afghan irrigation, agriculture and rural development people, perhaps helping to upgrade their technical skills…and at the same time carefully monitor the spending on projects. But the foreign Kabul element (us) should have been kept out of the process of project selection as they know even less that the local PRT foreigners (us). Then we also have the PRTs made up of at least 2 foreign groups, US and the Brits…more confusing. The real problem: trying to move too much money too fast frequently on irrelevant projects, irrelevant for the target population.

M Shannon February 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm

The PRT should not have had local government as part of it. To do so would make the PRT CO the provincial governor. The more we do and the more people we put in country the greater the insurgency grows. It’s no surprise that many Afghans don’t like being occupied.

A typical irrigation improvement project in a village costs about $ 100,000. The desire to fill PRTs with people who cost $ 250,000 per year and need a security detail costing $ 8-12,000 per day to check on Afghan ditch digging is a massive waste of money. Even if 50% of the projects were fraudulent or wasteful the cost of the kind of detailed supervision the PRT is supposed to allow would dwarf the cost of the projects.

Until US gov rules on the level of force protection required for it’s employees are reduced there is no point in the vast majority entering the country. They soak up millions in security costs and accommodation without the ability to use what limited skills (in the sense of knowledge that can actually be applied in Afghanistan) they have.

Mike Anderson February 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Karzai was right. I completely agree with your points, while pointing out that many of the PRTs have already made the transition from being the government to teaching GIRoA how to be the government. As a PRT Commander in Nangarhar, everything you speak of what we should be doing is what we are currently TRYING to do. For over a year, the main effort here is working with GIRoA every step of the way to teach them how to do strategic planning, sustain existing services, close service gaps, and budget for both. Our money funnels through IDLG-sponsored programs. We bring GIRoA officials with us to every ongoing project when we go on site visits. We spend 5x more time meeting with directors and governors than projects. Gov Sherzai and the districts want us to go back to the old way of doing business, because it was easier than dealing with the bureaucracy of Kabul, but we are no longer taking on project after project. The amount of money I inherited from the previous team was 1/3 of what they inherited. My successor will assume about 1/3 of what I got. This is what transition looks like. We are weening them off of our money while teaching them how to develop plans and budgets. Incidentally, the biggest barrier is the lack of support the provinces receive from Kabul. Kabul is only executing their budget at around 40%, whereas the provinces execute what they get at around 80-90%. It is an ongoing struggle to synchronize the bottom-up requirements and top-down budgeting that allow for resources to be transformed into service delivery.

JAV February 14, 2011 at 10:16 am

Agree with MA above. when I was in Iraq in 2008-2009, the PRT we worked with was merged with the civil affairs group/staff and worked hand in hand with the provincial government. Every project we worked was based on their agreement and priorities, other than some instances where we worked with lower levels (ie the local fire chief) to help with smaller projects that weren’t high viz to the higher levels. We never heard any complaints about those, they were low cost and didn’t detract from the big picture.

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