Peacekeeping: Good Ideas That Didn't Work Too Well

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November 2, 2005: Peacekeepers are finding that, when
many different organizations are involved, cooperation and joint planning is
not nice-to-have, it's a necessity. This has been discovered, at some cost, in
several parts of the world recently. A good example of the this can be found in
the PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) formed two years ago to help
expedite reconstruction in Afghanistan. It was believed that the existing U.S.
Army Civil Affairs teams could do more, faster, if they were augmented by representatives
from the State Department, USAID (United States Agency for International
Development), and USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture).


Looked good on paper. But in practice there were several problems.


For one thing, the civilian reps from State, USAID and USDA did not have the
kind of "field experience", and resources, the military people did. The
civilians needed logistical and transportation support from the military, and
that has to be arranged from the beginning. In the case of the PRTs, it's still
being improvised. Also being improvised is planning and supervision of
reconstruction projects. The PRTs have lots of money to spend, especially
relative to the poverty stricken areas they operate in. A little money in the
right places could make a big difference. That was part of the original idea
for the PRTs. But on the ground, it was discovered that few Afghans spoke
English, and fewer still Americans in the PRTs spoke any Afghan language (there
are several, most related to the Iranian language, Farsi.) So communications
were a major problem, made worse by the poor quality of the translators that
could be hired locally.


A lack of cultural knowledge (never mind "culture sensitivity") caused no end
of problems. It was hard to tell who was on the level, who was just being
cautious (a prudent attitude in a place like Afghanistan), and who was out to
defraud you. The PRTs, like most reconstruction operations, had a lot of
territory to cover, and without helicopters available regularly, it was
difficult to get around and keep tabs on the many projects undertaken. As a
result, a lot of shoddy work, and outright fraud, occurred. Word got around,
that the PRTs were not real diligent about checking up, so the scamming tended
to get worse.


Worse yet, the many projects that did come off well, never got the recognition
they deserved, and could be useful for. Getting journalists to visit
reconstruction sites is difficult in the best of times ("good news is not
news"). Getting the word out on successes is important, because a large
component of reconstruction is to give hope and encouragement to other people
in the country, as well as the folks back home (who are paying for it.)


The main lesson here is that if you ignore the importance of reconstruction in
peacekeeping, the problems (current and future) won't go away. Nothing pacifies
people better than better economic prospects, and hope. But to make
reconstruction work, there has to be planning for it. The American military
would rather concentrate on purely military matters, and they still can. That's
because the army has long had its Special Forces (to which the Civil Affairs
units belong), and it's up to SOCOM (Special Operations Command, which controls
the Special Forces) to do the planning for more effective reconstruction
efforts.

 


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