Peacekeeping: Why People Hate Provincial Reconstruction Teams

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December 21,2008: For over three years, the United States has been training personnel for PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) work. These teams of military and civilian experts, are used to speed up, and organize, the use of American resources (cash, equipment and materials) for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. The teams in Iraq are now threatened by the new Status Of Forces agreement there, which makes civilian security personnel subject to Iraqi law. Because of all the corruption in Iraq, civilian security personnel fear being made into scapegoats if they get into a battle with gunmen who are politically connected (or come from a tribe powerful enough to pressure politicians). The U.S. can provide military personnel for security, but this will increase the costs for PRTs, which are already taking heat for all the reconstruction money that was lost to corruption and incompetence. In fact, the PRTs were the one element that prevented a lot of waste. But even in the United States, scapegoats are being sought, and PRTs are in the line of fire.

In the beginning, the U.S. assembled the teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, letting them get acquainted and learn their jobs. Two years ago, a training program for the senior people, lasting up to 45 days, was established in the United States. By giving the key people in a PRT training, together, before they ship out, problems can be discovered and worked out. The training also gets everyone familiar with their team members, and enables the team to get working sooner, and more effectively.

The United States has had great success with its PRTs in Afghanistan. These evolved from the JRTs (Joint Reconstruction Teams) established by U.S. Army Special Forces in 2002. By 2006, there were seventeen PRTs are run by U.S. troops (including five in Iraq), with another eleven operated by NATO forces.

The typical PRT has 60-100 people (depending on local needs). Most (80 percent) of these are military personnel. The rest are civilian specialists, including a police officer from the Afghan Interior Ministry. American PRTs are commanded by army lieutenant colonel, who is actually leading two civil affairs teams, an Army Reserve military police unit, plus intelligence and psychological operations teams. The civilians usually consist of officials from the State Department, USAID, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The rest of the troops are assigned to security duties, which can be pretty tense in areas where Taliban gunmen are operating, but is basically police work (against bandits and unruly warlord militias) elsewhere. These security troops often end up assisting in reconstruction as well. The Afghans urged for an expansion of the PRT system, not just to get more reconstruction expertise to all areas of the country, but to provide some protection for reconstruction staff (including the many NGOs that are not a part of the PRT system.)

PRTs have had problems with bureaucratic roadblocks created by different Department of Defense, State Department and USAID agendas. The State Department, when told to send people to work with PRTs, provided very junior folks, with little experience in anything. The Department of Defense has people there to provide security and is, technically, not involved in nation building. But the troops can take over in an emergency, because they are, after all, in charge of security. But in active areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is really running the show. Combat needs come first, and everything else, including nation building, is support. When it comes to nation building, the Department of Defense wants power, but not responsibility. Same thing with the State Department, and neither Defense or State wants to take orders from USAID.

Many Iraqi and Afghan politicians want to get rid of the PRTs, so there can be more unfettered opportunities for corruption and stealing U.S. aid money. The corruption is so pervasive in Iraq and Afghanistan that even some American officials, especially outside the Department of Defense, would like to dump the PRTs in order to keep the corruption out of the headlines. Dealing with the corruption head on is messy, and the State Department, for example, would prefer to get out of the way.

 


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