When President Obama announced the surge for Afghanistan in early 2009, there was a part of that announcement that many have lost sight of, despite the criticality of it to the overall success of American operations. This part is that, working in concert with the troop surge, there was to also be a “civilian surge.” With 320 U.S. agency personnel in country at the beginning of 2009, this surge seeks to have in place 1,500 personnel deployed Afghanistan-wide by 2012. This is welcome news because, if done properly, as military action dismantles the insurgency, in theory these civil servants will enhance the ability of the Afghan government to establish its own presence.
However, a recent article by ABC News highlights some significant shortcomings of this initiative. Based primarily on findings published by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the story indicates that there are significant gaps in coordination between the military and civilian surges. Of particular concern, the report finds that among the various challenges hampering the effectiveness of the build up are a lack of high-level guidance and clarity of roles and responsibilities in field, as well as problems in some areas with civilian-military integration.
The first problem, the lack of higher-level guidance as well as of clarity in roles, has led to wasted effort and resources that have frustrated the US workers and Afghanis alike for years. The SIGAR report quotes an interagency assessment from 2006 that lack of guidance from higher echelons about national level reconstruction efforts “undermined civilian credibility and limited their ability to integrate their activities with national programs.” That this continues to bedevil reconstruction efforts is worrisome, and vividly displayed in a separate assessment by SIGAR that claims that nearly $18 billion in US aid earmarked for Afghanistan reconstruction was practically untraceable as to where it actually went. A lack of a centralized database and central accountability has essentially allocated billions into a byzantine “labyrinth.”
The second issue, not entirely separate from the first, is potentially even more alarming. A key component of counterinsurgency is to provide a reliable alternative to the insurgents that the military has removed from an area. It’s not enough to clear a village or district of armed fighters – that is most certainly temporary. It is imperative that the civilian personnel are able to capitalize on the military action and act quickly to help demonstrate (along with the legal host nation entity) that the government can provide for the essentials needed for stability and the rule of law. But what the SIGAR report tells us is that this cooperation is being accomplished not by any kind of administrative structure, but cooperation has been based on “individual personalities.” This is flimsy at best. The likelihood of this kind of coordination surviving a rotation of personnel (another weakness identified in the report) is remote.
As mentioned in a previous article (see The Surge in Afghanistan: Successful or Not?), there is good reason for some guarded optimism about the military surge. However, the longevity of that success will be quite short if the civilian effort is not tightly coordinated with it. Although some difficulties should be expected with an initiative as large and complex as this surge, many of the issues identified by the SIGAR are surprising and need to be addressed quickly. This is especially true if the President sticks to his desired timeline to begin withdrawing the surge military forces. Without a demonstrable alternative to the Taliban, able to provide security as well as basic services, the surge will not be able to succeed.
Afghan Civilian Surge Lacks Integration With Military
By KRISTINA WONG, WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2010
U.S. Civilian Uplift in Afghanistan Is Progressing but Some Key Issue Merit Further Examination as Implementation Continues, SIGAR Report, 26 Oct 2010
Billions in Afghanistan aid dollars unaccounted for: audit
DOD, State, and USAID Obligated Over $17.7 Billion to About 7,000 Contractors and Other Entities for Afghanistan Reconstruction During Fiscal Years 2007-2009