Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Ruf takes a gulp of coffee and says, almost unbelievably: "I don't care where it comes from. If it helps the mission, we'll do it." Unbelievable because he clearly means it. Outgoing chief of the Jalalabad Provincial Reconstruction Team, Ruf has spent a year building a multi-agency aid team that is an outstanding example of effective government cooperation.
PRTs, created to speed delivery of reconstruction assistance to war torn Afghanistan, are a mix of U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine units, Agency for International Development plus other U.S. government agencies as required. The entirely new PRT concept, one of several new post conflict approaches being applied in Afghanistan, has proved singularly successful in fulfilling its humanitarian mission. Contrary to the legendary failure of America's intelligence community to cooperate prior to 9/11 and subsequently, PRTs have set the pace for collaboration in effecting what Pentagon planners term "civil affairs".
CENTCOM chief of staff Colonel David Lamm notes, "We must be something right. A year ago, AID Director Patrick Fine asked us for three plans' officers; then, a few weeks later, for six." AID's Kabul-based PRT Manager Nick Marinacci puts it directly: "Whatever bureaucratic battles take place in Washington, the different agencies work together in the field. We all are here to get the job done."
Operational throughout Afghanistan, PRTs have been notably successful in the reconstruction of 23 of the country's 34 provinces -- often in dangerous conditions. During May riots stimulated by Newsweek's spurious story about the Qur'an being flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo, Jalalabad demonstrators set fire to several U.S. identified buildings and were marching on the PRT provincial offices before being turned back by units of the Afghan National Army. In mid- June, four U.S. soldiers were injured in an attack on a PRT convoy outside Afghanistan's second city, Kandehar.
PRT units perform a spectrum of security and humanitarian activities; replant fruit, almond and olive orchards; and recondition government buildings, power plants, schools, mosques and medical clinics. In Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province, Jim Ruf's office has supported and supervised a project administered by U.S. AID Program Officer Michelle Parker to develop an alternative livelihoods project, considered by President Hamid Karzai essential to curtailing Afghanistan's narcotics industry. AID contractor, Development Alternatives, Inc., has implemented 150 projects in less than four months, providing employment for 12 thousand workers.
DAI's Jalalabad chief, Steve Romanoff, believes the daunting assignment of providing jobs for thousands of former poppy planters is doable. "We will complete 200-250 projects by the end of the year, and have a hit list of 3,000 that have been identified. Our contract commits us to employ 50 thousand workers for 50 days per year: we will exceed those targets, substantially."
Romanoff agrees that the first phase has essentially involved resuscitating public facilities, but stresses that DAI's work over four years will emphasize private business development with little public sector activity. The most immediate and largest area for private business activity is agriculture, where 80 percent of the population is employed. Providing the economic basis for growing high yield crops, as well as replenishing and improving the health of the country's livestock herds would be not only good business but also a strong disincentive to grow poppies.
Fruit, nut and olive seedlings could be financed to farmers on favorable loan terms, with cucumber, tomato, eggplant and other garden vegetable seed supplied to provide interim income during the years the high yield trees are maturing.
Cattle, sheep and goat herding is central to Afghan society, with more than 80 percent of farms having one or more animals, contrasted with two percent in the United States. Meat is the primary source of protein in the Afghan diet, and the nation's herds have dropped from approximately 33 million beasts in 1979 to 20 million today. The current 28 million population should have some 46 million animals to support it. The enormous Afghan meat deficit requires daily imports of from Pakistan 200-300 truckloads of animals, carrying an estimated 70 thousand animals, which creates a critical $1 billion annual capital outflow.
Afghan herds are riddled with hoof and mouth disease -- lamb herds alone suffer up to 90 percent loss annually - and is widely prevalent in Pakistan [skeptics suggest Pakistani brokers sell their Afghan counterparts the least healthy animals in their herds]. A vaccination program in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan at an estimated cost of 5-6 dollars per beast per year could sharply improve the situation and make herd development investments attractive.
Veterinary expert, U.S. Army Colonel Lyle Jackson, believes largescale vaccination would greatly improve farmers' incomes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, simultaneously providing sharply increased income for farmers and eliminating the huge cattle import bill. Experts agree the foregoing estimates are reasonably correct; if so, an internationally funded program would prove to be a major dietary and income supplement for millions of Afghans, an economically viable replacement to poppy cultivation and, in the long run, far less costly than the negative economic impact of heroin consumption worldwide.
The current PRT challenge is to transfer leadership of several provincial programs to other countries, principally NATO members. The change is underway primarily to free up badly needed U.S. military personnel for other assignments, and involves U.S. military team leaders and support troops handing over control to other nations' forces. American PRT operatives profess the same dedication to keep things moving, but express a fair dose of skepticism. One PRT field officer notes, "The European approach to civil affairs is very different from ours; there'll need to be a lot of modification on both sides if it is going to work."
Patrick Fine, outgoing U.S. AID Director for Afghanistan, remains optimistic about the PRT mission, as he does about the entire reconstruction effort in the country: "Is the glass half full or half empty? Unfortunately, most of the press have been committed to telling it from the half empty angle, even if they have to swim up through the good stuff."
July 14, 2005
John R. Thomson will be writing an article, "A Tale of Three Cities", on his recent visits to Kabul, Beirut and Cairo, assessing the state of democratic development in each. The Article will appear in the next issue of The National Interest