Thursday, January 20, 2005

Beacon No. 20: Building on Another Ground Zero

The January 2005 Journal of Democracy features an article by longtime Afghanistan expert and current Army War College prof Larry Goodson, author of Afghanistan's Endless War, the authoritative pre-9/11 study of post-Soviet Afghanistan. In "Bullets, Ballots, and Poppies in Afghanistan," he notes several lessons from Afghan security and reconstruction operations, all of which have applicability to Iraq.

First, security-enhancement processes need to go forward according to timetables that reinforce rather than undercut one another. This has mostly not been the case in Afghanistan, in no small part because so many different donor nations and NGOs have had various pieces of the pie. For example, when early efforts to develop the [Afghan National Army] stumbled over its low levels of professionalism and rates of retention, pay was hiked and Western military trainers began to embed themselves into Afghan units. Failure to take similar steps in the case of the police has left that service worse paid, far less professional, and much more corruption-prone than the army.

Second, any approach that hinges on working with warlords needs to be mindful of how this may make them stronger and harder to dislodge down the road. Third, military rules of engagement need to be crafted not only with an eye toward initial warfighting, but also with a view to security and peacekeeping or nation-building operations that follow the end of major combat.

Finally, it is imperative to deploy enough forces to ensure security during the peacekeeping phase of the nation-building operation. Afghanistan still suffers from having the lowest number of peacekeeping troops per capita of any recent postconflict situation—a state of affairs that would be far more problematic were antiregime forces more robust.

Yet in spite of the relatively small numbers of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (about 20,000); despite stupefying upsurges in acreage devoted to poppy cultivation and an accompanying boom in opium exports; despite unfulfilled pledges of aid from the major industrialized countries; and despite continuing efforts at destabilization by al-Qa'ida and Taliban holdouts, Afghanistan had a successful presidential election in October 2004 and looks forward to parliamentary elections in April 2005, although these may be postponed until later in the year.

Goodson examines the reasons why in greater depth in the Journal of Democracy article, and gives some of the credit to both a doubling in the number of U.S. troops on the ground and the rapid expansion of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs):

[The PRTs] went from 4 to 16 in just a half-year. These teams are mixed military-and-civilian groups of about 80 people each that work from bases in provincial capitals to stabilize surrounding areas with a combination of military patrols and hands-on reconstruction help. The PRTs include civil-affairs specialists and have ready funds to spend. The teams aim to create "islands of security" within which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can operate, even if some NGOs find the PRTs' blurring of traditional civil-military distinctions to be worrisome. The PRTs' performance and impact have been mixed. Some have struggled with inadequate staffing, especially from U.S. civilian agencies. A poor grasp of local political dynamics and circumstances has also been a problem. More mature PRTs that enjoy well-settled relations with local officials have developed aid programs that have improved local conditions and strengthened positive views of coalition troops and the new Afghan government.

Definitely worth a read both to get your mind off That Other War for a few minutes and to read about what works and what doesn't in nation-building.

1 comment:

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