• Deployed in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) combine military personnel and civilian staff from the diplomatic corps and developmental agencies. Their mission is to: extend the authority of the Afghan central government, promote and enhance security, and facilitate humanitarian relief and reconstruction operations.
  • Twenty PRTs were currently in operation throughout Afghanistan as of June 2005: thirteen staffed by the U.S.-led coalition and seven by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
  • Provincial Reconstruction Teams have confronted a cluster of contentious issues that inevitably arise in combat and other nonpermissive environments to cloud the relationship between international civilian assistance providers and international military forces. These issues include the preservation of the "humanitarian space" that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs) require to operate, the role of PRTs in promoting a secure environment, the use of military personnel to provide assistance, and information sharing and coordination.
  • Civilian assistance providers insist that they cannot allow their efforts to be perceived as part of the campaign plan of a belligerent force. Otherwise, the "humanitarian space" they need to alleviate suffering—wherever it is found—will be placed in jeopardy, along with the lives of relief workers and those they seek to assist. A clear distinction between civilian and military roles is considered to be vital to the preservation of humanitarian space.
  • There are fundamental differences in the way the civilian assistance community and military leaders conceive of a secure environment. The military emphasizes national security, public order, and force protection—all of which are enhanced by assertively addressing and reducing the sources of threat. Civilian assistance providers, on the other hand, equate security with ensuring that belligerents do not perceive them as a threat.
  • Humanitarian organizations seek to alleviate suffering without regard for the aid recipient's affiliation with any of the parties to a conflict. When military units in combat provide "humanitarian-type" relief, it is typically associated with political objectives. For military forces confronting an insurgency, it may be a matter of military necessity to ensure that assistance is provided to displaced civilians and that civic action projects are undertaken to cultivate popular support and increase force protection. When the focus shifts from humanitarian assistance to reconstruction, the salient concerns that arise are the blurring of civil and military roles and interference with each other's efforts.
  • The optimal level of coordination and information sharing sought by IOs and NGOs involves establishing clear boundaries that preserve the distinction between civil and military communities. Military personnel aspire to a cooperative relationship.
  • Among the most useful steps that could be taken to minimize sources of friction between PRT activities and those of the international civilian assistance community are the following:
    • U.S. Army Mission Readiness Exercises (MREs) and predeployment preparation of PRT personnel, both military and civilian, should include an orientation to the role and operating norms of the IO/NGO community.
    • Governments that lead specific PRTs need to ensure that adequate civilian expertise is provided to support PRT activities and that non-military positions are filled on a priority basis.
    • A consultative mechanism is needed in locations where the UN Administrative Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) lacks a presence, so that each PRT can work effectively with IO and NGO counterparts in its area of responsibility. Consultations should be used to identify if there is a need to fill gaps in civilian reconstruction and development projects and when PRTs are no longer needed to address these gaps.
    • Measures of effectiveness and endstate objectives should be established for each PRT to assist in determining the duration of its commitment.
  • A mechanism should be created to permit a regular dialogue between the major IOs and NGOs involved in humanitarian response and reconstruction activities with U.S. government offices at the Departments of State and Defense that are responsible for stabilization and reconstruction policy.

About the Report

This report stems in part from a joint project conducted by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the RAND Corporation that resulted in the publication of the book Aid During Conflict: Interaction Between Military and Civilian Assistance Providers in Afghanistan, September 2001–June 2002. On the occasion of the publication of that work, USIP and RAND cosponsored a conference on October 25, 2004, that focused on the impact Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) have had on the recurring themes in civil-military relations addressed in the monograph. This report is based on the presentations and discussions that took place during that conference and was written by Colonel Michael K. Seidl, Army fellow in the Institute's Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program, and Michael J. Dziedzic, program officer in the Institute's Research and Studies Program.

The authors are heavily indebted to the following individuals for their generous contributions to the development of this report: Deborah Alexander, Chris Allen, Joseph Collins, Laura Cooper, Dickie Davis, George Devendorf, Allen Irish, Kevin Lanigan, Nancy Lindborg, Gerard McHugh, Michael McNerney, Nick Marinacci, Robert Oakley, Robert Polk, Barnett Rubin, Larry Sampler, Robert Schoenhaus, Annabel Taylor, and Tod Wilson. While the caliber of this report was immeasurably enhanced by their suggestions and insights, they do not necessarily endorse the recommendations, nor are they responsible for any defects contained herein.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect views of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policy positions.

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