When the Pentagon decided to deploy senior civilian advisers to Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense last May, it turned to the expertise at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

April 7, 2011

When the Pentagon decided to deploy senior civilian advisers to Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense last May, it turned to the expertise at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Working with the Pentagon, USIP developed curriculum for the Ministry of Defense Advisers (MoDA) Training Program, which provides Department of Defense (DoD) civilian experts with tools and approaches for effective mentoring and capacity building. DoD considers MoDA training one of the most comprehensive and effective pre-deployment training programs for senior advisers headed to work within Afghanistan's Ministries of Defense and Interior.

"MoDA prepares advisers to make informed and educated decisions in an environment which needs the solutions only their expertise can offer," says Nadia Gerspacher, MoDA's lead instructor for the portion of the program to which USIP contributes. Gerspacher says the coursework gives students the knowledge to support the Afghan security ministries while allowing Afghans to come up with their own solutions to build a better-performing government.

"The program allows them to assess, analyze and evaluate the continually changing environment and thus identify expertise to share with Afghan counterparts," she says.

This spring, USIP's Academy will contribute to the third iteration of MoDA training. The program is broken into two parts: a five-week series of classroom lectures and exercises in Washington, DC, and a two-week, immersive practical application training phase at a National Guard site in Indiana. USIP conducts about two weeks of training during the five-week training period in Washington.

The job of a senior adviser to an Afghan ministry is one of the most nuanced roles that Americans play in Afghanistan. Advisers have to be part mediator, part mentor, part expert - but can't force their know-how. Experts say advisers can't necessarily project their own views on how to develop a young ministry, but they can give their counterparts the tools they need to build one on their own. And, as instructors and former graduates of the program are quick to note, the results of the advising wouldn't likely resemble anything they'd see in the U.S. anyway.

Take a hypothetical example of a need for a ministry to develop its own process for accepting military equipment donated from foreign nations. It's a capacity that many developing nations lack, but makes it harder for a fledgling military to accept new trucks or helicopter parts, for examples. Experts like Gerspacher say it's not the job of the American adviser to tell the Afghans how to duplicate such a process - that would be unrealistic, politically foolhardy and wouldn't likely work - but the goal is to give the Afghans the tools to create their own policy on how to do it. The USIP portion of the MoDA program's coursework on "forging coordination" or "organizational development" helps fill in those gaps.

"It's a question of creating a strategic plan to get buy-in," says Gerspacher.

The program also includes discussion and training on the role of the ministerial adviser, analyzing conflict and policy and how to set realistic expectations. Classes are also taught on "fostering reform" within the ministry as well as "cultural adaptability" and "engaging counterparts." In addition to giving students the tools they need to help build the ministry, the idea is to train the American advisers on how to eventually sit back and let the Afghans do it on their own, she says.

"The MoDA advisers deploy with a keen understanding that their mission rests on Afghan-led reform efforts and tools to provide the support and knowledge to fill a gap," says Gerspacher. "This awareness allows them to perform effectively by having impact, eliciting buy-in by local actors, and facilitate sustainable and viable reform efforts."

The USIP portion includes areas such as language and culture, ministry capacity building, policing, mediation, negotiation and a session on gender roles.

"What we're helping the DoD personnel do is make a mind-set shift from a practitioner to an adviser, says Gerspacher. An independent, third party evaluation of the MoDA program indicated that 70 percent of the students believed the USIP portion of training was above average or outstanding.

According to the evaluation, former students say the training is unlike anything else they would have gotten elsewhere. Former students commended other training workshops such as the guest speakers program, a class on tribal dynamics, and another one on the ministerial development process. Students also benefited from the class on personal security and another on politics and governance in Afghanistan.

Related Publications

Measuring Peace and Violent Extremism

Measuring Peace and Violent Extremism

Friday, March 16, 2018

By: Belquis Ahmadi; Eliza Urwin

Policymakers and practitioners have often engaged in a top-down approach in the design of programs to counter violent extremism in Afghanistan. This top-down approach relies heavily on the insights of religious leaders, elders, politicians, and other elites while failing to incorporate...

Violent Extremism

For an Afghan Peace, Work with China

For an Afghan Peace, Work with China

Thursday, March 15, 2018

By: David Rank; USIP Staff

Defense Secretary James Mattis said in Kabul March 13 that, for U.S. policy in Afghanistan, “victory will be a political reconciliation” that includes the Taliban. Mattis’ statement sustains the public focus on an Afghan peace process following separate proposals for negotiations last month by the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. If the United States is to maximize the chances of ending this 16-year war, it needs urgently to pull China into the process, according to David Rank, who headed both the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the State Department’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs during a 27-year diplomatic career.

Peace Processes; Reconciliation

View All Publications