NATO troops bring mixed results in Afghanistan
The 15 teams operating not only take fundamentally different approaches, but also produce a mixed bag of results
NATO’s planned expansion of forces in Afghanistan is certain to increase the number of civil-military reconstruction teams deployed outside Kabul, but observers doubt whether the still-evolving concept will improve security sufficiently for elections.
The teams, called “provincial reconstruction teams” comprise small groups of soldiers and civilian experts. So far they appear helpless to prevent insurgency from escalating. Of the 15 existing teams, 14 are staffed by soldiers from the US-led coalition. Only one is staffed by peacekeeping troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and it is deployed in the northeast province of Kunduz.
Kunduz had been considered one of the most stable regions of Afghanistan until earlier this month, when gunmen shot dead 11 Chinese road workers as they slept in tents south of the provincial capital on June 10. The occurrence of the worst post-Taliban massacre of foreigners in the one province where NATO peacekeepers run a PRT underscored aid agencies’ lack of faith in the teams’ capacity to really bolster security.
“The NGO community doesn’t think that NATO expansion via the provincial reconstruction teams is going to deliver the improvement of security which is urgently required,” said Barbara Stapleton of umbrella organisation Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief.
Fifty-four aid agencies signed a letter to NATO saying the teams “have neither the capacity nor the mandate to confront the countrywide security threats now facing the Afghan people.” Analyst Vikram Parekh from the International Crisis Group was also sceptical.
“The provincial reconstruction teams aren’t going to be able to conduct counter-insurgency operations in an absolute and conclusive way,” he said.
ISAF plans to take over a team in the main northern city Mazar-i-Sharif and establish three to four more teams, also in the north, ahead of elections.
But Parekh doubted they could significantly improve security for presidential and parliamentary polls scheduled for September. The teams were presented as a way to improve security in Afghanistan when they were first mooted in 2002, but were never given a written mandate. Their often-stated primary objective was the expansion of the central government’s authority. The 15 teams operating not only take fundamentally different approaches, but produce a mixed bag of results, Parekh said. The bulk of the teams are in the troubled south and southeast where Afghan and foreign troops are fighting a guerrilla insurgency.
These groups focus on reconstruction and development and cooperate with Afghan militia forces. They build schools, wells and irrigation systems.
In the north, the teams are more focused on rebuilding the security sector — re-training police, building courthouses and customs houses — and assisting with the disarmament process. The teams have distanced themselves from the often corrupt local commanders and have gathered valuable information on the security situation which could be critical for the government’s plan to disarm tens of thousands of militiamen, Parekh said.
Stapleton said many of the teams in the south are encroaching on humanitarian work, rushing into areas where aid agencies have been working for years because of “political pressure to get results fast”.
“We don’t doubt that a PRT can put four wells in a day. However we question whether those wells will still be in use in a year’s time,” she said. ISAF commander Canadian Lieutenant General Rick Hillier maintains the teams were designed to rebuild institutions destroyed by war.
“To help with security around a large part of the country is not really the forte of the PRTs themselves,” he said. But despite complaints, no one wants to see them leave.
“In the absence of any other international mechanism to directly address the security situation, the presence of PRTs in some parts of the country might well provide added-value,” Stapleton said. afp