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Capabilities and Assets for Civil-Military Projects in Afghanistan

Commentary, 29 October 2007
The NATO mission in Afghanistan has been constantly beleaguered by a civil- military divide. The challenge now is to build up civilian capacity so that they can take the reins.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan has been constantly beleaguered by a civil-military divide. Overall the largest problem remains the presupposition of clarity of purpose, based on the assumption that all the actors involved share the same goals. Even within NATO it has proven extremely difficult to coordinate all 26 Member States, let alone present a unified proposal to the international community. Humanitarian organizations simply want to continue operating as they have been for decades already, and their total independence from political goals is what forms the basis of their legitimacy and acceptance by the local populations. These organizations now face the instrumentalization of this development tool by the military as a method of garnering information and local knowledge. In actuality, the fundamental divide between civil and military grows deeper when the two are forced together. Civil-military relations have been tremendously plagued by mistrust, unhealthy competition and information-sharing blockages. The military has been left holding the bag, committing resources to the more traditionally civilian-led areas of long-term development projects involving the fortification of local capacity and long-term sustainability. The recognition has finally arrived that neither the military nor the civilian side prefers the situation as it is; both would like nothing better than for the military to secure the peace and hand over to the civilian assets and NGOs. The challenge now is to build up civilian assets so that when the time comes to hand over the reins they will be sufficiently provisioned to take over.

Problems include but are not limited to: lack of capacity on the civilian side, (even those within government & NGOs); lack of capacity on the part of the Afghan population; lack of in-depth knowledge; conflicting goals of military and humanitarian organizations; nationally-determined guidelines for each individual Provincial Reconstruction Team; international obstacles such as Turkey’s veto of NATO support for the EU ESDP mission; difficulties with funding cycles (i.e., year on year for governments, three-year cycles for NGOs); high demands for training and not enough resources to meet the need; different Rules of Engagement and chains of command; and a quick rotation of personnel makes maintaining constant relationships impossible. Many civilian and NGO-led groups also feel that their legitimacy is greatly threatened by their presumed association with ISAF forces operating in the same areas — in fact many have cited that it was actually easier to continue with humanitarian projects under the Taliban than under President Karzai’s government today. Providing logistical support whilst helping NGOs maintain their independence will continue to prove to be a challenge.

Afghanistan troops and people

In the meantime however, there are plenty of opportunities for civil-military collaboration. Past experience has demonstrated that NATO missions as well as nationally-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan have benefited greatly from embedded civilian experts. Because of the varying national regulations, there is no set rule for the number of civilians in a PRT. Where they have been employed to assist in activities as varied as information gathering and conflict analysis to police training and rule of law, the effectiveness of the PRT has increased. Ideally a PRT should be civilian-led with embedded military and security advisors, however, the security situation currently does not allow for this construct.

Civilian Assets

Civilian assets should make every effort possible to participate in the pre-deployment planning and package. Civilian assets along with NGOs should agree on a set of Guidelines to present to military assets for operations on the ground, such as the UN IASC Guidelines, to adhere to uniformly. This could be coordinated by organisations such as InterAction, The Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response, or the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

Certain tasks in security sector reform should be allocated to civilian actors, for example rule of law — i.e., training forces, airports, monitoring. Sometimes military assets, such as engineers or equipment will be necessary to augment the civilian capabilities. It is generally accepted that the military is not as good as civilians at training police—it is only due to the current security situation in Afghanistan that they are involved in these sorts of projects.

A helpful guide that has been earmarked is the ‘First Steps in Post-Conflict State-Building’ paper by USAID. Civilian assets can help the military by sharing their knowledge of the environment, local language and communities. A political and economic base is necessary to defeat an insurgency such as the one the Allies face in Afghanistan, and both the military and civilian components will need to work together. The civilian component is particularly useful in projects such as ensuring the functioning of basic financial systems and strategic communications.

Military Assets

The priority for military assets is to distinguish between a permissive and a non-permissive environment, ensuring that the population and area are secured before the civilian actors can operate. Afghanistan is a prime example of the mistakes made when trying to fight the war and win the peace at the same time. For example, schools have been built without teachers available to teach in them, or are built in a location that is so far away no students can actually reach them. These structures are then occupied by the Taliban insurgency, and consequently destroyed by the very coalition that built them in the first place. These buildings are also seen as ‘tainted’ by the local populations and if not destroyed, they will remain empty and fall into disrepair.

The military should make its planning processes available at the outset to civilian actors wherever possible, particularly as civilians don’t have access to planning processes, even those within the military. These planning capabilities and skill-sets are as great an asset as platforms and equipment, and are much envied by NGOs.

Military assets need to ensure that their work does not directly contradict the humanitarian work being done — short term quick impact projects (QUIPS) can sometimes have a counter-productive effect on longer term humanitarian projects designed to build up local capacity in a sustainable manner. The access map for NGOs in Afghanistan is shrinking even compared to just three years ago — in fact many civilian actors and NGOs were forced to leave Kandahar completely after ISAF forces began operating there. However, the military can be a major asset to civilian-led projects, for example military engineers can help oversee the construction of a civilian infrastructure which allows the local population access to schools and hospitals.

NATO is exploring the option of appointing a Civilian Action Advisor position, to be called CivAd. The CivAd would be a person who has spent a life in the field working with NGOs and institutions and would come in at a high level to help keep NATO military ops in their own lane and to have better civil-military coordination in general. There is also the possibility of keeping a continuous roster of individuals identified as suitable for the position. The general feeling is that this would be welcomed by the civilian and NGO community.

Current Planning Processes

Planning capabilities are generally constrained by a chronic lack of capacity on the civilian side in both governments and NGOs. This manifests itself particularly in the coordination of training exercises run by the military to which NGOs are invited. A common complaint from NGOs is that they are often not given enough advance notice to allocate people to participate, nor do they have enough resources to send people if much travel/time is required. Therefore any campaign planning should take into account the fact that the civilian component will be both essential and necessary as part of the overall operation. This has been successful in the past, such as with Operation Enduring Freedom, launched by the US in Afghanistan in 2001. This campaign was generally looked upon as a success, due to several factors: the short time between planning and execution meant that the same people worked together throughout the entire process—continuity is a key factor in the successful coordination of civil-military projects and in this case an impressive set of working relationships was developed between many NGO representatives and CENTCOM. This case was unique due to the extremely short planning and execution time, but it has become clear that a mechanism for continuity of individuals is needed — there must be a plan so that successors can meet once people rotate out or leave. Any of these planning mechanisms must then be reinforced at the national level, thereby developing a culture of strategic consultation and situational awareness. Instead of creating new institutions, the existing institutions such as the United Nations need to be strengthened and reformed. Bilateral operations in Afghanistan such as the UK Counter-Narcotics Operations are essential components of the overall strategy, but must be co-ordinated with both other nationally-led operations as well as ISAF.

However, it remains extremely difficult for NATO to harmonize its approach to civil-military projects as any proposals must be ratified by all 26 Member Nations. While it is very difficult to reach unanimous agreement, it is not impossible. For example, the initial reaction to the 2004 NATO Strategic Vision Effects-Based Asset Operations proposal has recently started to relax into a gradual adoption of the overall Comprehensive Approach, demonstrating that ideas can be transformed into accepted rhetoric through a culture of gradual change. At the moment, UN-NATO relations in Afghanistan are not formalized through any official memos, and NATO-EU co-operation is hindered with particular reference to the EU Police Mission, which NATO cannot formally support due to Turkey’s veto. National governments, civilian assets and international institutions could embrace NATO’s Comprehensive Approach as a bridge for dialogue and better co-ordination between international actors and institutions.

Kate Clouston
RUSI

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