Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reconstructing Iraq and Afghanistan

In the aftermath of United States military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, development is an increasingly important issue. Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), one approach to post-conflict reconstruction, are military units comprised of civilian development experts and military personnel. While PRTs are designed to assist and rebuild devastated areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, they have fallen short of initial expectations for success. Dr. Vic Snyder, Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, led a presentation and discussion evaluating the PRT system. He identified six challenges facing PRTs:

  1. Lack of strategic guidance and oversight. Dr. Snyder likened implementing a PRT to “playing a pick-up game”, where teams must constantly make up policies and change their approach. This causes significant delays and reduces the effectiveness of projects.
  2. Complicated chain of command. It is often unclear who is in charge of the PRTs, which significantly delays orders and clearance for action.
  3. Complex funding systems. It is difficult for teams to understand the amount and source of their funding. Furthermore, those who do have clear funding sources don’t have enough flexibility to allocate that money when and where it is most needed.
  4. Staffing challenges. Not enough personnel are present for the PRTs to be agile and adaptable to changing situations
  5. No way to learn from previous lessons. Dr. Snyder pointed out that many of the challenges facing PRTs today were also problematic during the Vietnam War. These inadequacies could have been avoided by learning from the past.
  6. Inadequate measures of outcomes of PRTs. It is very difficult to assess the progress of objectives such as “capacity building.” This ambiguity makes it difficult to monitor the overall success of a PRT.

Dr. Snyder concluded that PRTs, and development efforts in general, must increase their “strategic agility.” They must be able to adapt to constantly changing situations and respond to the needs of the communities in which they are based. Many members of the audience who worked on PRTs in either Iraq or Afghanistan echoed this sentiment as they discussed the future of PRTs. There was a general agreement that the United States should not assume that the PRT model will work in other places. Indeed, if the concept is to work in the future, the teams must be much more flexible. PRTs need a model that can be adapted to individual environments, the ability for increased mobility, and the freedom of when and how to spend money.

Sponsor: Center for Strategic and International Studies
Date: June 19, 2008
Time: 10:00am – 11:00am
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan

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