By Air Force Capt. John T. Stamm
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 17, 2009 - The provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Panjshir province serves as a model for the continued integration of civilian assets into military operations to achieve a unified strategic goal. The Panjshir team is the only U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan that is civilian-led and military-commanded, combining resources from the Air Force, Army, Navy, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture into one unified effort aimed at economic, judicial, social, educational and infrastructure development.
James DeHart, a State Department civilian, directs the Panjshir team and leads its governance efforts. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric W. Hommel is the team's commander and exercises command authority over military operations.
Both civilian and military expertise and resources are needed in a counter insurgency environment, DeHart said.
"Each side brings a different skill set," he explained. "It's not a question of which is better. The military resources are vital to enabling the other departments to function efficiently. For example, our USDA representative would not be as successful in assisting the local ministry of agriculture in producing better crop yields without a stable security environment."
"There's a reason why these partnerships are formed," Hommel said. "Teams usually operate more efficiently than individuals. So when you incorporate other professionals, you increase your chance of success."
The lines of distinction between the military personnel and the civilian representatives here are marked by the uniforms worn by the troops, but that's where the visible differences end. Both sides are integrated in the decision-making process, participate side by side on missions, meet with local officials together and even share the same office.
"Because we have this relationship, it enables us to focus on collective goals," Hommel said. "We are able to develop courses of action to accomplish the mission in the spirit of common objectives."
Elizabeth Smithwick, a USAID representative on the team, supervises the planning and implementation of projects related to women's affairs and other social issues. Smithwick has been with the team for only a little over a month, but in that time she has gained a new perspective on the capabilities of a civilian-military function.
"When I arrived here and started meeting with the leadership, I saw their vision of the progress they intend to make in Panjshir: a true integration of civilian and military resources committed to maintaining the level of security focusing on the development of the valley," Smithwick said.
"Since Day One, I have been fully involved in the planning and decision-making process," she continued. "I've seen the different talents and abilities that each member brings to the mission, and it's helped me gain an appreciation for the military and their vital importance in rebuilding this country. Right now, the civilian side couldn't succeed without military assets, but that's the desired end-state. This team is achieving that goal."
Army Maj. Brent Hulse, the agribusiness development team representative stationed here and working with the provincial reconstruction team, is a National Guard officer from Louisville, Ky., and understands the mind-set of both civilian and military personnel.
"The continuity established by the civilian personnel is what makes this system work, but it's the military presence and the cooperation of the local government, authorities and citizens in providing the stable security environment that allows for development to occur," Hulse said.
The team's military-civilian duality seems to blend well with the local populace. Having suffered the ravages of war for over 30 years, the Panjshiris are an eclectic blend of citizen-soldiers.
Panjshir Gov. Hajji Bahlol has referred to himself as a "soldier first and politician second." Bahlol fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and to prevent Taliban influence from infiltrating the valley in the following years.
"He clearly feels a rapport with military personnel, because that reflects his own experience," DeHart said. "But as a governor, he's called upon to operate effectively in the civilian world, and he's doing that."
The practice of civil-military integration is not an entirely new concept. It evolved from the "clear, hold and build" strategy. Essentially, military assets are fully engaged during the "clear" phase of an operation, and methodically diminish in size and prominence during the "hold" and "build" phases once security has been established. Ideally, the presence of military forces will vary in inverse proportion to civilian presence.
"Civilian organizations start arriving during the 'hold' phase and assume most of the responsibility in the 'build' phase," Hommel said. "Here, we are beyond 'hold.' We are knee-deep into 'build.' This is the perfect place to bring in more civilians and use this as a test for the rest of Afghanistan."
(Air Force Capt. John T. Stamm serves in the provincial reconstruction team public affairs office in Afghanistan's Panjshir province.)