By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 7, 2011 – Civilians who work for the Defense Department are on the ground in Afghanistan, collaborating with counterparts there to build effective defense institutions, a defense official who heads the program said yesterday.
Kelly Uribe, who directs the two-year Ministry of Defense Advisors Program pilot effort established in 2010, works for the undersecretary of defense for policy in the partnership strategy and stability operations office.
Thirty-two advisors are in Afghanistan, and 27 more are in training and will deploy in July, she told American Forces Press Service. Ultimately, the program seeks to have 100 senior defense advisors in Afghanistan, Uribe added, with expertise in logistics and infrastructure management, personnel and readiness management, doctrine training, defense policy, acquisition, education and other areas.
The advisor program, Uribe said, “is designed to make sure that we’re developing well enough at the institutional and ministry levels [to sustain] all the investments we’ve made at the operational and technical levels.”
It’s systems that keep things going, she said, echoing the words of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a May/June 2010 Foreign Affairs magazine article.
“The United States has made great strides in building up the operational capacity of its partners by training and equipping troops and mentoring them in the field,” Gates wrote.
“But there has not been enough attention paid,” he added, “to building the institutional capacity [such as defense ministries] or the human capital [including leadership skills and attitudes] needed to sustain security over the long term.”
Four elements of the advisor program make it unique in the Defense Department, Uribe said. One of these is training. A seven-week course includes five weeks in Washington for professional advisor training, cultural awareness, country familiarization, language instruction and senior-level consultations and briefings, and two weeks at Camp Atterbury in Indiana for an evaluated exercise.
Three other elements are:
-- Backfill: The program has funding to pay the parent organization to hire a temporary replacement for the deploying senior manager;
-- Reachback: Advisors can use their own contacts and call on experts from their parent organizations to help with the mission in Afghanistan; and,
-- Partnership: The long-term goal is to establish an ongoing partnership between the Defense Department in the United States and Afghanistan’s defense ministry.
“At the same time that we’re undertaking to build these effective and accountable defense institutions for our partners,” Uribe said, “we’re expanding professional opportunities for our senior DOD civilians, providing them a lot of additional training that we believe they’re going to bring back to their own organizations.”
Richard A. Pollitt, one of those senior civilians, is director of logistics at the U.S. Army Garrison in Bamburg, Germany. He is a logistics expert who has been on the ground in Afghanistan for 11 months and who just extended his stay for another four months.
“I wanted to see some of these processes and systems that we worked so hard to put in place come to fruition,” he said.
Pollitt is the senior civilian advisor to Afghan Maj. Gen. Timor Shah, chief of logistics at Afghanistan’s interior ministry.
“The program is all about developing capacity at the ministerial level,” he said, “and I’ve had a significant impact on the ministry of interior logistics system, which sustains a police force of just under 150,000.”
On a strategic level, he added, “we’ve been able to build capacity in the logistics department for developing a budget and a spend plan.”
For the first time, Pollitt said, the department has been able to identify and prioritize its requirements for the logistics department.
On an operational level, the logistics expert said, a test of a logistics readiness tool recently took place in Panjshir province. “That is a computer program that tracks unit readiness and asset visibility,” making sure all the equipment, weapons and vehicles are identified in the system’s database and accounted for, he explained.
“We worked with the Afghans, collaborated with them from the beginning, got their buy-in and asked simple questions -- what do you need, what do you want?” Pollitt added.
Such impact and success, Pollitt said, is possible only if the Afghan counterpart accepts the program advisor, a time-consuming but critical process he learned about during his seven weeks of pre-deployment training.
“It was very, very helpful coming into this type of position to have background training, particularly in the cultural area, on dealing with senior-level Afghans,” Pollitt said.
Success in Afghanistan involves building relationships, he added.
“My first six weeks, even though I’m a functional expert in logistics, I didn’t go in and start demonstrating what I knew about particular programs. I would sit there and when I was addressed I would respond,” Pollitt said. “After about six weeks, [the Afghans] started communicating and opened up dialogue and then opened up a relationship.
“Sometimes an advisor will go in and they’re not accepted,” Pollitt added. “The Afghans will be very friendly, cordial and amenable. But when it gets down to producing results or trying to set a process or procedure in place, it won’t advance very far. That relationship is critical.”
Pollitt said he knew he was accepted when Shah invited him to his home for dinner.
From the successful and growing program in Afghanistan, Uribe said, “we have demonstrated a proof of concept and hope that we can use lessons learned to take the program global.”
The scope of the program for other countries will depend on each country’s needs, she said.
“We are sending a large number of civilian advisors to Afghanistan,” the director said, but only one or two advisors might be sent to help another foreign partner.
“For example, a partner country might say, ‘We’re reworking our logistics system and would welcome an advisor from the Defense Logistics Agency to consult with us in the coming year,’” she explained.
The advisors, Uribe said, would work in close coordination with the country team on the ground.
“The main impediment right now to taking the program global is legislative authority that would allow us to operate globally,” she said. “We are seeking that.”
In the meantime, Uribe said, there are more opportunities for advisors in Afghanistan.
“The next class has to have its applications in by Sept. 1,” she said. “We’re moving into our big recruitment season over the summer to build our next class. Advisors will start training in September and deploy into Afghanistan at the beginning of November.”