By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2011 – A senior defense official called for the Defense Department to institutionalize capabilities being developed through a program the top U.S. training officer in Afghanistan called “an absolute game-changer” there.
The Ministry of Defense Advisors Program, launched last year to partner U.S. civilian defense volunteers with their Afghan counterparts to build Afghan security institutions, is marking its first anniversary.
“This select cadre of civilian experts is assisting the Afghans who will lead Afghanistan’s key security institutions long after the fighting ends,” Michael D. Lumpkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said yesterday.
“Only after Afghanistan’s security institutions are self-sufficient and self-sustaining will it be possible for the Afghan government to solidify the tactical gains earned at such great cost,” he said. “And that’s where the relatively small Ministry of Defense Advisors program comes in.”
Speaking at the first-anniversary conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace here, Lumpkin welcomed home members of the program’s first team to serve in Afghanistan and recognized their contributions to Afghanistan’s long-term success.
The initial 17 volunteers deployed to the Afghan capital of Kabul in July 2010, bringing broad expertise in their respective fields. Within six weeks, they had made such an immediate impact that Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, immediately requested 100 more, Lumpkin noted.
Forty-seven advisors now serve in Afghanistan, with new classes deploying three times a year under the auspices of the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce. They represent more than two dozen Defense Department organizations, including all four services and the office of the secretary of defense.
After a rigorous seven-week training program, they deploy for one year, with the option to extend for a second year.
Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, is among the program’s biggest fans. Speaking in a recorded message sent from Kabul, he called it a major factor in progress and promise being seen in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defense Advisors Program “has been an absolute game changer,” Caldwell said, with its civilian volunteers “making a dramatic difference every day” as they help their Afghan counterparts develop enduring government institutions.
As the program grows, Lumpkin said, its potential extends far beyond Afghan’s borders.
“Strengthening foreign defense institutions is an increasingly critical element of our overseas engagement, and through inexpensive programs like MODA, we can help partners build effective, accountable and well-governed defense ministries,” he said.
Meanwhile, he noted that the Defense Department benefits as well when its civilian workers return from Afghanistan broadened by new skills, knowledge and experiences.
“In addition, their close professional ties with foreign counterparts may help solidify future strategic partnerships between our nations,” he said.
Looking to the future, Lumpkin said he hopes to see capabilities the program is developing being expanded and institutionalized within the military.
“One reality is that we came to the table too late,” he said, expressing regret that MODA wasn’t launched sooner in Afghanistan, and also in Iraq.
“Our military and contract work in both nations would have been greatly enhanced if we’d had a civilian program like this in place from the very beginning,” he said. “That’s why we need to institutionalize this capability, so that in the future, we can be on the ground in year one.”
Lessons learned about building stronger civilian-military-interagency command and control structures within the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of responsibility can enlighten this effort, he said. DOD “should use these lessons to shape our future approach to ministerial advising,” he added.