'Civilian Surge' Plan For Afghanistan Hits A Snag

'Civilian Surge' Plan For Afghanistan Hits A Snag - Jackie Northam, National Public Radio.

Speculation abounds over whether President Obama will authorize a troop increase in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the administration is expected to increase the deployment of American government civilian workers - experts who can help rebuild the country. But there are problems persuading civilians with the requisite skills to go to Afghanistan. When Obama unveiled his administration's strategy for Afghanistan in March, he emphasized that civilian experts were just as critical as the tens of thousands of additional US military personnel he was sending at that time.

"We need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers," he said. "That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. That's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground." To that end, the administration announced it would send about 450 civilians from several branches of the government by March 2010. The timetable was then accelerated to December of this year. But so far, only about a quarter of that number have been deployed to Afghanistan...

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Is funding the civilian surge really the issue? Or is it the fact that there are only so many civilians who want to go into an active war zone? A number of these positions have been open to contractors for a long time and many remain unfilled. As a small sample:

https://app.mpri.com/IIF/jobs/jobsummary.html

There are only so many governance/cultural SMEs who wish to deploy away from their families for an extended period of time while getting shot at (or covered in gasoline and ignited), including those who have already spent months if not years in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I would argue that while there might be a finite amount of funding, there is not a total lack of funding. The bottom line is that Congress refuses to transfer nor reallocate funding from DoD to DoS even at the request of the Secretary of Defense. There are some programs that have been created at DoS and paid for with DoD money through an established process. However, there are bigger problems preventing this from being solved properly. One is that DoD has the ability to increase manning based on a declaration of war while other agencies have to deal with the amount of people current authorized based on funding. Furthermore, there was an article on September 11th talking about the inability of DoS to accomplish any part of its mission and it needed to be re-organized and re-manned. Not to mention that many people will not live in a combat zone for the pay offered compared to their current employment. While this might be titled as selfish, it is the reality of the situation. Congress retains the ability to distribute money and ultimately possesses the capability to address the problem. However, it does not help that much of the rest of the country is focused solely on health care. The President's comments this weekend demonstrate his number one concern is his health care and everything else takes a back seat. Thus, leadership at the highest levels of our government are the only people with the ability to direct a solution to this complex problem while those us in the middle provide recommendations on how to accomplish the mission. Therefore, if we are able to get Congress to provide funds to the right agency within the government, I argue that the people are available in these economic times to fill the required positions. Also, it might help if the Administration focus on more than one issue at a time or give the impression that it has the ability to focus on foreign policy issues also.

The article and the previous comment reflect two aspects of the same problem; the inability from both a cultural side and a government spending side to back up rhetoric with resources.

One big problem continues to be the lack of funding -- existing government agencies are not resources to have deployable capacity, and efforts to increase their personnel; budgets to allow for increased hiring runs up against the unwillingness of Congress to increase funding. Without additional personnel, agencies cannot send significant parts of their staffs overseas and there are no incentives to the personnel when the supervisors are against the deployments.

Congress has also failed to resource the Reserve Components of the CRC, which would allow "ordinary civilians" not alreeady working for an agency to indicate a willingness to serve.

And, because the military has a "can-do" attitude, they fill the void as best they can, because no one wants to permit wholesale failure just to make the point.

29 March 2009 is the day that I said on this forum that this would be the case. The civilian agencies, primarily the Department of State, have simply failed to hold up their end; all the while proclaiming that our foreign policy is too militarized.

Maybe State has to be turned inside out to save it -- it is focused on national governments when trans-regional threats are more important; it is focused on capitals when its people need to be in the countryside (check the Kabul Embassy numbers versus PRTs); it is focused on bipolar, Cold War theories of international relations while the world has atomized and flattened.

This failure to adapt and evolve makes them institutionally incapable of supporting the President's strategy which requires building after the military clears and holds. Nothing short of a major housecleaning and redesign can fix this situation.