Small Wars Journal

PRT and State Department Ignorance Fails Us All

PRT and State Department Ignorance Fails Us All by Pete Turner, Zenpundit

… Ignorance, arrogance and incompetence by the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), Anne and her Department of State (DoS) peers surely contributed to her death, and the death of multiple soldiers.  I know that statement is pretty inflammatory…and it’s part of the reason why I waited 3 years to tell the tale.  Please read the attached article for the required context.  Also, read Peter Van Buren’s (former DoS boss) HuffPo blog in which he also criticizes DoS competence in this tragedy.

I worked in the same area as Anne, but I’d left about a year prior to her arrival.  It’s unfortunate that my research partner and I didn’t get a chance to meet her.  If we had, she would have been armed with some information that could have saved her life.  It is also unfortunate that the knowledge we gained while working in Qalat left apparently left with us.

Before going any further, my partner, Dr. Ledet and I conducted research into improving education in the province.  Specifically, we were tasked with learning how the US should distribute learning materials to Afghans, and we did so by working with tribal, religious, and political leaders in the area.  Our report was distributed to the PRT, US military and the DoS working in the areas, and briefed to higher authorities. The senior Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) representative for the province, and multiple leaders we consulted, provided us with the solution regarding how the US could help improve education.

Our Afghan partners clearly and forcefully stated, US elements were not, under any circumstances, to provide books directly to Afghan children.

Yet, Anne and the others died on a book delivery operation. WTF?...

Read on.


J Harlan

Mon, 03/21/2016 - 9:07pm

One should never forget the compulsion to "do something" that lies in much of what occurred in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The photo op. The ability to say "I was in X". Resume padding. Providing your boss with something to comment on in your assessment. The first, only and last trip to the oil ministry. Something to do. Something to fight the boredom. Something to justify the ten security contractors.

BTW one reason locals might not want US elements to hand out books to kids is that they might have found out that the schools they had paid for didn't have students, teachers or even exist.


Mon, 03/21/2016 - 2:42pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Were it true, that would at least put some purpose behind it all. I suspect the author is closer to the truth, and possibly not harsh enough. I've been shocked at how many ill-prepared State Department employees are -- at the embassy I worked out of a few years back, many were there not because they had any cultural, language, or technical expertise to apply, but simply because they'd volunteered in order to get preference for a follow-on assignment. They knew just enough about their counterparts and local culture to avoid gross mistakes...most of the time. It's possible -- although probably unproveable -- that this was a spur-of-the-moment activity cobbled together by someone looking to show some activity in their section that month.

"Because we don’t learn, and continue to act as though our culture is superior to the Afghans, we fail to make the kind of progress necessary to create stability."

Re: "progress," the author appears to be on the wrong track here. Let me attempt to explain:

First to understand that the eradication of essential elements of the Afghan (and many other) cultures is, indeed, our national security objective; these, to be replaced by essential elements from our own culture.

Next to understand that we are, thus and accordingly, quite prepared to sacrifice/risk/undermine other nations' stability; this, so as to achieve stability more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

Indeed it is in the pursuit of these "transformational" national security objectives -- outlined above -- that we are prepared to:

a. Risk our military and civilian personnel's lives and

b. Undermine non-western "stability" throughout the world today.

To better understand why these such western deaths, and this such instability, is today considered to be necessary, consider the following "national security" argument from our Department of State:


... democracy is the one national interest that helps to secure all the others. Democratically governed nations are more likely to secure the peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, combat international terrorism and crime, uphold human and worker rights, avoid humanitarian crises and refugee flows, improve the global environment, and protect human health.


Thus, these current (and those future) deaths and instabilities -- undertaken in "transformation's" (not "stability's) name -- these to be seen:

a. Not as being related to such things as "PRT and State Department ignorance, arrogance and incompetence?" But rather (and due to a clear lack of such things as "universal" western values?) as being

b. Unavoidable, necessary and part-and-parcel to all such difficult, important -- and contested -- initiatives/causes/efforts?