by SWJ Editors
Provincial Reconstruction in Afghanistan
An Examination of the Problems of Integrating the Military, Political and Development Dimensions with Reference to the US Experience in Vietnam
by Colonel Ian Westerman, Small Wars Journal Exclusive
The conflict in Afghanistan has been running now for more than six years but, after some early successes, the situation appears to have developed into a classic insurgency with the prospect of it becoming a long-term commitment for the coalition forces. Since taking the lead of the UN established International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003, NATO has pinned a lot of its hopes on the ability of its multi-agency Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) to deliver stabilization to the country. The PRTs try to bring together the three strands of security, governance, and development through the contribution made by the military, political and economic elements of the teams. This paper considers how NATO is tackling the particular difficulties of managing the PRTs, and how it is attempting to harmonise the potentially disparate aims of their three separate dimensions.
In examining the problems faced by ISAF the dissertation looks back to the US experience in Vietnam where a similar situation existed in the late 1960s with their pacification programme. Robert Komer's mandate from President Johnson was to determine where the problems lay, and to come up with proposals for solving them. Komer's eventual recommendation was for a single civil-military command structure, which he later went on to help implement by establishing the Civil Operations Revolutionary Development Support programme, or CORDS, in Vietnam. The dissertation takes a close look at how Komer went about this, and consideration is made of whether there are any lessons from Komer's work with CORDS that could be usefully employed by ISAF today.
In the conclusion some of the current problems that the coalition faces in Afghanistan are identified, and the specific areas where the lessons from CORDS might be helpful are discussed. Recognition is made of the additional problems that ISAF faces over those the US had to manage in Vietnam, and considers whether a military alliance such as NATO is actually capable of establishing the robust, unified command structure necessary to succeed in Afghanistan. It also poses the wider question of the suitability of broad-based coalitions for waging counterinsurgency campaigns at all.