Washington, 27 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Institute of Peace report finds that the 22 PRTs have had a stabilizing effect in Afghanistan’s provinces.But it says reconstruction projects have suffered from a lack of coordination and oversight.
Robert Perito, the U.S. Institute of Peace specialist who directed the report, told a briefing yesterday that after three years of improvising, the PRTs must become more focused.
"As this program matures and develops and as more nations come in, it’s time for the PRTs to have an agreed concept of operations and a clear set of guidelines for civil-military cooperation and relationships, which even to this day do not exist," Perito said.
The PRTs are located from Faizabad in the northeast to Kandahar in the south, and are focused on small projects such as building bridges, renovating schools or clinics, and training Afghan police. Their aim is to improve security and extend control of the Afghan central government.
But the PRTs handle civil-military activities in different ways, depending on the environment and the priorities of troop-contributing countries, which set conditions for deploying forces.
The U.S. military leads many of the PRTs in the less secure eastern and southern regions of the country. There are plans to increasingly hand over authority for these teams to fellow NATO and coalition members. Experts see this as a key time to improve and standardize operating procedures.
Ali Jalali, who recently served as Afghanistan's interior minister, represented Kabul on a committee that sought to coordinate PRT projects. He said the committee lacked power to set policy. The result, he said yesterday, has been that too few of the projects reflected the priorities of the Afghan government.
"While PRT-initiated, quick-impact reconstruction projects are effective in the counterinsurgency setting, they would be strategically more effective if carried out in accordance with the direction of the national government and in line with the national development programs," Jalali said.
Jalali, who left the government last month, cited the positive impact of PRTs in Mazar-e Sharif in the north and Herat in the west, which played a greater security role than other units. He joined Perito of the Institute for Peace in saying PRTs should be engaged in more security efforts, such as training Afghan forces and constructing police stations.
Lieutenant General David Barno commanded U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for an 18-month period until last spring. He promoted the expansion of PRTs and told yesterday’s briefing they have played a critical role in securing the country.
"We did find that when we put a PRT in an area, that immediately security flowed in a puddle -- effectively from that PRT simply being there," Barno said. "So as we moved into the spring of 2004 we made a deliberate decision to seed PRTs in the south and east of the country where the most contentious areas were."
But while the PRTs have had a calming effect on regions where Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and factional forces are active, they have not been tasked with directly combating drug traffickers. A number of NATO members have so far declined to take on a direct counternarcotics role.
Former Interior Minister Jalali said it should be a matter of direct interest to Western European states in NATO, because such a large portion of opium produced in Afghanistan reaches Europe. "I would suggest that this is the time that PRTs should think of a role in counternarcotic activities, not only in the interest of stabilization of the Afghan provinces, but at the same time in order to have a role in global war on narcotics," he said.
The Institute of Peace report comes out at a time of increasing discussion in NATO capitals about the PRT model for nation-building projects. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a U.S. Senate panel last week that in November, coalition-run PRTs will start operating in Iraq to help local governments establish services.