Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ePRT Iraq: Hope and Do No Harm, Poor Planning Methods

Map of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afgh...Image via WikipediaWe have previously posted here an excerpt from a piece written by Marc Grossman (former "P" and number #3 State Department official during G.W's. first term) where he floated the idea of the creation of a new personnel specialty, that of the expeditionary diplomat." He writes:

"Experience with the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lessons learned with S/CRS, and the example of diplomats who have pursued careers in the toughest posts should lead State leadership to conclude that this is a step worth taking."
We are not for or against the idea but do have one question. Is it really? A step worth taking? 

You can read the oral histories from members of the Iraq and Afghanistan PRTs in the links below:

In the very same issue of Prism is also an article by Blake Stone (Blind Ambition: Lessons Learned and Not Learned in an Embedded PRT).  Blake Stone is Adjunct Professor of National Security Decision Making in the College of Distance Education at the U.S. Naval War College. His article according to the piece represents the author's observations based on his experiences in an embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq during a specific period. He served in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mahmudiyah in early November 2008 and was assigned to ePRT Baghdad 4 (later redesignated Baghdad South).

The article is not a pretty read but we think it's a must-read and ought to be discussed particularly in relation to the idea of a new personnel specialty.  The editors of Prism, by the way, has extended an invitation to interested Department of State Bureaus to submit their perspectives in subsequent issues. Editorial contact info here -- http://www.ndu.edu/press/prism.html

We hope the somebodies write back to Prism so we all can read it in the next issue.

Mr. Stone's article starts with a polite note --
While much of what is contained in this article is critical of both the Department of State and Department of Defense, it is in no way meant to deprecate the personal efforts, sacrifices, bravery, or character of those who volunteered to go into harm's way by serving on these teams in a dangerous place during a critical time in U.S. history. Neither is it designed to take away from the personal sacrifices and exemplary character of the men and women who voluntarily wear the uniform of our country and daily put their lives on the line in the name of furthering both national security goals and the American way of life.

The purpose of this article is not to cite an extensive list of organizational miscues, which would only raise the question, "What did you do to remedy the situation?" Rather, my hope is to focus on how future attempts at postconflict stabilization and reconstruction may be better planned and executed. More important, I hope these observations and suggestions will drive a more focused analysis of the operational and tactical planning and execution that must occur as preconditions for achieving our strategic endstate. This article also suggests the absence of a clearly defined provincial level plan from Embassy Baghdad for the achievement of U.S. national security and foreign policy goals in Iraq. From the local level, where my team worked in the "Sunni Triangle of Death," there was absolutely no sense of linkage between the reconstruction efforts we were executing and the stated goals of either Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama. "Hope," it was once said, "is not a [planning] method."3 At our ePRT, all we had by way of guidance was hope and the Hippocratic oath of "Do no harm."
[...] lack of specific planning guidance stemmed from the inherent inability of the State Department to engage in this sort of work—executing what essentially amounted to the last two phases of a military operation. State Department Foreign Service Officer (FSO) skill sets are much too passive—the collecting and reporting of information, for example, were the professional stock-in-trade of both of our political cone FSO team leaders. The primary interests of both our team leaders and OPA generally were good reporting and submitting weekly reports to Washington. The absence of the ability to plan, execute, and lead stability and reconstruction operations was painfully apparent—it just was not a required skill set or core competency within State. For those of us who came to the State Department directly from the military, this nearly universal truism was a constant source of frustration and disappointment. Our State Department leadership failed either to plan effectively or to lead the civilian reconstruction effort.
While the State Department was wholly incompetent to lead our national reconstruction efforts, the Army brigades we worked with operated in only a slightly less incompetent manner. The Army brought numerous assets to the table: a significant number of personnel for the task, a very significant budget, and the logistical and mobility assets that allowed it to be nearly everywhere in the operational environment at once. The downside to this well-intentioned Leviathan was organizational inertia on a grand scale that had no outlet (save reconstruction operations) in the post–June 30 Security Framework Agreement Iraq. Precluded from conducting combat operations, the Army focused on nonkinetic effects—its shorthand for reconstruction operations.

While the State Department was the lead Federal agency for reconstruction and stabilization operations,11 the BCTs we were embedded with had their own separate agendas. This lack of coordination was compounded by our team leaders' willingness to cede primacy to the military in the name of "maintaining good relations with the Army." The first brigade we worked with, 2d Brigade, 1st Armored Division (2/1), viewed the ePRT simply as a "brigade enabler" and expected the civilian efforts of the ePRT to be subordinate to the overarching brigade concept of the operation. This caused friction on numerous levels. First, the brigade's deputy commanding officer ran his own set of engagements with numerous civilian Iraqi governmental officials, often without any coordination with the ePRT governance team, whose role it was to engage with, train, and mentor the same set of officials. This often led to the embarrassing situation of unwittingly meeting with the same official the day after the Army met with them, sometimes regarding the exact same issue.

Programmatically, the ePRT and 2/1 Armored Division's differences stemmed primarily from two wellheads—first, a difference of opinion regarding where we sat on the operational continuum; and second, different timelines. The net effect was an almost complete lack of unity of effort and the Army and State Department working from two completely different playbooks.
Lessons Learned
There are numerous things we need to do better in future stability operations. While this list is not exhaustive, it is representative of the problems faced during our ePRT operation over 18 months, three BCTs, and three FSO team leaders.
  • State Department FSOs should not lead ePRTs. FSOs are talented and dedicated public servants, but they lack the skill sets to be effective leaders of ePRT operations. First, they seem to lack the leadership experience required to effectively direct the efforts of what amounts to a small unit. Second, they lack the military experience to effectively conduct phase four and five operations with our military partners. State Department skill sets are passive (for example, political reporting) and not well matched to the realities of the job; thus, ePRTs would be better led by "3161" Excepted Service, direct-hire term appointees (which currently comprise the bulk of the State Department's complement on both ePRTs and PRTs) who often possess a better mix of significant and relevant military experience and civilian-acquired skill sets necessary for postconflict reconstruction/international development work. The 3161s with prior military experience have the ability to keep one foot firmly planted in each camp—Defense and State.
  • Military leaders need more training in interagency reconstruction and capacity-building operations. Most of the military leaders at the BCT level lacked a fundamental understanding of what "the interagency" brought to the warfight, how to harness its vast capabilities, and even more basic concepts such as "who was in charge" (that is, the lead Federal agency). Lacking this understanding, what should have been a symbiotic relationship was fraught with friction. Most military leaders viewed the ePRT as merely a "brigade enabler" rather than at least a partner in its operations or, more realistically, the lead agency within the unit's operational environment for postconflict reconstruction and capacity-building. This turf battle was a constant driver of inefficiency. The military needs to make the mandate of Department of Defense Instruction 3000.05—that it be as proficient in stability operations as in combat operations—a reality.13
  • Lead Federal agencies need to actually lead. We received precious little by way of operational guidance from PRT Baghdad, the Embassy's Office of Provincial Affairs, or the two Ambassadors I served under. To the extent there was "front office" involvement in PRT/ ePRT issues, it primarily focused on the PRT drawdown plan. While much time and energy were expended in determining the size and composition of the subnational civilian footprint, what seemed absent from the calculus was the fact that civilian assets were drawing down at a quicker and more significant pace than the military component. This seemed rather counterintuitive, in that most reconstruction models call for a corresponding increase in civilian capacity (that is, a "civilian surge" of sorts) as the military presence draws down. This left gaping holes in our overall ability to continue reconstruction operations as we approached the post-election transition of power.
  • Reduce the rate of military area of operations turnover (that is, "my school needs to be rebuilt . . . again"). The rate of battlespace turnover between military units ("transfer of authority") was probably too frequent to build good civil-military relationships with our Iraqi interlocutors. Every 9 months or so, Iraqi governmental officials as well as tribal and business leaders with whom we would regularly engage would have to learn a whole new panoply of military commanders, Civil Affairs personnel, and other personalities. This also gave the Iraqis, who were astute opportunists, the ability to pitch their wish list to successive commanders on at least a yearly basis. This led to many otherwise unnecessary projects being started or funded in the name of "building relationships."
  • "Money as a weapons system" is probably the preeminent tool in a counterinsurgency. It has the unparalleled ability to independently influence decisionmakers, provide access to them and to other "levers of influence," and turn enemies into allies (as exemplified by the Sons of Iraq movement). Efforts to build governmental capacity, on the other hand, often benefit from not leading with money. The government of Iraq became conditioned to look to the U.S. Army particularly and the U.S. Government more generally as the bill payer of first resort. We were often unable to get the government of Iraq to move forward on its own until we convinced it that we lacked or were otherwise unable to provide money to apply against whatever the problem of the day happened to be. Once the government was forced into that position, it would actually start coordinating and breaking bureaucratic stovepipes
In future conflicts, the civilian/interagency contribution will undoubtedly be critical to achieving the strategic endstate. It should be better utilized. To do this, it will need to be better led (presumably by civilian leaders) and better understood by its military counterparts. To "win the peace," we must be just as effective in phases four and five as we are in decisive combat operations. Until we make such successes a priority in our doctrine, training, and resourcing—to include requiring proven competency in the skill sets required for such operations (especially proven leadership abilities)—we will simply remain the "blind leading the blind" down an uncertain path.

Read the whole thing here (PDF).

We must note that the original estimates placed the cost of Iraqi reconstruction from 2004-2007 reportedly at $56 billion.   As of March 31, 2010, nearly $162.83 billion had been made available for the relief and reconstruction of Iraq.  And if that's not scary enough -- we're now in Afghanistan with a similar troops surge. And civilian surge. And a reconstruction surge.

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