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Assessing Provincial Reconstruction Teams

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008

Following up some more on Richard Weitz' article on the Army's new stability and reconstruction doctrine, Small Wars Journal points to this link for an academic review of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authors studied the PRT model all the way down the line, from the countries of origin to in-theater operations, and came up with a mixed bag, predominantly favorable to the missions, but full of interesting and thought-provoking stuff. I'm going through it now and cherrypicking the highlights:

Domestic political constraints and priorities in the capitals of PRT-contributing countries are often directly translated into a PRT's operational priorities. This diversity in field operations can negatively impact unity of effort and purpose across PRTs. . . Politics aside, different countries' capacities may make such variety necessary. A country like Iceland, which has no regular military forces, can contribute expertise to a PRT. However, it cannot be expected to operate within the same framework as a country with a large and well-developed military. (p. 7)

Field-level PRT planning and organization are directly impacted by the presence (or lack) of a standing institutionalized interagency organization in the donor country's capital. Countries that have genuinely recognized the need for joint efforts by their development, defense and diplomacy agencies appear to have more success than others. (p. 7)

Early on in their experience, the Italian government's weak level of coordination between the civilian and military ministries in Rome set a poor example for overall coordination within the PRT in Afghanistan. [Ed. note: Italy? Disorganized?] (p. 7)

Pressure to forge a coherent approach to post-conflict reconstruction using the strengths of multiple government agencies gave rise to PRTs. The close interaction of agencies on the ground maintains a reverse pressure on home capitals to institutionalize this approach. Theoretically, PRTs represent a laboratory of joint civil-military effort towards state building. (p. 9)

PRTs with a larger civilian presence tend to balance the military, political and development priorities more effectively than those with a very small civilian presence. Even when the PRT is led by a military commander, the presence of several dozen civilians shapes priorities. (p. 9)

Although there are ongoing efforts to train military and civilian PRT staff together prior to deployment, such as the US program that trains personnel going to Iraq, these efforts fall short of what is needed. Most government staff do not have prior experience working in joint civil-military environments, largely because existing systems do not reward such choices. They require significant time to learn how to operate together effectively in an intense and diverse environment. (p. 9)

The agencies that control PRT resources, although not the only factor involved, play a crucial role in influencing activities. (P. 9)

NGOs question military involvement in reconstruction activities because of fears about the shrinkage of "humanitarian space" when PRT areas of operation overlap with their own. These complaints have persisted despite improvements since the clumsy initial forays of PRTs into the development sphere in Afghanistan. While reliant on international military forces to provide a secure environment in which they can operate, NGOs consistently express worries that CIMIC projects implemented by PRTs place their personnel at risk by blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians. (p. 12)

Almost five years after the establishment of the first PRT, the extent to which they are meant to be a mechanism for development, security, COIN, or even a partnership between agencies on the ground is undefined. . . [A] clear and unified vision of the role and scope of PRTs is a necessary first step toward creating metrics that will facilitate objective evaluations of PRT performance. (p. 14)

While PRT staff members report positive effects of their projects, this evidence is anecdotal and is not based on a comprehensive-outcomes or cost-benefit analysis. The overall influence of PRTs is highly variable and generally remains undetermined. (p. 14)

Despite the absence of a consistent set of outcome-based metrics, PRT staff report a positive effect on the environments in which they work. . . PRT staff also note their positive influence on the effort to approach post-conflict issues more holistically. PRTs exert reverse pressure on national bureaucracies to coordinate more effectively. This coordination increases interagency understanding back home and in the field. (p. 14)

The Recommendations section (p. 15) is too dense to lift anything, but it basically concludes that there's no real metric to judge PRT's by because no one has standardized any concrete set of goals or objectives for them. On the whole, though, the authors believe that PRT's are anecdotally promising and should be further explored, and provide a substantive section of "best practices" that they think offer the best way forward.

Very useful and worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the future of these types of operations.