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US Civilian Capacity in Afghanistan Still Inadequate August 21, 2009

Posted by Stephen Abott in Analysis.
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Source: CIA

Source: CIA

As US troop levels rise in Afghanistan and new Afghan security forces are being trained, the new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is arguing for a civilian “surge” of hundreds of additional US officials to bolster US counterinsurgency efforts.  According to General McChrystal, the additional civilians would help DOD efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country by taking on some of the stabilization and reconstruction efforts that DOD has been responsible for, namely economic and development assistance.  What General McChrystal is advocating, fundamentally, is a better civil-military balance in US operations.  He is not alone.

The Obama administration has pledged to balance the civil-military relationship, promising to put a civilian face on development and governance efforts.  The administration has increased the number of US civilian position in Afghanistan from approximately 560 US government civilian employees at the end of 2008 to 1,000 by the end of this year. Some of the new civilian forces would work at the US Embassy in Kabul; others are to be assigned to US provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) and with US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A).

Even with the Executive commitment to increase the number of civilians in Afghanistan, the State Department, USAID and other federal agencies are having difficulty staffing the higher levels mandated by the Obama administration. The State Department wants to increase their presence in Afghanistan to 380 positions, from 136 budgeted earlier this year. However, of those already-budgeted positions, less than half were filled. Current reports put State personnel at 159, leaving 221 additional personnel to be hired and deployed. While pushing hard to fill these positions, the already undermanned State Department, already saddled with a personnel shortfall of 2,400 in 2008, is not well positioned to fill them easily.

USAID is having even more difficulty filing their new positions, with an overburdened HR system that is only slowly deploying people to Afghanistan. USAID has been downsized drastically since the Cold War, falling from a permanent American workforce of 4,300 in 1975 to 2,200 in 2007. As its workforce decreased and administered budget increased, since 1990, USAID has been forced to hire increasing numbers of consultants, contractors, and other non-permanent staff. The shrinking USAID staff has left the agency with few experts in the technical aspects of development and often unable to conduct sufficient oversight over all of its programs. The result is a small Washington-based workforce, unable to deploy significant numbers of full-time American employees abroad.

None of this is good news for General McChrystal.  The continued lack of civilian capacity will equate to the US military being asked to perform a growing number of stabilization and reconstruction missions. The consequence has been, and will remain, an overstretched military and uniformed face on America’s global engagement.

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