Reconstruction Teams to the Rescue!


Categorie: Afghanistan, Iraq, Reconstruction |

Provincial Reconstruction Teams tasked with rebuilding ruined infrastructure and institutions are trying to take the lead in the U.S. strategy to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan. But the PRTs’ seemingly peaceful missions belie the extreme dangers they face every day, with security concerns often hobbling their efforts to make a significant impact.

Small, lightly equipped and often working far from the protective umbrella of U.S. and coalition troops, more than one PRT has had a close call.

Just ask Air Force Capt. Rockie Wilson. From August to December last year, Wilson led a combined Army-Air Force PRT trying to rebuild roads and train local government officials in Qalat province, northwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The 70-mile road network the PRT was working on featured deep dips that Wilson says were perfect spots to hide Improvised Explosive Devices.

But the first Taliban attack on his team involved small arms rather than roadside bombs.

“My life flashed before my eyes,” Wilson says, smiling shyly as he recalls his stereotypical response to getting shot at for the first time.

But the six-months of pre-deployment Army training kicked in, and he maneuvered his Humvees to cover while his machine gunners and an attached Afghan Army unit opened fire. They were able to keep the Taliban’s heads down long enough for Wilson to call in a pair of A-10 Warthog attack jets, killing many of the attackers and scattering the rest.

But the engagement did not come without cost. One Afghan army soldier in the patrol died and two were wounded.

First established in Afghanistan in 2002, PRTs were initially Army-led and included mostly Soldiers. But with the number and size of PRTs expanding throughout Central Command’s area of responsibility and constant deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for combat operations, the Navy and Air Force have stepped in to relieve some Army’s manpower pressure, taking over leadership of 12 of the 24 American PRTs in Afghanistan.

Half of the 20 American PRTs in Iraq are led by the Army as well, with the other half led by State Department staffers – though, the department is having a tough time finding the personnel to assume the risky duty. There are as many as 100 people working in each PRT.

Division commanders are given a lot of leeway on how to use a PRT based in his combat zone. In Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon embeds his teams – which are based south of Baghdad – alongside his combat brigades. Cardon told his PRTs to help local Iraqi government officials develop the skills to identify reconstruction projects and issue contracts on their own – a philosophy shared by teams in Afghanistan.

“I’m a believer in PRTs,” he says, adding that he makes sure they have priority for helicopter support and escorts for their ground convoys. But even with escorts, the threat level often restricts their movement.

“The problem is they don’t have the security to get around they way they should,” Cardon said.

Still, Cardon’s and Wilson’s teams managed. One of the Iraq teams’ biggest successes was coordinating pest mitigation for the large date palm industry in Karbala, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad.

“There are these insects that come out and have to be sprayed within a six-week period. The Iraqis were having problems doing this for some time,” Cardon explained. So one of his PRTs stepped in, arranging for helicopters to do the spraying – a move that “should mean dramatic improvement in the date harvest.”

Next up: adding more State Department personnel to his PRTs and tasking them to train the Iraqi government in basic budgeting so ministries and local institutions can execute projects like the date palm spraying themselves.

“I’m trying to get the PRTs to focus more on building government capacity,” Cardon says.

Which is what Wilson spent much of his time doing half the world away in Afghanistan last year.

With road work underway employing local contractors and labor, Wilson and his PRT took it to the next level, sponsoring a “contractors’ fair” to teach local managers how to organize workers and submit contract bids. The team also visited local schools to teach basic construction skills to young boys, hoping to lay the groundwork for eventual fruitful employment.

It’s all part of Central Command’s increased emphasis on “non-kinetic” solutions to Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s long-term problems.

“PRTs are very much the next news story,” Cardon said.

Cross-posted at


7 Responses to “Reconstruction Teams to the Rescue!”

  1. [...] Reconstruction: To fight terrorism is not just a military matter. You have to show the perception of security, [which] for everyday Afghans means a better life, [and this is] related to physical reconstruction and the ability of the Afghan government to deliver services. The role of [U.S. and NATO] Provincial Reconstruction Teams is crucial. They’re the link between coalition forces and the everyday people. Now, I personally believe the PRTs should be involved more in capacity building with Afghan forces, the police and government. There has been a lot of focus on physical projects … but by digging a well you’re not going to change the economic conditions in a village. What Afghanistan is lacking is human capital. Building human capital will have a bigger effect than digging a well or building a soccer field. Roads and power are out two biggest [physical reconstruction] priorities. Roads: there has been some progress. Power: not so much progress. Electricity is such a tangible thing. [...]

  2. ashly says:

    ya belive me it just wastes your time and you can have depreationafter the war it can ruone yuor life and your family

  3. [...] To be fair to myself, this trip isn’t always going to be so pleasant. In a couple days I catch a U.N. World Food Program flight into Kandahar, where I’m told there are no quaint coffee shops, but there are occasional bombings. After a few days in Kandahar covering NATO forces there, I will catch a military flight out into the province to link up with an Australian-Dutch Provincial Reconstruction Team. An Aussie aid worker told me that the PRT owns just a few square miles around its base; the rest is Taliban country. NATO had asked her agency to come up with a development scheme for the area, but with so little land to work with, the best they could come up with was livestock donations. But to keep the goats from wandering into Taliban territory, each one would have to be fitted with a radio collar and tracked like some prized endangered primate. No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  4. [...] NATO, the U.S. military and the U.S. and Afghan governments realize this, and many of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have tackled transportation projects lately. U.S. Air Force Captain Rockie Wilson recently returned from leading a PRT in southeast Afghanistan that focused mostly on getting Afghan contractors up to speed on road construction. Even aid groups are in on the action. The U.S. Agency for International Development just wrapped some major road projects around Kabul; and CHF, a development nonprofit that is most famous for its microfinance programs, is eyeing transportation projects as it expands, according to Afghanistan manager Suhail Awan. [...]

  5. [...] Related: Roads, stat! Reconstruction teams dodge bullets Afghans decry corruption Afghan ambassador speaks No Comments so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Leave a comment Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong> [...]

  6. [...] But then came the much-heralded “Anbar awakening” – a banding-together of Sunni sheiks and their militias into a loose alliance that fought alongside U.S. and federal Iraqi forces to all but eradicate terrorist cells in Ramadi and other large western towns. As security improved in Al Anbar, U.S. “Provincial Reconstruction Teams” – some military-led, some commanded by State Department specialists – moved to restore Ramadi’s connection to the national power grid. Now 80 percent of residents have regular power, according to Colonel John Charlton, an Army commander in the province. [...]

  7. [...] Reconstruction in Iraq is mostly a function of the U.S. and British armies and a handful of very brave nonprofits. This necessarily limits the speed and effectiveness of efforts to rebuild the country’s economy. In Afghanistan, on the other hand, you can’t swing a dead goat without hitting some non-military aid group: U.N., E.U., U.S. State Department, the British Foreign Office, Catholic Relief Service, CHF and many others – they’re all here, and security is such that they can actually do their jobs in all but the remotest corners. And for those, there are the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Reconstruction is a much safer investment in Afghanistan than in Iraq. [...]

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