Civilian Uplift for Afghanistan on Track?

An uplifting experienceImage by boliston via Flickr

On September 20 Jackie Northam of NPR reports about a snag in the civilian surge to Afghanistan (NPR | ‘Civilian Surge’ Plan For Afghanistan Hits A Snag). Excerpts below:

“The administration is expected to increase the deployment of American government civilian workers — experts who can help rebuild the country. But there are problems persuading civilians with the requisite skills to go to Afghanistan. […] it would send about 450 civilians from several branches of the government by March 2010. The timetable was then accelerated to December of this year. But so far, only about a quarter of that number have been deployed to Afghanistan.”

Jack Lew
, the Under Secretary for Management and Resources at the State Department is quoted in the NPR report:

“We have to remember that decisions were made in the spring, funds were appropriated in July, programming is being implemented, you know, August/September,” says Jacob Lew. “We’re just now seeing the program go into place.”

“Lew says the administration expects to reach its target numbers by the beginning of next year. Other State Department officials, and analysts, say that’s optimistic — because it’s difficult to find enough people who have the right skills and who are willing to stay in Afghanistan for a yearlong deployment.”

The NPR report recalls that the State Department in 2004 created a “Civilian Response Corps,” in which civilians would go on short deployments into conflict zones. Apparently, the corps only received funding last year. So okay, five years after it was launched by Secretary Rice, it expects to build a corps of more than 4,000 active, standby and reserve members. Ambassador John Herbst, the coordinator of S/CRS says in the report that there are about 50 active members who are ready to be sent to Afghanistan. “Obviously, the numbers I’m describing right now are not going to make a major contribution to Afghanistan,” he says. “But in six months, you know, we might be in a position where we could, if there was a need, put a hundred or more people on the ground.”

John Dempsey of United States Institute of Peace who has been in Kabul for several years is also quoted in the report:

“Security is such that it’s so difficult for people to actually be able to move off of forward operating bases and get out into the field to actually meet with Afghans and do their work,” he says. “They don’t have the adequate logistical or security support to do that.”

* * *

Is this really surprising news? The S/CRS did not get half a fuel tank to go anywhere the last four years (but the official launch was a nice ceremony). Makes one wonder how much workforce planning even really occurred within this Bureau or the government to sustain a civilian surge anywhere. Of course, you start down this path and you get to wonder about a whole lot of things, too. U/S Lew is not in the most enviable position and he may be wrestling with this issue until winter … or next summer…. and every summer thereafter until at least 2012.

How many people already sent to Iraq for multiple tours are also going to Afghanistan for this no-end in sight mission?

How many in the Federal service, outside of State and AID already have the skill sets needed for this mission? How many inside State and USAID?

At which point are we going to hear “directed assignment” for FS personnel?

With funds/programming implemented just this past couple of months, how many 3161 personnel are we picking up for this? How many contractors are we picking up eventually? How fast can we recruit and train skilled personnel going to Afghanistan (or Pakistan)?

With security contractors gracing the news every single day in September, what do you do with private protective service for all reconstruction and support personnel in country?

With 450 personnel planned, how many life-support personnel are expected to be hired with them? If I remember correctly, the OIG talked about three life support personnel for every direct-hire employee in an REO in Iraq. This is, of course, Afghanistan with more intractable challenges. But even using the Iraq figure, this would still translate to an additional number of 1,350 life-support personnel or a total staffing of 1800 for this uplift alone. And when the first 450 personnel completes their one-year tour, where do you find the next 450 to take over their place? And on and on and on it goes ….