Reconsider the Role of the PRTs?

Col. Mark Fields, commander, 189th Infantry Br...Image via Wikipedia

Gilles Dorronsoro, a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace gave a testimony last week at the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Part of his testimony questions the role of the PRTs in Afghanistan; something that frankly, I have not heard brought up before. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that this war cannot be won militarily and that we need the civilians over there pronto. Since we are ramping up the civilian uplift with 974 additional personnel in the next couple of months, the question about the role of the PRTs in Afghanistan is an interesting and relevant one. Below is an excerpt:

Development is not the key in Afghanistan. The Afghans do not choose their political allegiances based on the level of aid. Economic aid is not a practical way to gain control of a territory, and it plays a marginal role in the war. Rather, whoever controls the territory is the most important factor in Afghans’ political allegiances. In other words, development must come after military control in the strategic areas, as a consolidating process. Aid is also not instrumental in ddressing the central issues of an exit strategy. Development should be territorially concentrated in the strategic areas, where it can reinforce the institutions.

If this analysis is correct, the Coalition should reconsider the role of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). What is their supposed strategic impact? I would argue that the PRTs are ineffective in state building and also of limited utility in preparing for withdrawal; hence, they should not be a priority. The PRT concept is technically useful in some cases, but it is a long-term liability for Western forces because it takes the place of the Afghan state, marginalizing Afghan players. If Western troops are in charge, there is no reason not to give civil operations to real NGOs or Afghan institutions. Moreover, the PRTs are unable to significantly change the perceptions of the Afghan population. Local populations are essentially dependent on whoever controls the territories in which they live.

Read the whole statement here.