Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility

The following is an extract from an interview conducted by the U.S. Institute of Peace for its lessons learned project from the PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The previous years, USIP did similar interviews as part of its oral history project. The interviewee, a State Department Foreign Service Officer, was the team leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq, from March 2010 to March 2011. The interview notes say “He understood the PRT mission to be one of serving as a mini-consulate while pursuing capacity building in governance, rule of law and agricultural development. He was the last team leader as the PRT was closing out soon after his departure.”

Q. In closing let ask you if there any other comments you want to make? Any ideas that you want to share about your experience with the PRT, how it worked and how it could have been made more effective or how other PRTs in other countries could be made more effective?

Senior Agricultural Advisor for the Wasit, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team George Stickels from Arlington, Va., surveys a field in the Al Abara village in the Badra District of Wasit, Iraq to see where a center pivot irrigation system should be placed into the field to help in the growing of crops, Nov. 20, 2010. The Wasit PRT and 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment are in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.
(Photo by Spc. Charles Willingham via

A. What a great management/leadership experience! [But] our system is bad when it comes to vetting people for assignments like this. I think that old adage about playing nicely with others is particularly important in a high pressure, kind of “out there” assignment like a PRT. It’s not a place to send screw-ups, it’s not a place to send people looking to rehabilitate bad careers. I think it’s important to be choosy even when there are assignments where you are maybe a little desperate about “will I get this job filled?” So I think that is important, I think the people who can deal with the pressure, who have got a good sense of humor, who are versatile, who like working with the military, who can function well in a environment where State is a tiny minority, all of that is important and I think that improves the effectiveness of your PRT.

I don’t know whether this is what you are after, but I thought the financial incentives were quite good and certainly worthwhile. I thought the system did a horrendously poor job of taking care of many of us with follow on assignments. I’m very happy with my follow on, ultimately, but I spent an inordinate amount of time during my tour chasing a follow on assignment. I mean time that was robbed from me focusing on PRT-related stuff. That is not something specific to Iraq tours; I think that speaks more to the general breakdown in our assignments process.

A more general observation, not PRT specific – I think we are at a real crossroads in these sorts of assignments. I think there are those of us — a third or a quarter of the Foreign Service — who have done them. And I think there are a lot of people who haven’t, don’t want to, don’t want to be reminded that there are those of us out there who’ve done them, don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done them, or don’t want to do them. I sense there is a what I like to call AIP (Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan) fatigue out there and even a little hostility towards those of us who have done these assignments. I’m not necessarily advocating — because I know there are some people who aren’t that good at doing these assignments and I don’t want to advocate that we should all be given our absolute priority assignments and our top two choice assignments and instant promotion—but I think this is a stated top priority goal of the Secretary of State and reiterated by the DG (Director General) and that is not always reflected in the way the system reacted to those of us who’ve done these assignments.

— Foreign Service Officer (Interview #152)
Team Leader of PRT Wasit, Iraq (2010-2011)
Excerpt from Iraq/Afghanistan Provincial Reconstruction Teams: Lessons Learned, USIP
Interview date: April 15, 2011

We certainly can understand the AIP fatigue but have you heard about that “little hostility” he’s talking about?  You’d think that if there is some kind of hostility or resentment, it would come from those who have been pressed for more than one tours to Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan, instead of the other way around.  All assignments are voluntary, of course, even those who are left with no other option on their lists but Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Or the reverse hostility is for getting first dibs on assignments (AIP assignments have its own cycle), getting priority/onward assignments, breaking current assignments to relocate to any AIP posts, etc.etc.?

Are there really folks who “don’t feel like they should be disadvantaged in any way because they haven’t done” the war zone tours?

Domani Spero

Officially Moved: Derek J. Mitchell – from Special Rep for Burma to Burma

On May 17 President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell as the next ambassador to the Union of Burma. The WH released the following bio:

Ambassador Derek J. Mitchell is Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, with the rank of Ambassador, having been appointed by President Obama in August 2011.  Previously, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs.  Before joining the Administration in 2009, Ambassador Mitchell served as Senior Fellow and Director for Asia in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  He concurrently served as founding Director of the CSIS Southeast Asia Initiative, which was inaugurated in 2008.  From 1997 to 2001, Ambassador Mitchell was Special Assistant for Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  During this time, his roles included Senior Country Director for China, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Hong Kong (2000-2001), Director for Regional Security Affairs (1998-2000), Senior Country Director for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore (1998-1999), and Country Director for Japan (1997-1998).  Before joining the Department of Defense, he worked at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs as Senior Program Officer for Asia and the Former Soviet Union (1996-1997), and as Program Officer for Asia (1993-1996).  He began his career as Assistant to the Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Ambassador Mitchell received a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.A. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Burma was career diplomat, Burton Levin who served from 1987-1990. No ambassador was appointed to replace Levin, and there has been no U.S. ambassador in Burma since then.

More than a half dozen chargé d’affaires have been appointed head of mission in Rangoon since then:

  • Franklin P. Huddle, Jr. (September 1990–September 1994) – later became Ambassador to Tajikistan
  • Marilyn Meyers (September 1994–October 1996)
  • Kent M. Wiedemann (October 1996–May 1999) – later became Ambassador to Cambodia
  • Priscilla A. Clapp (July 1999–August 2002)
  • Carmen Maria Martinez (August 2002–August 2005) – later became Ambassador to Zambia in 2005-2008
  • Shari Villarosa (August 2005–September 2008) – officially nominated as Ambassador to Port Louis and The Seychelles in November 2011, nomination currently stuck in Senate.
  • Larry M. Dinger (September 2008–August 2011) – previously U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Fiji Islands, the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu from July 2005 to June 2008 and U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia (2002–2004)
  • Michael Thurston (August 2011–2012) – previously Consul General at USCG Melbourne, Australia (2008-2011) and prior to that he was the Team Leader of PRT Diyala, Iraq (2007-2008).

Domani Spero

Related item:

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 17, 2012

Officially In: John F. Sopko – from Law Partner to SIGAR

On May 23 President Obama announced the appointment of John F. Sopko as the next Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The WH released the following brief bio:

Photo from cspan

John F. Sopko is currently a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a position he has held since 2009. From 2007 to 2009, Mr. Sopko served as Chief Counsel for Oversight and Investigations for the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Previously, he was Deputy Director of the Homeland Security Institute from 2005 to 2007, and Minority General Counsel and Chief of Investigations for the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. From 1999 to 2003, Mr. Sopko held a number of roles at the U.S. Department of Commerce, including Deputy Director of the National Technical Information Service, Acting Assistant Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement, and Chief Counsel for the Special Matters Unit at the Office of General Counsel. From 1982 to 1997, Mr. Sopko was Deputy Chief Counsel at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and from 1978 to 1982, he was Special Attorney at the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He holds a B.A. in Economics and Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

WaPo writes that the previous inspector, Arnold Fields, a retired Marine major general, resigned in January 2011 after “a review by the Council of Inspectors General found that many of his office’s audits barely met minimum quality standards and that Fields had not laid out a clear strategic vision.”

SIGAR conducts audits and investigations to: 1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of reconstruction programs and 2) detect and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.  President Obama designated Steven J Trent as Acting Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction on September 3, 2011.

This is a presidential appointment that does not require Senate confirmation. So hopefully, the new appointee will hit the ground running.

Domani Spero

Related item:
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts | May 23, 2012