Military-civilian teams have operated in far-flung corners of Afghanistan
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to "integrate federal agencies and the military in stabilization and aid efforts,” including setting up "new Mobile Development Teams that bring together personnel from the State Department, Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development to deploy to regions at risk."
Beginning in 2002 -- long before Obama took office -- efforts were underway to help rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are defined as small civilian-military units that assist provincial and local governments to govern effectively and deliver essential services, such as policing, public health and court systems.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams "were not intended to function as peacekeeping entities,” according to globalsecurity.org. "They were relatively small, inter-disciplinary groups formed to assist local authorities, the national government, non-governmental organizations, and United Nations agencies in their efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, reform its security sector and disarm, demobilize and reintegrate its armed members.”
While these units produced some important achievements locally, they also came under criticism for "interagency differences over funding, staffing, and administrative support and by the overriding challenge of providing security,” according to the U.S. Institute of Peace.
"The issue is not just one of insufficient resources,” wrote Lawrence Vasquez, a former commander of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Farah, Afghanistan, for the Brookings Institution in November 2010. "Based on the recent reporting on the situation overall, and my own personal experience, the overall coordination of all PRTs in Afghanistan could be better aligned and (have) a more coherent development strategy communicated to all involved.”
However, when we checked with the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, an advocacy group of international development and foreign policy practitioners and experts, Didier Trinh, the group's deputy director, said the promise more likely referred to "District Stabilization Teams.” These District Stabilization Teams operate in even more isolated areas than Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which tend to be concentrated around provincial capitals.
The idea behind District Stabilization Teams is to improve infrastructure and opportunities in areas where the central government is considered distant. Unlike Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the District Stabilization Teams were only put on the ground in Afghanistan.
District Stabilization Teams "were a large part of the ‘surge' that got more civilians in the field,” said Trinh, who served on one of these teams himself. "There has definitely been some angst within the development community about the effectiveness” of these new military-civilian initiatives, as well as the "erosion of humanitarian space through this strategy. But one of the reasons Obama made this pledge was so the military wasn't roving unchecked doing development work."
Trinh added that the promise's notion of greater interagency cooperation on humanitarian and stabilization issues has been advanced by the creation of an Atrocities Prevention Board in April 2012. This body is taking a cross-agency approach to identifying and addressing potential atrocities. The parts of the government joining in the effort are the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and Homeland Security, the Joint Staff, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Vice President.
It's important to remember that the inter-agency efforts included in the promise began in 2002, almost seven years before Obama took office. However, Obama did develop District Stabilization Teams, which have executed the vision laid out in the promise. We rate this a Promise Kept.
globalsecurity.org, "Provincial Reconstruction Teams” (web page), accessed Dec. 21, 2012
Lawrence Vasquez, "Time to Reevaluate the Role of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan?” (Brookings Institution brief), Nov. 4, 2010
U.S. Institute of Peace, "Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq," March 2007
White House, "Fact Sheet: A Comprehensive Strategy and New Tools to Prevent and Respond to Atrocities," April 23, 2012
Email interview with Didier Trinh, deputy director of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, Dec. 14, 2012
Obama has ordered review and study
In July, the Obama administration initiated a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review -- a blueprint for U.S. diplomatic and development efforts -- being conducted by the State Department.
The comprehensive review will include an exploration of ways for the State Department and USAID to work together effectively alongside the military. Findings and recommendations of the review are designed to foster a whole-of-government approach.
In addition, Obama signed a presidential study directive on global development policy led by national security adviser Jim Jones and National Economic Council chairman Larry Summers.
According to statement about the study directive from the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, a coalition of international development and foreign policy practitioners, "This process will provide much-needed clarity about how U.S. agencies and departments can work together to develop and implement coordinated and sound policy aimed at achieving our global development goals."
We could find no mention of a Mobile Development Team, at least by that name, but it is clear the two efforts mentioned above seek to better integrate personnel from the State Department, Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in stabilization and aid efforts.
And so we move this promise to In the Works.
Foreign Policy blog "The Cable," " In new directive, Obama signs off on development review ," Aug. 31, 2009
Modernizing Foreign Assistance, "MFAN: New Presidential Study Directive an Unprecedented Step Forward on Development" ( news release ), Aug. 31, 2009
State Department, "The Department of State's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review" ( news release ), July 10, 2009