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.