GI’s to Fill Civilian Gap to Rebuild Afghanistan

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The New York Times

GI’s to Fill Civilian Gap to Rebuild Afghanistan

by
Thom Shanker

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is finding that it must turn to military personnel to fill hundreds of posts in Afghanistan that had been intended for civilian experts, senior officials said Wednesday.

In announcing a new strategy last month, President Obama promised "a dramatic increase in our civilian effort" in Afghanistan, including "agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers" to augment the additional troops he is sending.

But senior Pentagon and administration officials now acknowledge that many of those new positions will be filled by military personnel - in particular by reservists, whose civilian jobs give them the required expertise - and by contractors.

The shortfall offers more evidence that the government's civilian departments have not received enough money to hire and train people ready to take up assignments in combat zones. Unlike the armed services, nonmilitary agencies do not have clear rules to compel rank-and-file employees to accept hardship posts.

Senior officials said Wednesday that the president's national security team had not determined exactly how many people would be required to carry out the reconstruction portion of the strategy, nor which departments and agencies would be required to supply the people.

But not enough of those civilians are readily available inside the government, officials said, forcing the administration to turn to the military, Pentagon civilians and private contractors, at least for the initial deployments.

The Pentagon has already been asked to identify up to 300 people in the military, likely reservists, who have skills critical to civilian reconstruction and who could be ordered quickly to Afghanistan, according to a senior Pentagon official. Depending on the final decision for numbers required to fulfill the reconstruction mission, that military component could be half or even more of the expanded civilian development effort in Afghanistan.

The officials predicted that the requirement for the "civilian surge" would eventually include hundreds of people with experience in areas that include small-business management, legal affairs, veterinary medicine, public sanitation, counternarcotics efforts and air traffic control.

In addition, officials said, the number of diplomatic positions at the American Embassy in Kabul and at provincial reconstruction outposts could increase by several hundred more. Some officials supplied details of the plan on the condition of anonymity because the decisions were not final.

The need to identify military people as one of several interim options to carry out the civilian mission in Afghanistan was foreshadowed this week by Michele A. Flournoy, the under secretary of defense for policy, who served as a director of the Obama administration's review of strategy in Afghanistan.

"We're going to be looking to our reserve components, where we can tap individuals based on their civilian skill set," Ms. Flournoy said during a speech on Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan policy institute here.

She said the government was still "playing a game of catch-up" after years of not setting aside money to create this civilian expertise, and she described the reliance on reservists as part of "a whole host of stopgap measures" necessary until teams of civilian experts could be created.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, has been a champion of finding money for the government to hire and train experts to work on civilian reconstruction in combat zones. This month, he called on leaders of the Senate budget committee to lobby for increases in State Department financing, and he has urged university experts to volunteer for service in Afghanistan.

"Our ultimate success in Afghanistan is predicated on how much civilian support we can bring to bear," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary. "While we will do whatever we can to supplement that civilian capacity in the interim, ultimately it requires other departments of the government to fill this need."

The issue was a source of friction between the Pentagon and the State Department in early 2007, shortly after President George W. Bush announced his order to send five additional combat brigades to Iraq in a new strategy that included an expanded civilian mission.

At the time, Mr. Gates shared his irritation with Congress over a State Department request for military personnel to fill more than one-third of the 350 new diplomatic positions that Mr. Bush had ordered to be created in Iraq.

 

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