join military
Search for Military News:  
Headlines News Home | Video News | Early Brief | Forum | Passdown | Discussions | Benefit Updates | Defense Tech
PRTs: The Public Face Of Special Ops
By Terry Boyd
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

February 12, 2004

GARDEZ, Afghanistan In a war fought mostly by secret warriors from Special Forces units, Provincial Reconstruction Teams are the friendly public face of the U.S. Special Operations Command in Afghanistan.

An expanding effort to bring stability to Afghanistan's wild, impoverished regions is one piece of a two-part strategy to defeat the bad guys, said reconstruction team soldiers, officers and civilians in remote Gardez.

If the PRT mission of extending security outside Kabul fails, so will the military mission, said Lt. Col. Dan Breckel, Gardez PRT commander with the Oregon-based 364th Civil Affairs Brigade.

"Security and prosperity go hand and hand," Breckel said. Soldiers can chase Taliban and al-Qaida out of the surrounding Paktia province, he said, but if the central government can't prove its value to locals, they'll welcome them back.

"Both grow together, or we go down the toilet together," he said.

If reconstruction teams fail to extend the Afghan government's authority from Kabul to the provinces, "there is no Plan B," Breckel said.

Gardez was the first of six PRTs, said Col. David Bennett, Civil Affairs spokesman in Afghanistan. A year in, the Gardez team has built $2.5 million worth of projects including six schools, said Maj. Brad Domby, an engineer assigned to the PRT.

Combat-at-arms soldiers often deride civil affairs efforts as window dressing, but Breckel stresses that his mission is a long way from handing out soccer balls.

Though this is the oldest PRT site, Gardez 31 miles from the Pakistani border is still a war zone. Chinook helicopters fly in from Bagram, unloading grim, M-4 toting CIA operatives and jovial Special Forces soldiers with their longer hair and beards.

Down the hill is the reconstruction team's fort, basically a warren of billets, a dining facility and a tactical operations center inside mud walls.

If locals ask the local leader for irrigation, and they get it courtesy of the nongovernmental organizations, known as NGOs, or the U.S. Army, it makes the fledgling government look responsive, said Hank Nichols, U.S. Agency for International Development field program officer at Gardez. "Before that, how did they know they had a government?"

Reconstruction team officials make certain that locals know the government in Kabul and its friend the U.S. military can make real improvements in their lives: roads, electricity, schools, clinics, water.

Army officials plan to turn over reconstruction operations to the United Nations, coalition partners and the local governments, "and the U.S. presence goes away," Breckel said. Before that can happen, the PRTs have to go to areas too dangerous for aid groups.

Reconstruction team officials are also candid about problems.

Civil affairs operations ceased in the volatile town of Skhin after attacks on the firebase. In the sprawling grit of Gardez, insurgents set off bombs four consecutive days last week. A Taliban commander told Reuters the bombing that killed 16 people in Kandahar was a botched attempt to destroy the reconstruction team there.

Fundamentally, there are simply too few personnel to handle the mission of trying to modernize the lives of people essentially living in the 17th century. Yet, U.S. commanders announced recently that reconstruction teams would expand in an effort to provide security in southern and eastern border regions where Taliban and al-Qaida attacks are increasing.

Expanding teams will improve security and accelerate development, said Lt. Gen. David Barno in December.

Plans call for having teams in all 32 of Afghanistan's provinces, according to Gardez reconstruction team officials.

"Lieutenant General Barno wants us to push these people out, and that's how we're going to win the war," leaving Afghanistan a moderate Islamic republic and western ally, Breckel said.

But expansion is proving problematic.

When Breckel's reservists took over at Gardez three weeks ago, they found they were going to have one, 25-person team for their huge area, down from two teams the previous rotation. There are only 4,500 people in civil affairs, and 90 percent are reservists, Bennett said. All are either coming back from deployments, deployed or getting ready to deploy, he said.

Still, team members soldier on at Gardez, and clearly there is passion for the job, somewhat tempered by the reality of myriad missions from security to voter registration.

Domby, the reconstruction team engineer, worked on almost 50 projects during his deployment. He left last week. A reservist from Texas, he said he found the work so fulfilling that he plans to come back on active duty and return to Afghanistan.

The PRT effort hinges on "getting to the kids," said Staff Sgt. Kirk Hill, a medic from the 321st Civil Affairs Brigade with a degree in human services. When insurgents planted mines in culverts outside Firebase Gardez, local children came to the base and led soldiers to the mines, said Hill and Domby.

The reconstruction team effort will work, Hill said, but the Gardez team is up against roving bands of fundamentalist preachers who take over local mosques and spew Taliban rhetoric.

One sign of success is that al-Qaida is actually copying reconstruction teams, setting up its own aid operation in the town of Skhin.

"They're learning from us. But they don't have the resources of the NGOs," he said. The vast majority of Afghans will support "whatever brings stability."

"It's going to take a long time to raise up the population to the point they can make an educated decision" about governance, said Staff Sgt. Tom Mitchell, a Minnesotan who has been at Gardez for a year and recently extended his tour. "It's hard to do [psychological operations] when people can't even read the pamphlets."

Moreover, he said, there can be no stability until the border with Pakistan is sealed, stopping the influx of Taliban and al-Qaida.

Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion.

This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

Stars & Stripes Website

Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion.

Copyright 2016 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Search for Military News:  

© 2016 Military Advantage
A Monster Company.