U.S. Effort To Rebuild From War Criticized

Haider Khails Girls High School, which opened in February south of Kabul, was built by a Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Haider Khails Girls High School, which opened in February south of Kabul, was built by a Provincial Reconstruction Team. (By Nashanuddin Khan -- Associated Press)

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

The U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan through local reconstruction teams lacks clear goals, organizational structure and lines of command, according to a new congressional report.

Funding for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which President Bush has called the leading edge of stabilization efforts in the two nations, is ad hoc and comes from so many sources that congressional investigators were unable to determine how much has been spent on the joint military-civilian teams, the report by the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee says.

The subcommittee, which conducted a six-month investigation, recommends that the State and Defense departments develop a "unity of command" for the PRTs, as they are known, along with specific objectives and ways to ascertain whether they have been met. It also urges more intense and streamlined congressional oversight.

The United States has been in Iraq for five years "and in Afghanistan even longer," the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), said yesterday. "If the current [PRT] structure was working well, we should have a smooth operation now. But we don't."

Rep. Todd Akin (Mo.), the subcommittee's ranking Republican, agreed. "The organizational structure is a little goofy," he said, adding that it had been "put together with glue and baling wire."

Both lawmakers praised the theory behind the PRTs, which focus on community and local governmental capacity-building in urban neighborhoods and in areas outside the capitals of Iraq and Afghanistan. They also recognized the dedication of individuals working on the teams, often under dangerous conditions. But the report notes that the success of the teams depends heavily on the "personalities" of staff individuals. It says that training is insufficient and that many staffers are unsuited for the jobs they are expected to perform.

The PRT program began in 2002 in Afghanistan, where 12 U.S.-led teams and 14 run by other NATO member countries now operate. The U.S. teams are made up of 50 to 100 people, most drawn from the military. In Iraq, where the program began in November 2005, the State Department operates 11 PRTs. As the Bush administration increased the U.S. military presence last year, it added 13 PRTs that are embedded with military combat teams.

The report cites PRT projects that overlap with those run by other U.S. entities and an indecipherable chain of command. It says the program lacks "strategic guidance and oversight" and "clearly defined PRT objectives and milestones for achieving larger operational and strategic goals."

Meanwhile, three senators called on the Bush administration and Senate leaders yesterday to make Iraq's government spend more of its money on the war and reconstruction.

"The time has come to end this blank check policy and require the Iraqis to invest in their own future," they say in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Senate leadership. Signed by Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the letter says that the United States has spent more than $45 billion on Iraqi reconstruction over the past five years and that Baghdad now enjoys budget surpluses and a $56 billion windfall from rising oil prices.

When the two top U.S. officials in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, appeared before Congress last week, lawmakers across party lines protested the high cost of the ongoing U.S. involvement there. The three senators said yesterday they would introduce legislation requiring that many U.S. costs to be borne by Iraq in the form of a loan and that some expenditures, including the cost of fuel consumed by U.S. forces there, be directly reimbursed.

A number of lawmakers raised similar questions about Iraq expenditures at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday, after White House budget director Jim Nussle criticized Congress for attempting to add domestic expenditures to the administration's request for $108 billion in new war funding.


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