By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009
A civilian "surge" of hundreds of additional U.S. officials in Afghanistan would accompany the already approved increase in U.S. troop levels there under a new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy being completed at the White House, according to administration officials.
President Obama is expected to make final decisions next week on that strategy, proposed by his top national security advisers and based on recommendations from senior military, diplomatic and intelligence officials and intensive consultations with NATO and United Nations partners.
Officials said the proposed strategy includes a more narrowly focused concentration on security, governance and local development in Afghanistan, with continued emphasis on rule-of-law issues and combating the narcotics trade. U.S. and British troops in the southern part of the country will attempt to oust entrenched Taliban forces, with an influx of reinforcements enabling them to retain control -- and help protect enhanced civilian operations -- until greatly expanded and sufficiently trained Afghan army and police forces are able to take their place.
In Pakistan, a senior defense official said "the jury is still out" on proposals to increase covert operations and missile strikes against insurgent sanctuaries in that country's western tribal areas, and to expand them into the southern province of Baluchistan, where the Taliban leadership openly operates in the provincial capital of Quetta. With the Pakistani government teetering and anti-American sentiment rising, "we have to be realistic about how this could all play out," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"You may feel good about killing more bad guys, but the costs may just be too high," he said.
More likely in the short term, officials said, are expanded efforts to aid the Pakistani military with training, new equipment and advice to improve its counterinsurgency performance, along with a massive increase of development aid to try to stabilize the country and wean tribal leaders away from insurgent groups. One problem yet to be solved is how to supervise the distribution of aid and reconstruction funds in an environment considered unsafe for U.S. officials to work in most areas.
Some of the proposed new civilian force in Afghanistan -- diplomats, specialists from federal departments such as Agriculture and Justice, and hundreds of new "full-time, temporary" hires -- would work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, officials said. Others would be assigned to U.S. provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, located primarily in eastern Afghanistan, and to other efforts to build Afghan civilian capacity around the country. Patterned on a program first established in Iraq, the PRTs assist and advise Afghans in economic and local governance development.
The United States currently operates 12 of the 26 PRTs in Afghanistan. But unlike the others, run by NATO partners under civilian control, the U.S. teams are led and dominated by the military: Only a few of the 1,055 U.S. staffers on the teams were civilians, according to a government audit in January. A congressional oversight investigation last year said that "finding qualified individuals with applicable skills and experience poses a significant challenge to staffing."
The additional 17,000 U.S. troops scheduled for deployment this year -- bringing the total to about 55,000 -- will increase the combat imbalance between the United States and NATO, and scheduled withdrawals of Canadian and Dutch troops over the next two years will make Afghanistan even more of a U.S.-dominated war.
Obama has pledged to improve the civil-military balance in U.S. operations, and to put more of a civilian face on development and governance efforts. Although the overall civilian deployment plan for Afghanistan awaits Obama's approval, the State Department has already solicited applications for 51 new positions it expects to fill by July. Up to 300 additional civilians are anticipated under the strategy proposals.
Many are expected to be hired under a provision established by the Bush administration for special employment in Iraq. Unlimited, year-long hires were permitted, with authority to renew them for up to four years. Bush extended the provision to Afghanistan under an executive order he signed Jan. 16.
In addition to increasing its own civilian component, the administration seeks better coordination among the many other governments and international and nongovernmental agencies operating in Afghanistan, often with different rules and objectives. The strategy proposals include a strengthening of the United Nations as a clearinghouse and overall coordinator of nonmilitary efforts, including the appointment of veteran U.S. diplomat Peter W. Galbraith as deputy to Norwegian Kai Eide, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan.
"This is a big deal," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the appointment is announced. "The Bush administration undermined and ignored the U.N., and we minimized our influence. But imagine, with all the money we pay and American troops on the line, not to have a senior person" at the top level of the U.N. effort. A U.N. official said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will announce Galbraith's appointment in "a matter of days."
Galbraith served in senior U.S. and U.N. positions in the Balkans, East Timor and other conflict areas. Sharply critical of Bush administration policy in Iraq, he resigned from the U.S. government in 2003 and served as an adviser to Iraq's Kurdish regional government.
Francis J. Ricciardone, one of the State Department's most senior Foreign Service officers and a former ambassador to Egypt and the Philippines, is expected to be named "deputy ambassador" to boost the diplomatic heft of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Obama last week nominated Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, as ambassador to Kabul.
Another diplomatic veteran, Timothy M. Carney, has begun work as head of a U.S. team assisting in preparations for national elections in Afghanistan in August. Carney, a former ambassador to Sudan and Haiti, worked on the Iraq reconstruction effort in Baghdad in 2003 but eventually became a critic of that operation. He was named Iraq coordinator for economic transition in 2007 under a vastly reduced U.S. reconstruction effort.
Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.