Reservists Might Be Used in Afghanistan To Fill Civilian Jobs

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

Military reservists may be asked to volunteer to fill many of the hundreds of additional U.S. civilian positions in Afghanistan called for in the Obama administration's strategy for that nation and neighboring Pakistan, officials said yesterday.

Although the State Department is still recruiting agronomists, engineers, accountants and other experts for Afghanistan, "pressure coming from the president for action is making us consider that some of the people might come from the reserves," one senior administration official said.

In announcing his plan last month, Obama called for a "dramatic" increase in civilian aid and development workers, and the goal is to send several hundred by the end of this fiscal year. The administration's supplemental funding bill submitted to Congress last week requested $80 million to pay for transferring some State Department employees from other postings, recruiting volunteers from other government agencies such as the Agriculture and Justice departments, and hiring others in newly established "fulltime, temporary" government positions.

But while those efforts are proceeding, "there has been widespread, legitimate concern that AID [the U.S. Agency for International Development] and other civilian agencies would not be able to put enough people there fast enough," said Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week discussed the possibility of identifying reservists in civilian fields and inviting them to volunteer for the jobs provided certain conditions could be met.

The State Department, officials said, wants the reservists to dress in civilian clothes and to report up a civilian chain of command reaching to an overall civilian coordinator who would supervise all nonmilitary U.S. programs in Afghanistan. Clinton plans to name Foreign Service officer Earl Anthony Wayne, currently U.S. ambassador to Argentina, to the post.

State has also asked the Pentagon to consider a flexible rotation schedule that would allow for assignments longer than the several months that mark many reserve tours. Officials said that it was not yet clear whether any of the State Department's requests were possible within military reserve rules and that Gates had assigned a study of the issue.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal yesterday presented the administration and the World Bank with a 40-page plan requesting at least 700 new civilian experts from the United States and elsewhere to work on government capacity-building. "To assist the United States and other allies in deploying a 'civilian surge,' " Zakhilwal wrote in a cover letter to the plan, his government had compiled its own list of needed "technical advisers," included in the document.

Although the administration expects to increase overall investment in U.S. "capacity to deploy civilian expertise abroad . . . we're going to be playing a game of catch-up" until that is accomplished, Michelle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said Tuesday in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. For now, she said, "we are going to be looking to a whole host of stopgap measures."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company