I went to an event on Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and the role that the ten new PRTs will have in President Bush's accelerated plan for Iraqi self-reliance. The panel included Barbra Stephenson of the State Department, LTC Lynda Granfield who was head of the PRT in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and Robert Perito, Senior Program Officer at USIP.
In the past, the primary purpose of PRTs in Iraq was to develop the economy and to build capacity at provincial and local levels. Most would agree that they were not very successful due to primarily a lack of oversight. All future PRT's will continue with the original goals, while at the same time taking on three new responsibilities: bolstering Iraqi moderates, building Iraqi self-reliance, and assembling the foundation for reconciliation. There are ten PRTs currently in Iraq. Six will be added in Baghdad, three in Anbar, and one in Babel, making up the newly formed Embedded PRTs. Each of the ten new groups will have four core people who will be trained in how to assess conflict and develop a joint civil and military unit. Their goal will be to shift conflict dynamics, allowing room for moderates to flourish.
The most important difference between the origional PRT model and the Embedded PRTs is that instead of it being lead and comprised of primarily military personnel, the team leader will be a State Department official and the deputy team leader will be a senior military commander. Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) will work alongside PRTs providing "security, life support and operations." In a soon to be published USIP report, the operational concept, command and control, and funding for Embedded PRTs is clearly outlined.
The role Iraqis will have is an important question that was raised. LTC Lynda Granfield explained her experience in Afghanistan, and the importance local civilians, military and police played in the success of her PRT in Jalalabad. She explained that the fundamental role of the PRT was to establish a link between the central government and the Provence. The possibility of success was greater if the local population saw their police and neighbors working with the PRT in projects that were being established. The panel argued that it would be difficult to engage Iraqi citizens in certain projects because of the uncertainty as to whether or not they were working for a militia or were connected with the insurgency. It seems to me it will be difficult to achieve the goal of building Iraqi self-reliance if Iraqis are not engaged alongside the PRTs.
The challenges that made previous PRTs ineffective will face the new ones as well. Questions of corruption, a lack of resources from the central government, low salaries, low levels of education, and high unemployment still persist. The panel gave insight into what PRTs are meant to accomplish, but questions of how these will differ in effectiveness from the models already seen were not answered. The speakers discussed implementing a higher level of training for staff before deployment, instead of the "volunteering and on-the job training" that was the norm for the original Iraqi PRTs. Acquiring staff with a better skill-set and better training is a smarter approach, but the March deployment date is fast approaching and one month of training might not make the difference in the success of Embedded PRTs.