Up to 56,000 contractors will accompany the troop surge to Afghanistan, bringing the total Pentagon contractor force up to as high as 160,000, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. Civilian contractors are already about 62 percent of the Department of Defense force total in Afghanistan. Yet according to the CRS, the Pentagon does not have a full picture of where all these contractors are, what they are doing, and how they fit into the overall strategy.
Analysts argue that the Department of Defense needs to “establish and commit to a strategic approach that defines how contractors should be used to achieve operational success.” Great idea. Now what about the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development contractors? How about all the U.S. civilians working in Afghanistan? And let’s not stop there—who is coordinating the civilian efforts of the 42 troop-contributing countries in Afghanistan?
For the last eight years, the civilian efforts have not had the desired effect because they have not been properly coordinated. There needs to be one person to coordinate with—and put pressure on—President Hamid Karzai.
In his standard command briefing, Gen. Stanley McChrystal points out that he has no civilian counterpart. While he is working to coordinate the military efforts of NATO and non-NATO countries, to ensure unity of command and unity of effort, there is no civilian doing the same for the critical political and economic work being conducted by the countries participating in the stability operation in Afghanistan.
Why does this matter? For the last eight years, as several U.N. and U.S. officials told a visiting NATO delegation to Afghanistan in the fall, civilian efforts have not had the desired effect because they have not been properly coordinated. The funding and projects were devised and implemented with national interests or perspectives in mind, and have had less impact than they might have had together. Like raindrops, they drizzled, scattered, and left little mark; had they been channeled, they might have added up to a stream. Worse, of course, is the possibility that some efforts operated at cross purposes.
A strong leader in charge of international civilian efforts in Afghanistan could ensure that discrete contributions are brought together to create a “force multiplying” effect. He or she could also set objectives and speak to the Afghan government with one voice. Translation: There needs to be one person to coordinate with—and put pressure on—President Hamid Karzai.
There is of course, precedent for this in Bosnia and in Kosovo. In the former, the key international countries, the so-called Contact Group members—the U.S., Russia, U.K, France, Italy—established an Office of the High Representative as part of the Dayton Peace Agreement. OHR’s mandate is to oversee the implementation of the civilian effort in Bosnia. It has done so, exercising remarkable powers vis-à-vis the government of Bosnia, including the ability to remove recalcitrant Bosnian leaders acting counter to the requirements of the Dayton Agreement. In the first few years of the international intervention, the high representative used his powers to enforce freedom of movement by requiring a common license plate and also pushed through the adoption of a common currency. The high representative was also the civilian equivalent of, or counterpart to, the NATO military commander.
In Kosovo, the international community established the U.N. Mission in Kosovo, a transitional U.N. administration led by a special representative of the secretary general. UNMIK established a shadow government, but one linked to the Kosovar administrators and operating in tandem with them. The U.N. mission was responsible for coordinating all civilian efforts pertaining to four areas, or “pillars”: 1) humanitarian assistance; 2) civil administration; 3) democratization and institution-building, and; 4) reconstruction and economic development. Not only was the entire international civilian effort coordinated and ultimately the responsibility of one leader, but civil-military coordination also was fostered consciously. The head of UNMIK, starting in 1999, and the commander of NATO’s forces in Kosovo, learning from civil-military coordination shortfalls in Bosnia, established a close daily relationship.
So why haven’t we done this in Afghanistan? Initially, it appears that we didn’t think we’d need it. We hoped the separate efforts of the countries given lead civilian implementation roles in Afghanistan as part of the Bonn Agreement would add up to collective progress. And no one worried about pressuring Karzai because we had just installed him as our leader in Afghanistan; it was clear to all that he was beholden to the international community.
But by last year, the relationship between Karzai and the internationals in Afghanistan had soured, and the latter were poised to appoint Paddy Ashdown, the British former high representative in Bosnia, to be the U.N.’s representative in Kabul. Karzai blocked his appointment, by all accounts, fearful of Ashdown’s reputation for assertiveness toward the Bosnian central government. An opportunity was missed. Ashdown withdrew his name and the U.N. leadership on the ground proved unable to eliminate corruption and prevent electoral fraud.
Now, inexplicably, when asked whether the U.N. mission in Afghanistan could assume the role of civilian coordinator and counterpart to Gen. McChrystal, U.S. and U.N. officials offer a tautology—that this isn’t the U.N. mission.
If we are truly going to approach Karzai and his government intending to “change their behavior,” in White House press secretary Robert Gibbs’ words, we need to be able to apply pressure in a concerted fashion—not just on the military front. If we want to make sure that our money and civilian efforts are optimized and maximized, we need to get serious. In a White House briefing prior to the president’s surge announcement, participants were told that the administration intends to “strengthen the civilian counterpart to the ISAF commander.” But we weren’t told how that would happen. Better coordination is not going to emerge without someone in charge. And if the president meant it when he said that “The days of providing a blank check are over,” the only way to ensure Karzai has no recourse, if he wants international assistance, is to put all of that assistance under the purview of one strong person.
Evelyn N. Farkas, senior fellow at the American Security Project, was executive director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is the author of Fractured States and US Foreign Policy: Iraq, Ethiopia and Bosnia in the 1990s. In 1996, she served as a human-rights officer in Bosnia, supervised elections there in 1997, and was an elections monitor in Afghanistan in August of this year.