AfPak Hands’ Program Pays Dividends in Afghanistan, Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2012 — Just over two years since its incep­tion, the Afghanistan-Pak­istan Hands pro­gram is deliv­er­ing the capa­bil­i­ty it was designed to pro­vide and a mod­el for future U.S. engage­ment around the world, the program’s direc­tor report­ed.

The “AfPak Hands” pro­gram stood up in Sep­tem­ber 2009 to devel­op a cadre of mil­i­tary and senior civil­ian experts spe­cial­iz­ing in the com­plex­i­ties of Afghanistan and Pak­istan – the lan­guage, cul­ture, process­es and chal­lenges.

The goal, explained Army Lt. Col. Fred­er­ick “Fritz” Gottschalk, the AfPak Hands divi­sion chief on the Joint Staff, was for these “hands” to be able to devel­op close work­ing rela­tion­ships with their Afghan and Pak­istani coun­ter­parts and deter­mine how their coun­tries oper­ate.

With about 180 of the first cohort of hands returned from their 12-month deploy­ments and about 200 mem­bers of the sec­ond cohort now on the ground, Gottschalk said, the pro­gram is liv­ing up to its promise.

Work­ing close­ly with Afghan and Pak­istani mil­i­tary and civil­ian offi­cials, the hands are mak­ing inroads in areas out­side the secu­ri­ty domain that typ­i­cal mil­i­tary ele­ments often can’t, he said. They’re able to iden­ti­fy road­blocks to progress, become cat­a­lysts in break­ing those log­jams and serve as con­duits between Afghan and Pak­istani gov­ern­ment offi­cials, local pop­u­la­tions and mil­i­tary lead­ers on the ground and their high­er head­quar­ters.

Even in Pak­istan, where ten­sions have increased since a dead­ly late-Novem­ber bor­der inci­dent, the AfPak Hands pro­gram remains viable, despite being scaled down, Gottschalk said. Twen­ty-eight AfPak Hands mem­bers served pri­mar­i­ly with the Office of Defense Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the Pak­istani cap­i­tal of Islam­abad dur­ing the program’s first cohort, but at Pakistan’s request, the ele­ment has been reduced by about half.

Unlike in the past, where knowl­edge acquired in Afghanistan and Pak­istan was scat­tered through­out the force after rede­ploy­ment, AfPak Hands par­tic­i­pants return home to apply their expe­ri­ence and insights in key staff posi­tions at the Pen­ta­gon, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand and oth­er head­quar­ters.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, then the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rec­og­nized the need for this knowl­edge base when he joined Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, then the top mil­i­tary com­man­der in Afghanistan, and Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, in advo­cat­ing the pro­gram in 2009.

At the time, Mullen had scrubbed the entire Joint Staff and was able to come up with only a few mem­bers with expe­ri­ence in Afghanistan or Pak­istan, Gottschalk said. “That’s a big part of why the AfPak pro­gram was devel­oped: to get that exper­tise from the the­ater into key bil­lets,” he said.

Now, with the first two cohorts of AfPak Hands deployed or in key staff posi­tions and a third cohort of about 230 mem­bers in train­ing for its upcom­ing deploy­ment, the pro­gram has gen­er­at­ed almost 700 Afghanistan and Pak­istan spe­cial­ists.

“They will have var­i­ous lev­els of expe­ri­ence, but the bot­tom line is they have a greater under­stand­ing of how these coun­tries work,” Gottschalk said.

The hands rotate among three gen­er­al sta­tus­es: deployed, serv­ing relat­ed out-of-the­ater staff assign­ments, and train­ing for the next deploy­ment. Even dur­ing the deploy­ment and staff phas­es, they received con­tin­ued lan­guage and cul­tur­al train­ing to ensure their skills don’t lapse.

Mean­while, the pro­gram aims to expand their hori­zons. For exam­ple, about 40 mem­bers of the first cohort are enrolled in master’s degree pro­grams designed to broad­en their exper­tise before they return to the the­ater.

“Dur­ing their one year in Afghanistan or Pak­istan, they are look­ing at the prob­lems right in front of them,” Gottschalk said. “When they go into their master’s degree pro­gram, they see the whole pic­ture: the region, the region­al dynam­ics, and how reli­gion … [and] trav­el dynam­ics influ­ence the area.

“These folks will study as much as they can and learn as much as they can,” he con­tin­ued. “Then they will go back into Afghanistan or Pak­istan into key bil­lets where they need some­one who thinks at that strate­gic lev­el and has a deep­er under­stand­ing of the region­al issues and dynam­ics.”

Gottschalk con­ced­ed that the pro­gram ran into a few bumps in the road before reach­ing its cur­rent stride. When mem­bers of the first cohort began deploy­ing in Jan­u­ary 2010, just four months after the pro­gram start­ed, many had to fig­ure out their own jobs. Some found them­selves work­ing for com­man­ders on the ground who did­n’t know exact­ly how to use them.

“Nobody real­ly knew what an AfPak hand was or their capa­bil­i­ties,” Gottschalk said. “It was a learn­ing curve on both sides. The AfPak hands had to learn how to inte­grate into the local com­mand struc­ture, and the local com­mand struc­ture had to learn how to best use that AfPak hand’s capa­bil­i­ty in his or her area of oper­a­tions.”

“It was like you are start­ing to build the plane while you are fly­ing,” he said. “When that hap­pens, you might put some of the parts in the wrong spot.”

As a result, about 40 per­cent of that first group was moved to dif­fer­ent bil­lets. That dropped to 20 per­cent for the sec­ond cohort, and Gottschalk said he expects an even smoother tran­si­tion for the third cohort.

Most of the hands in Afghanistan are assigned sup­port­ing gov­ern­ment min­istries through­out Afghanistan that Gottschalk said have far more impact on long-term sta­bil­i­ty than their names may imply, as well as to dis­trict, provin­cial and vil­lage gov­ern­ment sup­port teams. Oth­ers sup­port rein­te­gra­tion pro­grams, serve on coun­terin­sur­gency advise-and-assist teams or as Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force advi­sors.

“We know we will have to make some adjust­ments, but we think we have it about right,” Gottschalk said. The pro­gram works, he said, “because you have the right peo­ple in the right places get­ting the right com­mand sup­port.”

“You have peo­ple who are put where they are need­ed,” he said. “And you have got com­man­ders in the­ater who are sup­port­ing them and under­stand­ing the pro­gram and say­ing, ‘This is what you can do for me, and this is how I am going to help you.’ ”

As the pro­gram gains trac­tion, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of U.S. and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force troops in Afghanistan, has become one of its biggest fans. Allen called the pro­gram a major com­po­nent in the com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary coun­terin­sur­gency plan and cam­paign in Afghanistan.

“You are force mul­ti­pli­ers,” he told those enrolled in the pro­gram. “AfPak hands are punch­ing way above their weight in terms of the effects that you bring.”

Recall­ing that he was accept­ed into the inter­na­tion­al rela­tions offi­cer pro­gram as a young offi­cer, Allen said he would have jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be part of some­thing like the AfPak Hands pro­gram if it had been avail­able at the time. “I would cer­tain­ly have applied for it – and had a bro­ken heart if I could­n’t be in it,” he said.

Look­ing to the future, Gottschalk said, a fourth AfPak Hands cohort is like­ly be stood up to replace out­go­ing mem­bers who have ful­filled their 42- to 45-month com­mit­ments to the pro­gram.

In doing so, he said, plans call to expand enlist­ed par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram – cur­rent­ly just 21 in a field dom­i­nat­ed by mid- and senior-grade offi­cers and senior civil­ians. And even as the force begins the process of draw­ing down in Afghanistan, he sees a con­tin­ued need for the pro­gram.

“We antic­i­pate that as tra­di­tion­al mil­i­tary forces scale back, AfPak Hands will be scal­ing up, and the last ser­vice mem­bers to leave Afghanistan will be AfPak hands,” he said.

Allen is work­ing with the Joint Staff to deter­mine exact­ly what that future pro­gram may look like, Gottschalk said. A Spe­cial Forces sol­dier with 17 years of expe­ri­ence work­ing with for­eign mil­i­taries, Gottschalk said he sees the AfPak Hands pro­gram as a tem­plate for the future.

“With what’s being learned through this, this could be a mod­el for how the U.S. mil­i­tary engages in future oper­a­tions,” he said. “This is a mod­el of how to assist a coun­try that is strug­gling in an area with­out apply­ing a lot of mil­i­tary force.”

His­to­ry has shown that wher­ev­er the U.S. mil­i­tary engages next, it will have to under­stand and deal with the “human dimen­sion of the bat­tle­field” – and how to oper­ate after major com­bat oper­a­tions end, he said.

“If you don’t under­stand how the gov­ern­ment of Coun­try X works or what the peo­ple of Coun­try X need from their gov­ern­ment, you can’t help Coun­try X become a bet­ter coun­try,” Gottschalk said. “That is where a ‘Hands’ pro­gram would be a huge ben­e­fit.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →