Civilian Program Mentors Afghan Defense Counterparts

WASHINGTON — There’s more to build­ing an army than train­ing sol­diers, and Defense Depart­ment civil­ians are step­ping to the fore to help Afghan coun­ter­parts learn how to run a mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment.

DOD estab­lished the Min­istry of Defense Advi­sors Pro­gram in 2009 to address a basic issue NATO faces in Afghanistan: How to effect a smooth tran­si­tion of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, said James A. Schear, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for part­ner­ship strat­e­gy and sta­bil­i­ty oper­a­tions.

“Train­ing the Afghan army and police is part of the equa­tion, but so is the encour­age­ment and devel­op­ment of com­pe­tent min­is­te­r­i­al insti­tu­tions to over­see the tran­si­tion and sus­tain the force over time,” Schear said in an inter­view.

Civil­ians bring exper­tise across a wide range of skill sets rang­ing from finan­cial man­age­ment to per­son­nel pol­i­cy to acqui­si­tion and logis­tics. These are skills that DOD civil­ians can best teach to their Afghan coun­ter­parts, he said. The pro­gram is part of the Civil­ian Expe­di­tionary Work­force ini­tia­tive and is aimed at civil­ians in grades GS-13 and above.

The first group of DOD civil­ians deployed last year, drawn from the department’s 700,000 civil­ian employ­ees, Schear explained.

“It’s a ter­rif­ic tal­ent pool to draw from,” he said. “If you are an Afghan min­is­ter, you can look at them and say, ‘These are peo­ple who bring tal­ents to build my office, my staff, my depart­ment,’” he added.

A uni­formed offi­cer is an asset in Afghanistan, Schear not­ed, but a DOD civil­ian sends a mes­sage of com­mit­ment to Afghan lead­ers. “With a con­trac­tor, the ques­tion often becomes, ‘Who are you work­ing for, and how flex­i­ble are you?’” he said. “We think civil­ians are a very good fit.”

A strong demand exists for the advi­sors, and they form an inte­gral part of the NATO and U.S. strat­e­gy in Afghanistan. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, com­man­der of coali­tion forces in Afghanistan, wants the advi­sors to make up about a third of the per­son­nel in the min­istries in 2011. They con­sti­tute about 5 per­cent today.

If cho­sen, employ­ees go through a sev­en-week train­ing ses­sion in Wash­ing­ton and at Camp Atter­bury, Ind. Schear said those cho­sen already have the tech­ni­cal exper­tise, and that the train­ing helps them to build their men­tor­ing skills and immers­es them in Afghanistan’s cul­ture and his­to­ry.

The train­ing address­es hard prob­lems, he added, such as cor­rup­tion and the drug trade.

“It’s not a flashy job,” Schear said. “They have to blend in and work effec­tive­ly behind the scenes and pro­mote Afghan own­er­ship of the result. You have to be prac­ti­cal and flex­i­ble, and you have to be in lis­ten­ing mode and to be very prac­ti­cal in your advice with the knowl­edge of what can be absorbed in an Afghan real­i­ty.”

Once deployed, the advi­sors work with NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan for a year and can extend for anoth­er year. A tem­po­rary-back­fill mech­a­nism is in place so the vol­un­teers’ offices in the Unit­ed States will release them to deploy. “We’re going after high-qual­i­ty peo­ple,” Schear said.

The advi­sors –- most with between 15 and 20 years of expe­ri­ence –- can “reach back” to their orga­ni­za­tions to get help, advice or any resources the min­istries may need, he added.

Schear empha­sized that vol­un­teers need to be flex­i­ble. “We’ve had peo­ple go in because of one skill set and find they end up doing some­thing else,” he said.

The pro­gram has applic­a­bil­i­ty else­where, pro­vid­ing a capa­bil­i­ty Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates deems impor­tant.

“Right now it is main­ly Afghanistan-focused,” Schear said, “but Defense Sec­re­tary Gates has stressed the need for capac­i­ty build­ing in a broad­er strate­gic con­text of work­ing with part­ners in the devel­op­ing world and regions that are sus­cep­ti­ble to insta­bil­i­ty. Devel­op­ing respon­si­ble, respon­sive defense min­istries is key to that.”

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

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