Wednesday Warfighter: What is a Provincial Reconstruction Team?

Laghman PRT Civil engineers are overseeing construction of a U.S. government-funded foot bridge across this river near the village of Rayn, in the Alishang district of Laghman Province, July 21, 2010. In the meantime, children cross using boards propped on stones. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter)

Capt. Tristan Hinderliter is an Air Force public affairs officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Laghman Province, Afghanistan. He is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where he works at HQ USAFE/PA.

Having recently read Steve Coll’s fantastic book “Ghost Wars,” about the CIA’s clandestine support for the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s, and having followed the war in the news for the past several years, I was excited when in February I found out I would be deploying with a Provincial Reconstruction Team in eastern Afghanistan.

I’ve been serving as the public affairs officer for PRT-Laghman for about a month now, and already I’ve had a handful of interesting experiences, from doing dismounted patrols outside the wire, to talking to Afghan children and meeting with Afghan officials. I suspect many people, even in the military, may not be familiar with the concept of PRTs and what they do. I’d like to share a little about what PRTs are and my experience so far at PRT-Laghman.

The U.S. government created the first PRTs in Afghanistan in late 2002 in an effort to extend the authority of the Afghan central government, improve security, and promote reconstruction. Today there are 27 PRTs under NATO/ISAF command, 13 of which are led or jointly led by U.S. forces.

Capt. Tristan Hinderliter, a public affairs officer with the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team, hands out pens to Afghan children during a mission with PRT Civil Engineers to evaluate progress and conduct quality assessments, Aug. 2, 2010. (Photo by Bill Neimes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

There are approximately 110 people on PRT-Laghman, based at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, approximately 100 km east of Kabul. The team is made up of South Carolina Army National Guard Soldiers, active-duty soldiers and Airmen, a State Department Foreign Service Officer, a USAID representative, and local nationals.

The current team, with the exception of a photographer and myself, have been here since February. Prior to that, the team went through three months of training together at Camp Atterbury, Ind., where they learned about Afghanistan culture and language, counterinsurgency doctrine, and received combat skills training. Before I joined the team, I went to a 30-day Combat Skills Training course at Fort Dix, N.J. Most of my classmates – many of whom are also in public affairs – were also deploying to Afghanistan, several of them to PRTs.

Our two primary enabling functions on the PRT are Civil Engineering and Civil Affairs. Our CE element oversees reconstruction projects such as road and bridge construction, facility renovations, utility upgrades, and infrastructure improvements. Civil Affairs officers facilitate mentoring of provincial administrators, coordinate with NGOs, and conduct assessments, among other activities.

In my first month here, I’ve had the opportunity to go on several missions with both CE and CA. The CE trips have involved going to the sites of various projects in the province to perform quality assurance checks on the work being done. The last CA trip I did was with our U.S. Army Civil Affairs officer to meet with representatives from Afghan NGOs, to see how we can coordinate our efforts to promote stability and economic development in the province. I take photos on these trips, many of which I send to Combined Joint Task Force-101 for publication on their website. We also post many of the photos to our Facebook page for PRT-Laghman.

I encourage anyone who’s interested to check out the site, become a fan, and leave us comments. Check back at DoD Live for updates on what we are doing at PRT-Laghman.

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