This is the first in a series of posts from Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah and their mission in Afghanistan. The posts are written by Lt. Matthew Stroup, Public Affairs Officer, Provincial Reconstruction Team, Farah.
Much has been written about Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan, PRTs as they’re commonly known, and it’s safe to say that articles will be written long after they are phased out as an institution. This blog, however, isn’t about the PRT mission writ large, or the perceived pros and cons of these civil-military organizations. We want to share the effort and mission of about 100 soldiers, sailors, and civilians, from the Army, Navy, Department of State (DoS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) working in western Afghanistan. That is, the men and women who serve as part of Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah.
PRT Farah is led by a career Naval officer who has previously served in Afghanistan, who works directly with the PRT’s senior civilian representative from the DoS. Together, they work to ensure there is unity of effort in every task that the PRT takes on – a challenge in itself considering that the team is comprised of such a diverse group of individuals and experiences.
PRT Farah’s military team is comprised of three major components – a staff, a civil affairs team, and a security force. The PRT’s staff is a group of Navy sailors and officers that run the gamut of Navy ratings and officer designators. All of the staff members are Navy individual augmentees (IAs) who have come from separate and unique commands and backgrounds before arriving at the PRT. The civil affairs team for PRT Farah is comprised of U.S. Army reserve civil affairs officers and soldiers. Their main effort is to build relationships and connect the districts of Farah with the provincial level leadership to ensure that services and support flows through the government and down to the people. The security force detachment for PRT Farah is comprised of U.S. Army soldiers, whose mission in Farah is to provide security for PRT leaders as they engage with provincial and district leaders, and to provide FOB security.
The stated mission of PRT Farah is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district and provincial levels in Farah Province, Afghanistan. But what does that mean?
- How does a Navy surface warfare officer prepare to discuss Afghan governance issues while navigating various ethnic groups within a remote culture in western Afghanistan?
- How does an Army sergeant with extensive experience in the field artillery, shift gears and lead a personal security detachment squad for key leader engagements?
- How does an Army transportation officer prepare to engage in facilitating and advising on women’s issues with the Farah Provincial Director of Women’s Affairs, in the same culturally diverse environment, armed with little more than the understanding that both she and the director are women?
The questions above, amongst other things, are just a few of the questions that race through the minds of PRT members when they learn that they’ve been selected to be a part of a PRT. PRT Farah’s journey, and that of every American led PRT, began at Camp Atterbury, IN with three months of training in preparation for deployment. Sailors and soldiers learned specific job skills based on their rating or MOS, and the newly formed unit was pushed through team building tasks that attempt to prepare them for the various scenarios they will see in theater. In addition to learning job specific skills, PRT Farah spent hours at the range learning to fire various weapons systems, days in class learning hands-on combat lifesaver skills and navigating counter-IED training lanes. The PRT learned to shoot, move, communicate and patch themselves up, but most of all, PRT Farah learned to work together as a team.
While PRT Farah learned basic Army warrior tasks, a unique challenge for many on the team, PRT Farah’s soldiers and sailors began to learn about Afghanistan. The team learned about different tribes and ethnicities within Afghanistan. Muslim instructors were brought in to teach the various faith elements and practices within Islam. Afghanistan is made up of many different provinces, loosely akin to states in the American system of government, and those provinces are made of districts. The PRT began to learn about Farah, its people, products, goods and services that it is known for. The team learned that Farah has an agricultural based economy and is more remotely located and culturally diverse compared to the places the PRTs we were training with were headed. We learned that the Afghan central government, lead by President Hamid Karzai, operated very differently than our own system of government. In simplest terms Afghanistan’s government is highlight centralized and the ministries in Kabul are the sole source of resources and income for the line directors in the provinces. Some of us on the PRT even learned that we would be working hand-in-hand with line directors in Farah to advise and assist them in negotiating their governmental processes in order for the government to provide services and support to the people of Farah.
The culminating training event at Camp Atterbury added the civilian component of the PRT into training. Civilian representatives from the DoS, USAID, USDA, and various other agencies, don’t necessarily deploy with the PRT they train with at Camp Atterbury, but they are on the way to Afghanistan themselves. PRT Farah was fortunate to be able to train with the woman who was preparing to be the senior civilian representative for the DoS in western Afghanistan, Ms. Jillian Burns, consul general at the U.S. Consulate in Herat. The importance of PRT Farah’s relationship with the senior DoS representative in the western region cannot be overstated. As the PRTs phase out, the DoS, USAID, and other civilian U.S. Government (USG) agencies will lead the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. Throughout the final exercise, Burns and McCray worked with the PRT staff, civil affairs team, and security force to plan and execute simulated key leader engagements at Camp Atterbury to prepare us for what we would be doing in a short time in Farah.