Failing to fund and support the civilian surge in Afghanistan?

NPR’s Jackie Northam reported on development and governance skillsets in high demand and short supply in Afghanistan.

When Obama unveiled his administration’s strategy for Afghanistan in March, he emphasized that civilian experts were just as critical as the tens of thousands of additional U.S. military personnel he was sending at that time.

"We need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers," he said. "That’s how we can help the Afghan government serve its people, and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs. That’s why I’m ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground." …

"I think that quite simply there is not sufficient civilian capacity in the U.S. government to do what needs to be done. And we have not built that capacity," says John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank on defense issues. "The civilian side still needs to develop some of the doctrine, some of the organization, some of the force structure that’s required to meet the demands." …

For example, in 2004, the State Department decided to create a "Civilian Response Corps," in which civilians would go on short deployments into conflict zones. The corps only received funding last year. In time, it expects to build a corps of more than 4,000 active, standby and reserve members.

Its coordinator, John Herbst, says at the moment there are about 50 active members who are ready to be sent to Afghanistan.

"Obviously, the numbers I’m describing right now are not going to make a major contribution to Afghanistan," he says. "But in six months, you know, we might be in a position where we could, if there was a need, put a hundred or more people on the ground."

This is a long-overdue requirement that was inadequately supported on the previous administration and Secretary of State. The situation is more positive even if the House and Senate is likely to appropriate less than half of the $363m the Obama Administration requested. The end number of around $150m is a lot more than John Herbst, State’s Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, had in the past.

Not mentioned at NPR was USAID. It would have been interesting to note the possible cannibalization of USAID resources – one interpretation – of the US Department of Agriculture’s request to the Departments of State and Defense for $170m of their money – including USAID money – to fund USDA programs in Afghanistan.