Reconstruction Team Serves on Front Line of War on Terror
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GARDEZ, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2009 Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Moy is a busy man, and for good reason.
Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Moy, provincial reconstruction team commander in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, travels by Black Hawk helicopter to a remote combat outpost with the provincial governor, police chief and a religious leader for a meeting with district leaders, Feb. 8, 2009. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Fresh from an assignment at the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Moy heads an 80-member provincial reconstruction team here and is, by and large, the point man for millions of U.S. dollars that will be spent on rebuilding efforts in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktia province.
Moy meets daily with local people ranging from the provincial governor to village shopkeepers, all looking for pretty much the same thing: financial help to rebuild their communities in a country that has been ravaged by war for three decades.
But Moy is quick to point out his job here is not simply to pass out money to those who come calling. His team is deeply, and strategically, engaged in a counterinsurgency battle against an enemy with roots to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
“This is the center of gravity for the war on terror. This is the front line,” Moy said.
The tall, lanky former navigator has hit his head more than once on the low-hanging doorways into his office buried within the walls of a traditional Afghanistan qalat, a mud and straw fortress that serves as the team’s headquarters. The forward operating base is just outside of Gardez City, the provincial capital.
It’s a much different job here, Moy said, than that of dealing with big-picture strategy in Washington, D.C. He volunteered for the assignment and was one of only six Air Force officers selected this year to run a PRT.
“Being able to come down here to the tactical level to address a problem hands-on … is very exciting and thrilling to feel like I am having a direct impact on what’s happening over here,” he said.
The PRT is one of a dozen such U.S.-led teams in eastern Afghanistan, a region that has long been a stronghold of insurgent groups. Moy’s staff is a mix of Air Force airmen and soldiers from the active-duty Army, the Army Reserve and the National Guard, along with representatives from the State and Agriculture departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Together with local government officials, they tackle assessing and meeting the needs across an area about the size of Rhode Island.
The team comprises civil affairs, engineers, medical and operations and support staff. It also travels with its own security force for its missions outside of the FOB. Despite its humanitarian emphasis, the team sometimes is the target of insurgents’ efforts to undermine the local government. Last year, in the hotly contested Zormat district, two PRT team members were killed while traveling with the district sub-governor, who was injured, but survived the attack.
The map on the wall in the team’s engineering section makes it seem at a glance that the team is in the construction business, indentifying projects that include miles of roads, clinics and schools across the province. But the team’s job, Moy said, is to help connect the people to, and build public confidence in, the Afghanistan government.
“The people here in Afghanistan face security, development and governance challenges,” he said. “They want to have the freedoms that come with a democratic government, but right now the challenges facing the development of that government are great.”
Paktia province has strong religious ties, and it is steeped in traditional tribal leadership. The province serves as a staging area, Moy said, for enemy fighters moving into and out of the country. Each of the province’s 14 districts has its own tribal leadership, and insurgents use intimidation and tribal frictions to exacerbate the area’s instabilities.
Television signals don’t reach remote parts of the country, and travel around the region is both difficult and dangerous. Many in the outlying regions have not even seen their government leaders.
“The challenge is helping people see how this new government here … is going to really meet their needs where they are,” Moy said.
Building roads that connect the villages to the government and the services it provides is one way to reinforce support for the government in the region, Moy said.
Local government leaders are becoming more heavily involved in which projects -- such as schools and clinics -- are chosen to be funded, and the team now is working with the provincial government to have it play a larger role in selecting contractors. So, while the funds are coming from the United States, local government leaders are in the driver’s seat in key decisions that directly affect the province’s residents.
“People are not fooled into thinking that somehow it’s that Afghan government that is providing all of this capital and investment,” Moy said. “But at the same time, they know that we, as the coalition, are in league and fully supportive of these Afghan leaders. They’re the ones we want steering the ship. Essentially, we’re just the ones who are helping to sponsor their work.”
The team is active in pushing the provincial leadership out to the rural districts to meet with the local people and tribal leadership. This week, Moy traveled by helicopter with the provincial governor, Juma Khan Hamdard, and the provincial police chief, Brig. Gen. Esmatollah Alizai, to a rural combat outpost southeast of Gardez called “Wilderness,” where U.S. forces team with Afghanistan National Army troops.
The camp near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border typically is rocked during the summer by insurgent forces firing mortars and rockets. Seven troops and two U.S. government contractors were killed there in the past year, a senior noncommissioned officer there said. Because of security concerns in the area, PRT projects have been put on hold.
This was the governor’s first trip to the area, and tribal leaders from the three surrounding districts of Shwak, Wazi Zadran and Gerda Serai turned out for the event. In a small, plywood building, the group of about 40 sat on a large carpet, legs crossed, and drank tea and talked about their concerns. The leaders there said security is good now in the area and that the projects, which include two schools, should restart.
No promises were made, though. PRT officials hope holding up on the projects will encourage local residents to help in securing the area. But the event showed the local leaders that the governor is “tuned in” to their needs, Moy said.
Building trust in the local government is key to long-term peace in the region, Moy said. The people have to know that the government is here to stay, he explained, because otherwise they will fear repercussions if the Taliban are allowed to return.
“If there’s a looming threat, … that’s the thing that’s going to keep them from being able to come out and participate in this democracy,” Moy said.
Coalition security forces now help to remove that threat, but eventually the government will have to become strong enough and Afghan security forces will need to be trained and equipped to ensure that the new democracy holds.
And, Moy said, the Afghanistan people will have to believe in a brighter future for themselves.
“This is a battle about perception,” he said. “It’s not about bricks or mortar or asphalt. It’s about perception about the future here. If the people here in Afghanistan have a strong faith and trust in their government and what the government … is capable of doing for them, the insurgency has no chance.”