Terrorists Can't Compete With Provincial Reconstruction Teams
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 21, 2004 The scope and scale of projects being undertaken by provincial reconstruction teams throughout Afghanistan are among the best defenses against terrorism in the region, according to the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, speaking here to a crowd at Fort Bragg, N.C., after his promotion ceremony on Aug. 25, 2003, called establishment of Afghanistan's provincial reconstruction teams "a stroke of near-genius." U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It's something the Taliban recognizes they can't compete with," said Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan from September 2002 to October 2003. He told the American Forces Press Service last week that these teams are increasing the central Afghan government's ability to improve the lives of its people.
The provisional reconstruction teams are part of a U.S.-led civil-military project intended to help Afghans build and repair damaged infrastructure like roads, water wells and schools. They also help establish broad security by extending the reach of the Afghan government through the country.
The first team was established in Gardez on Dec. 31, 2002. Now, 12 teams nine of them U.S.-led and the others led by the United Kingdom, New Zealand and NATO -- operate in Afghanistan. Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, commander of the Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, reported in February that plans call to have 16 teams operating by this summer.
Vines called the establishment of the teams by his predecessor in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Dan McNeil, "a stroke of near genius" and said they are delivering services that "directly affect the welfare, income and quality of life" of the Afghan people. In many cases, PRTs are providing services never before provided by the central government.
"In Afghanistan, the central government had never had any influence on the daily lives of the majority of the people," Vines said. "So when a provisional reconstruction team provides electricity to a village or, in some cases, farming equipment, it has a huge impact on their daily lives."
Vines said Taliban members "recognizes they can't compete" with this progress. "When there is tangible evidence that the central government has the welfare and interest of the villages and tribes at heart, they can't compete with that, because all that they offer is power," Vines said.
Complicating the work of the teams and the coalition in Afghanistan, Vines said, is "a primitive road network and the fact that many of the citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan don't view the international border as a border at all."
The fact that citizens of both countries "feel they have the right and authority to cross (the border) at will" creates a "sanctuary" for terrorists and other "bad actors who committed operations in Afghanistan against President (Hamid) Kharzai, the government and the coalition," particularly in Pakistan, Vines said.
The general pointed out there's "a reasonably high probability" that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in this area and is tapping into the protections offered by remote, mountainous terrain, a poor road network, and tribal and religious loyalties. "It's an area not fundamentally governed by the government of Pakistan. It's run by tribal leaders," Vines said. "And so consequently, they make decisions about who to support and who to harbor."
Vines said capturing or killing bin Laden would be "symbolically very important," but that in reality, bin Laden has "very little influence" on the al Qaeda organization.
"We think he fundamentally does not have the capability to communicate, to coordinate, to move around freely," Vines said. "His focus is on his own personal survival."