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Iraq ‘Diplomatic Surge’ Could Set Stage for State Department in Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 2009 – With broad recognition that success in Afghanistan will require more than military might, the State Department is preparing for what’s expected to be an expanded role there after the U.S. Afghanistan strategy review.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a cable to Foreign Service officers last weekend announcing plans to create more diplomatic positions in Afghanistan. “As part of our expanding efforts in Afghanistan, the department intends to create 14 additional FS positions in Herat and in Mazar-e-Sharif in 2009,” she wrote.

“Because of the priority nature of assignments in Afghanistan,” Clinton said the State Department’s human resources office “would like to make all interested FS bidders aware of these new opportunities.”

She noted that additional steps need to be completed before the new embassy offices can be formally established, but said the State Department is “soliciting expressions of interest now” for the seven positions in both Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The initiative reflects an ongoing expansion of the State Department’s efforts in Afghanistan that began last fall. With supplemental funds authorized in fiscal 2008, the State Department allocated 28 new positions to Afghanistan.

Expanded State Department efforts in Afghanistan, like those in Iraq, track with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertions that success in the war on terror will require all elements of national power.

Gates first publicly voiced that view during a speech in November 2007, when he called for the United States to strengthen its “soft” power as well as “hard” military might to face challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan and others it will confront in the future.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that military success alone isn’t enough to win, the secretary said during a speech at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

He noted the long list of other critical elements: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, internal reconciliation, good governance, basic services for the people, trained and equipped indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications and more.

“These, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success,” Gates told the audience.

President Barack Obama underscored the point earlier this week as he called for a multifaceted Afghan strategy during an interview on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”

"What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems,” Obama said. “So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy” that also emphasizes economic growth and more diplomatic cooperation.

Clinton told the Senate during her confirmation hearing in January she believes the State Department has been underutilized in recent years, and wants to see it play a greater role in current and future operations.

She promised to use “diplomacy, development and defense" to work with allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and said the State Department is ready to prove that it’s up to the challenges of stabilization, reconstruction and other “outcomes-oriented development aid.”

“We have to prove that we can shoulder this responsibility,” she told the Senate panel.

The so-called “diplomatic surge” conducted last year in Iraq provides a possible blueprint for what could be ahead in Afghanistan.

“Just as our military ‘surged’ additional brigades into Iraq, the civilians also surged -- both in standing up of additional provincial reconstruction teams and in numbers of personnel,” said John Fleming, a public affairs and public diplomacy officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

“As part of the diplomatic surge, we expanded PRTs from 10 to 25 and added more than 300 additional personnel to our PRT program,” he said.

Every PRT in Iraq is led by a State Department Foreign Service officer, and includes elements from the Defense Department, other civilian agencies and local hires. They coordinate close to execute a joint campaign plan that provides expertise in agricultural, governance and other aspects of development to work alongside the military to improve the local population’s lives, Fleming said.

Meanwhile, other State Department employees are posted at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and as advisors to the Iraqi government ministries, Fleming said.

Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr., director general of the Foreign Service and the State Department’s human resources director, issued a department-wide memo on behalf of the secretary last fall praising State Department employees who have volunteered for these challenging assignments.

“I want to applaud our Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues who have once again come forward to answer the call in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “I hope the same spirit that motivated our Iraq and Afghanistan volunteers will motivate you as well as you consider your onward assignments.”

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
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