Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Broadens Duties for Its Civil Affairs Teams

Magazine article National Defense

Pentagon Broadens Duties for Its Civil Affairs Teams

Article excerpt

The Defense Department is increasing its use of Army Civil Affairs teams as the war in Afghanistan moves into a reconstruction phase.

These highly specialized units--part of the U.S. Special Operations Command-work with local governments and civilian aid organizations to rebuild infrastructure and restore stability in areas stricken by war or natural disasters.

At last count, about 200 Civil Affairs soldiers were operating throughout Afghanistan, according to Joe Collins, deputy assistant defense secretary for stability operations. Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, they have built 127 schools, 400 wells and 26 medical clinics, he told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing in late December.

"Our soldiers have also refurbished the National Veterinary Center and the National Teachers College in Kabul," he said.

In Herat, a Civil Affairs team, using local labor, de-silted more than 250 kilometers of irrigation canals, allowing thousands of farm families to do their spring planting.

In the Orgun Valley, another Civil Affairs team--headed by Capt. Britton London, of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C.--enlisted the help of friends, family members and church groups back in the United States to supply thousands of Afghan students with pens, pencils and notebooks.

London's team also collected enough baseball gear for two teams and introduced Afghan youngsters to Little League baseball. This attracted the attention of President Bush, once part owner of the Texas Rangers professional baseball team. "Captain London is a man after my own heart," he said in a recent speech focusing on Afghan reconstruction. "He brought me ... two balls signed by the ... mighty Eagles of Afghan baseball."

Bush praised the work of Civil Affairs units. "Our soldiers wear the uniforms of warriors, but they are also compassionate people," he said. "And the Afghan people are really beginning to see the true strength of our country. I mean, routing out the Taliban was important, but building a school is equally important."

Over the next two years, Bush said, the United States will help build and refurbish several hundred more schools and train teachers for them.

Reconstruction will increase as security improves throughout the country, Collins said. "You can't have reconstruction without security, and in the end, you can't have security without reconstruction," he said. "We now believe that about 26 provinces of the 33 in Afghanistan have moderate to good security."

To speed up the rebuilding process, Collins explained, the United States is establishing eight to 10 Joint Regional Teams of about 60 people, including Civil Affairs and Special Forces, plus representatives from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and coalition partners.

"The purpose of the teams will be to facilitate reconstruction and help spread security," Collins said. They will work to reduce tension in their regions and to "serve as the eyes. and ears" for coalition commanders, he said.

In addition to their own resources, each team will be able to request additional expertise-such as engineers and medical teams-to solve specific problems, Collins said.

In the past year, digging wells was a high priority, because Afghanistan had just experienced four years of drought. "Four years of drought in an agricultural society that's at its wit's end proved to be absolutely devastating," he said.

The top project for 2003 will be building a series of maternal health clinics that are needed to deal with a "terrible problem" throughout Afghanistan, Collins said. An estimated 15 percent of all Afghan children die before the age of one, he said, and another 10 percent die before their fifth year.

"Being a mother in Afghanistan is, I think, the equivalent of being a front-line soldier in severe combat," Collins said. …

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