The Provincial Reconstruction Teams

Beginning with the Bonn Agreement, the Afghan Government along with the UN special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi stressed that without ISAF expansion, security confidence, reforms and elections in Afghanistan would be at risk. Since ISAF expansion beyond Kabul required a new mandate by the UN Security Council and while PRTs could operate under the auspices of the U.S. led coalition, they were seen as a viable option.

This concept gained much support as numerous European capitals looked into providing teams comprised of soldiers and civilian members. The first four Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were launched on November 21, 2002 as a pilot project. Their goal: to bring proof to local residents that the international community supports Afghan peace and prosperity.

Today, the task of civil affairs officers ranges from reconstruction to medical, health and education services. Their role would enhance the security condition and promote reconstruction efforts throughout Afghanistan. Specific projects include the rehabilitation of government buildings, such as fire and police stations, law courts and communications installations as well as economically significant infrastructure such as bridges, dams and roads. For example, civil affairs teams from the coalition partners' forces man the offices and circulate within the provinces to meet with local leaders and identify projects that need to be undertaken. Local laborers are then hired to work with the team in carrying out the project. Most project budgets range from $50,000 to $150,000.

Each PRT comprises 40 to 200 international civilian and military personnel. The military units may be under command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), while the civilian component often includes aid agencies, civilian contractors and police agencies. To date, the US, the UK, Germany, New Zealand and the Netherlands have deployed PRTs.

The Teams aim to strengthen the influence of the Afghan Government while marginalizing regional instability. In the wake of decades of fighting, as local militias undergo "demilitarization, disarmament and reintegration," there is wide belief that the benefits of the Afghan government need to be felt tangibly. In the regions distant from Kabul, the PRTs help establish the security essential to developing a stable, modern infrastructure.

Mission content varies greatly. The U.S. led team built roads that link the city of Ghazni to the great Ring Road around Afghanistan. The German team in in Faizabad built an airfield in 2006. In true spirit of internationalization, soldiers from the New Zealand PRT, having refurbished Bamyan University, have been giving English lessons to children in local schools. In other areas, teams are active in prevention and resolution of conflicts between local warlords, and in disarmament.

PRTs also engage in dialogue with local leaders, policing and physical re-building: digging wells, paving roads, building schools, libraries, courthouses and police facilities.

Since their implementation in 2002, the PRTs have proven effective. Consequently, more teams are being requested. The NATO Istanbul Summit in June 2004 decided to send five new teams to the northern regions. Now, 28 PRTs led by 15 countries and NATO are active in Afghanistan.

With the expansion of the PRTs in many parts of Afghanistan, more specialized teams will be deployed to broaden the scope of assistance. This is seen as eventually paving the way for the expansion of multinational forces outside Kabul.

Meanwhile, many foreign aid organizations have questioned the thin line between military and civilian affairs embodied in the task of PRTs claiming that civilian aid workers cooperating with combat troops could become "soft targets."