Afghanistan: December 21, 2003


US forces in Afghanistan feel confident enough of their knowledge of how things work in Afghanistan to begin installing more provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) to southern and eastern Afghanistan. Five PRTs, each consisting of about 60 troops, have already been operating in less chaotic parts of the country. But six more teams are now going into the pro-Taliban south and east. What makes the PRTs work is troops who know how to work with civil affairs tasks, and with Afghans. More importantly is the muscle, with each PRT backed up by substantial numbers of combat troops and airpower in case there is any trouble. By coming in as friends, but with the clear potential for swift and overwhelming retaliation if there's trouble, you can get things done. This is called adapting to local customs. The more extreme Taliban tribesmen will probably test the system and there will be some fighting to defend PRT operations down there. It's a dangerous business. But after the Taliban lose a few, the word gets around and there's a lot less violence. The PRTs are needed to make sure reconstruction projects don't turn get hijacked by local tribal leaders or warlords (who prefer to steal all the money for themselves and their immediate followers.) Such corruption has long made it difficult to build infrastructure of major commercial operations in Afghanistan. The local people would want a large cut, even if, say, building a road through their territory would benefit them. The more aggressive use of  PRTs was encouraged by the new American commander in Afghanistan. 


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