By Lydia Vickers
The Hearing started out with LOTS of comparisons to VietNam. Ironically they kept mentioning that they two conflicts really did not have that much in common.
It was mentioned that one of the retired generals who was on the panel lost his own grand daughter in a fire fight in Afghanistan in 2005. He has 6 other family members in the service at this time.
The discussion focus on using PRT's (provisional reconstruction teams) which are civilian. In Afghanistan the PRTs are run by the military. In Iraq it's different, they work outside of the military. There are also embedded PRTs who work directly with the government (in both countries).
The goal is success without military force. Excellence is winning war without fighting (a bit confusing since "war" is fighting?)
Hard power is military and soft power is political.
The panel was working on what they call a National Counter-Insurgency plan. The idea is to win the ground fight then forward deploy U.S. Ambassadors to work with the local people. Secure, Build and Hold.
Discussion again return to VietNam and Congressional members continued to say "but we didn't win in VietNam" - The question being, why do we want to follow that protocol when it did not work? The answer was, the plan worked to beat the Viet Cong but did not stop the North Vietnamese army from winning.
Discussion continued to explain micro loans and grants that are helping the economy in each country. The Sunni insurgents who are now working with PRTs in Iraq, again, outside of the military.
Some of the challenges are: geography, transportation and assets. Security restrictions hinder the PRTs efforts. No one owns PRTs and no one explained who controls them. Again, they are many private companies working together as PRTs.
The panel reported that success today and in other wars (Kosovo and Bosnia for instance) will need civilian workers with larger numbers in the State Department.
One congressman (sorry, I didn't get names) asked how can we help our troops assimilate to civilian jobs. Rather than build up a working military they prefer (now) to build up civilians to support the military. Civilians will share information with the troops
The question was asked, again, if the reconstruction teams did so much good, why did we still lose the war in VietNam? It was explained that the idea was to win over the hearts and minds of the people to beat the VietCong BUT, we couldn't stop the North Vietnamese from attacking.
One suggestion was that we need cross training in languages. The panel did not feel that the military could accomplish this and civilians would be used instead. No one explained why we can't train our military men and women to speak new languages.
PRTs are directly linked to the counter insurgency effort with a short term, high impact plan directly supporting the military command, but not under military command.
The goal is to rebuild the local government, return the rule of law and reconstruction of the infrastructure. Embedded PRTs continue to work directly with the counter insurgency.
Question - in the international effort, why aren't we sharing and learning. Discussion at the higher levels is not filtering down. The State Department does not answer to Congress. The military does not answer directly to Congress.
Question - why aren't we learning from these past lessons? It appears that the Department of Defense feels most passionately and the civilian agencies need to step it up to catch up.
There was some discussion about "military force" VS "military forces" and that military force cannot be the face of our foreign policy. It was mentioned what a fantastic job our military did during the Tsunami a few years ago. That is the example we should try to duplicate.
Discussion - Iraq is the 3rd most corrupt county in the world. It is accepted that 1/3 of all reconstruction money in Iraq disappears or is stolen.
Question - do we have to accept this? Answer - yes. Prime Minister Malaki calls it the 2nd war in Iraq (against corruption and graft).
Many 3rd world countries have this problem because the government employees are not paid very well so they cheat. In Iraq they are paid very well though. Still government officials in high positions are still on the take. Some of the money is also ending up with other countries and even with people from our own country. It appears that no one has an answer to this problem.
The panel would like to focus on post conflict stabilization - which is impossible until there is some stabilization. Deployment rather that employment of force.
The panel mentioned that Churchill said we can't have military success without civilian support.
Congress asked "when will we learn from history?" We are using a program in Iraq and Afghanistan which was written for peace missions like Kosovo. Again, how can that work while conflict continues in these countries.
Question - why doesn't the State Department have an interest in building and stability as much as the military does.
Answer- the State Department is small and underfunded. When they have to take people out of one job into another there are usually no replacements. The military is larger. Diplomats are trained to prevent problems and "cave in when the problems start".
Note: Behind me in the room was a huge picture of a battle in Viet Nam, bloody, a bomb blowing up and a shirtless soldier shooting at the enemy. The picture behind the representatives was of a military parade in WWII. Opposite walls had a huge fighter plane and a group of tanks.