Sharpening the Spear: The United States’ Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan
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The terrorist attack on 11 September 2001 and the United States’ response resulted in the U.S. government’s unwitting involvement in nation-building and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The historical defeat of Soviet forces, the ease of removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the reluctance of the Bush Administration to engage in nation-building resulted in a reluctance to commit a significant diplomatic, economic, and military effort. The U.S. military recognized that it needed a cost-effective, robust element that could assist the new Afghan government in extending its authority throughout the country. It created Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) composed of specialized military teams and civilian government experts with the mission of improving security and governance and supporting reconstruction and development in the provinces and districts. The expansion of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) beyond the capital was initiated by member countries taking over U.S.-established PRTs. The relatively nominal cost in money and personnel, along with the positive reception of PRTs by provincial governments and the Afghan people, contributed to the U.S. and ISAF expansion of the PRT program to more provinces. The rising expectation of PRTs as a tool for nation-building and a non-kinetic weapon of counterinsurgency is diminishing as government corruption, the drug trade, terrorism, and lawlessness increase, particularly in the south and east. Knowledge of both Afghanistan and PRTs is necessary to determine the cause of problems and to develop solutions. Recommendations by official reports and by both military and non-military scholars are compiled and considered for improving PRT operations.