PRT Mission
Jul 15, 2006

I was warned, and it is true. It is dusty, and it is hot. We are approaching Kandahar. In a country that has been at war for 30-odd years, the PRT base stands out on the landscape like those U.S. Cavalry forts in the old Western movies. Deep in sometimes hostile territory, operated by strangers to the region, and accessible only by armed convoys, these forts housing the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are perhaps Afghanistan’s best hope for the future.

Poor governance, weak institutions, insurgency, regional warlords and poverty – Afghanistan has all of these, in abundance. In November 2002, Provincial Reconstruc­tion Teams were set up by Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) to help in stabilizing the country. Designed to foster a secure environment and extend the authority of the Afghan Government throughout the countryside, they are comprised of diplomats, development officials, military assets and police ­officers, each team tailored to the specific requirements of each region, in accordance with local reconstruction requirements as well as the local threat and ­tactical risks.

The first PRTs were in the South under American command, and in the North under the British. Then in 2004, when NATO’s International Stabilization and Assistance Force (ISAF) assumed command of PRTs, other nations stepped in. As of January 2006, there are 22 ISAF PRT’s in Asadabad (US), Baghlan (Netherlands), Bamiyan (New Zealand), Chaghcharan (Lithuania), Farah (US), Feyzabad (Germany), Gardez (US), Ghazni (US), Herat (Italy), Jalalabad (US), Kandahar (Canada), Khowst (US), Kunduz (Germany), Lashkar Gah (US), Mazar-i-Sharif (Germany), Mehtarlam (US), Meymaneh (Norway), Parwan (US & South Korea), Qala-e Naw (Spain), Qalat (US), Sharana (US) and TarinKowt (US).

The former Kandahar jam factory that the Canadian PRT is in, typifies the country. Enclosed within a defensive perimeter of concrete, it has seen better days and many owners – in fact, one of the local employees has worked there through the pre-Soviet, Soviet and Taliban days.

Young Afghan Children look through new backpacks that were just handed to them by MCpl Violet Sibley and Pte Clayton Holloway, members of the PRT Signals Section. The Signallers collected money among themselves to purchase the backpacks, which were then filled with various school the Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team at the PRT. (Photo: Sgt Jerry Kean)

The Canadians took over Kandahar from the Americans in August 2005 and are expected to remain until 2009. Within its walls are elements from the Canadian Forces (CF), Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) – this is known as the “all of Government approach.”

Operation ARCHER, the Canadian contribution, reinforces the authority of the Afghan government in Kandahar Province and assists in the stabilization and development of the region. The Canadian programs monitor security, ­promote Afghan government policies and ­priorities with local authorities, and facilitate security sector reforms. Besides the Foreign Affairs, CIDA and RCMP officers, the PRT comprises approximately 200 soldiers, drawn largely from Land Forces Western Area (LFWA) and 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1 CMBG) based in Edmonton, Alberta.
This includes an infantry company from 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI); an engineer squadron from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER); a combat service support company from 1 Service Battalion (1 Svc Bn); 1 General Support Battalion (1 GS Bn); and a medical support from 1 Field Ambulance (1 Fd Amb).

The Canadian PRT has a varied mandate. “Despite the name, we aren’t strictly centred on reconstruction,” explains Major Ron Leibert, Deputy Commanding Officer of the PRT. “The focus is primarily on development in the broadest possible sense. The PRT is a mufti-faceted organization that promotes the main areas of concern which are governance, development and security.

“With governance issues, we draw on the experience of Foreign Affairs and CIDA in terms of how to govern in an inclusive and democratic manner.

In development, we are trying to provide the government of Afghanistan with the tools to provide basic services to the ­public. The Afghan government attempts to provide things like health care, police security and good roads and what we do is bring together the departments that can help them. Governance is one issue and security is another. The PRT helps with their police, and the RCMP here work closely with the Afghan police force to provide mentoring, training and support. The Afghan National Police has not received the same attention and support that the Afghan National Army has and they face significant challenges because of that.

“Glossed over in the media is the tremendous toll in causalities taken by the Afghan police,” laments Major Leibert. “This is especially true in a combat function, which they are not trained to do. That is not the role of the police. We here in the PRT are trying to help them overcome some of those challenges – such as institutionalized corruption or bad organization to produce tangible results.”

To that end, the Canadian Forces are assisting in the coordination of police forces and the Army so that the former can focus more on policing functions rather than military operations. Efforts are also being made to achieve international standards of professional conduct.

RCMP officers are here to deal with the local police situation. Their role, as part of the Kandahar PRT, is to assist the Afghan police. “We offer them training programs and are here to advise, mentor and monitor their activities.” says RCMP Superin­ten­dent, Wayne. E. Martin, Police Advisor in Kandahar. “We also equip them, to a limited extent. We work in concert with other countries: the Germans have the lead through a bilateral agreement and have a long history of working here. The Americans bring a big development budget to the law enforcement table, and are heavily involved.

RCMP Superintendent Wayne Martin presents a graduation certificate and a MagLite Flashlight to a top student of the Afghanistan National Police (ANP) Academy. Supt Martin attended the ceremony as the guest of the Academy Commandant, General Zarill. (Photo: Sgt Jerry Kean)

Currently there are six RCMP officers in the PRT, including one member of the Charlottetown municipal police. The RCMP does not work alone, “we are the conduit, if you will, of international police development,” emphasizes Martin.

The Canadians have a built local police station with the Commander’s Contingency Fund using dollars out of the Canadian Forces. Located just north of the PRT, it is in an area that has been troublesome for the local citizens – it is near the mountains and provides an entry point for insurgents and criminals. “We located it strategically on high ground on a main road where it gives a good overview of the north end of the city,” explains Superintendent Martin. “It helps achieve the goals of the Afghans as well as those of the goals of the coalition. We intend on using it as a training detachment.”

In addition to the new station, Canada has contributed 12 new police trucks, which have also been purchased through the Contingency Fund. They will be handed over to the ANP shortly, which should help with the serious lack of force mobility. “The problem,” explains Martin, “is that they do not get regular maintenance. Getting funds through the Afghan government for repairs is a problem, so when they break down they tend to sit in a police station yard and no one goes out on patrol. If its a repair that is manageable (cost wise) we will repair the trucks here in the PRT and put them back on the road. The police get their mobility back – plus, the Afghans learn the idea of responsibility and of maintaining vehicles. Best of all, we have hired some Afghan mechanics and apprentices to maintain the trucks so we are feeding back into the local economy.

Recruiting and retaining police officers is, of course, up to the Afghan government. However, the Germans have the lead in police re-organization here, and have recently begun initiatives on pay increases and rank structuring.

Superintendent Wayne Martin is attending a meeting with Chief of Police Abdul Malik Wahidi from the province of Kandahar City. The occasion marks the official handover of the newly built ammunition and weapons storage point located within the compound of Afghan National Police (ANP) Headquarters. (Photo: Sgt Carole Morissette)

Which police programs are the most successful and enjoyable to run? The ones “where we can interact with the Afghans themselves,” says Superintendent Martin, “they are the ones that give you the most satisfaction.” That would be the training programs, which vary from the training in firearms to motorcycle riding which were done in cooperation with CF personnel. Training in basic rudimentary safety tips also received positive feedback. “We have also done patrol tactics and small unit tactics. An important partner in this is the CF military police which have a strong presence here. They give us the mobility with air patrols, which allow us to get around, as well as their expertise in small unit tactics. In the Western world at least, civilian police patrols rarely get attacked by RPGs (Rocker Propelled Grenades),” deadpans Martin. “That is a routine occurrence here – an almost daily event to the Afghan police. The ultimate goal is to have a police force civilianized ­– but in order get to that state, they need small unit military tactics to survive. Other things we do is train them in how to operate check points, how to conduct vehicle searches, how to conduct personnel searches in the cultural environment you have here.” RCMP officers also teach the Afghan police how to properly handle IED situations. “Afghans tend to be very cavalier in their handling of unexploded bombs. We teach them how to cordon off the area and wait until the experts arrive.”

Another part of the outreach program involves Canadians attending shuras, or meetings with village elders. Movement restrictions have been put in place due to the January death of Foreign Affairs official Glynn Berry, and I wondered what level of protection Canadian soldiers provide to other Canadian government departments as they proceed with their individual mandates. “CIDA and Foreign Affairs staff do not have the freedom that they once had,” confirms Major Leibert. “We provide the logistics and protection but not to give ­anything away, we have just successfully made it possible for a Foreign Affairs officer to recently participate in a local shura.”

But there is more to the military’s function here at the PRT than that. They are the primary interface between the ­various Canadian departments in the field. “The military provides the protection to allow them to coordinate on the ground. While there is cooperation at higher levels in Ottawa, here at Camp Nathan Smith, it all comes together with the PRT – on the ground.” A good example is CIDA’s Confidence in Government program. It is designed to strengthen ­government legitimacy by allowing its representatives to project ­services into areas that do not have them. “The program allows us to put services into these areas where, although not completely lawless, the Afghan government had so far been unable to provide basic services.” And the military provides CIDA with the facilities, protection and transport to do so. “I should mention,” he adds, “that while we provide the security, the participation of the Afghan people provides a degree of security in itself. People aren’t going to burn down projects that they have invested their own time and capital in – so through encouraging this process we basically protect the project itself.”

July 2006 – CF personnel and a representative from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), attend a shura being held in Panjawai, west of Kandahar. Soldiers from B Company, 2 PPCLI, 1 RCHA, and Field Engineers travelled to Panjawai to provide security as members from Kandahar Airfield and the Kandahar PRT, attended the shura. The PRT falls under Operation Archer and reinforces the authority of the Afghan government in Kandahar Province by assisting in the stabilization and development of the region. (Phtoto: MCpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

As the Kandahar PRT has only been under Canadian control for the last nine months, perhaps measuring a success rate is premature, and Major Leibert agreed. “It was very difficult,” he says “to measure success or to judge from one day to the next if the PRT was making any kind of progress.”

Since his arrival in Kandahar, there has been “considerable economic improve­­ment” he says, citing the example of increased commercial activity since January. The Major also pointed out improvements in the police force – there has been a recent command change in the area in police chiefs and the new one was very professional and competent.

Given the social environment, it’s surprising to find that women are being incorporating into the local police force. “There aren’t many female police here in Afghanistan,” Martin is quick to clarify. “I have interacted with a couple of them at ANP headquarters where they perform office duties – although there’s one involved in forensics. Women working outside the home is so new here, and policing is a traditional male role, especially in this society. It will take time for that to change.”

The PRTs are making progress, as Major Leibert insists, but they are working to an unusual timeline. This project that Canada has undertaken is expected to take at least 10 to 20 years to produce tangible results. It is an ongoing process that will require long term commitment by the international community.

When it comes right down to it, Major Leibert says, “What we are attempting to do really, is change ideas – a lot of the problems here are attributable to the conflicts that existed during the Soviet era, and the post Soviet conflict of the Taliban days – those troubles empowered illegitimate groups to destroy the infrastructure. In destroying traditional leadership structures, especially at the district level, they destroyed public confidence in local government. At the same time, it empowered warlords, criminals, etc. because those sort of people thrive in such insecure times.”

Was this a stretch for a professional soldier? Had he ever seen himself doing this one day? Major Leibert was reminded of his Bosnia experience when he coordinated the distribution of humanitarian supplies and basic services for the UN mission without half the resources he has now. Was the PRT a contrast for him? “In 1999, when the Serbian forces withdrew, there was no law or services,” he recalls, “so the Canadian Forces basically helped the Kosovas administer the area. We took care of every detail, from issuing birth certificates to dealing with property issues for the locals. The Canadian Forces have long standing experience in dealing with issues like this, usually learned the hard way. Have we done things properly in the past?

Sapper Jason Grimm, an engineer with 11 Field squadron, surveys the landscape as he stands sentry on a rooftop for the shura shown above. (Photo: MCpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

Certainly not, we have learned the hard way – through trial and error. We have taken some wrong turns in the past. And here we are in Afghanistan, trying to avoid mistakes by using the lessons learned in the past and making a positive impact for the future.”

But the axe assault at a shura that badly injured Lt Trevor Greene only demonstrated what a dangerous place Afghanistan is, even with all the precautions. Success is definitely a long way off.

That being said, the Canadian government is committed to this until at least 2009. The RCMP will follow up by keeping in contact with all the stations they deal with and all the training programs – in order to see what has been a success and what can be improved.

It is evident that this is an evolutionary process where change comes gradually. “Just as with most government departments in Afghanistan, the police have suffered institutional decay over the past 30 years of war, of insurrection, of strife – the infrastructure is very weak right now and they are not alone. Yes, it needs help in equipment and training but look at what they have been through.

“I would suggest that we take our successes where we can find them, continues Martin. “The PRT has only been a Canadian endeavour for a few months and we are making progress. Some people might say at a glacial rate, but in this society, it is still progress.”

Back with the army, I can’t help but wonder if the soldiers are as committed and optimistic in what they are doing. Major Leibert sums it up this way: “I guess the easy answer is, I’m a professional soldier, I go where I’m told. The other answer is, that it’s easy to sit around, watch it on television and talk about it – or you can get out and do something about it. I don’t think I’ve changed the world by coming out here, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I have changed some people’s lives. What I would say to the public back home is: if you want to make a difference, get out here and do it.”
FrontLine correspondent, Peter Pigott, was recently embedded with the Coalition Forces in Kandahar. His book about Canadians in Afghanistan is to be published by Dundurn Press in the Spring of 2007.
© FrontLine Defence 2006