WASHINGTON – They call it "hot stabilization." Hot, as in battlefield-hot.
As soon as U.S. and NATO forces can clear Afghanistan's Marjah region of Taliban and other insurgent fighters, a civilian team plans to hit the ground – possibly within hours. Its mission: help the Afghan government get services for its citizens back up and running.
That team, called a District Support Team has been pre-positioned along with the military. It includes two State Department governance advisors, one USAID development expert and a British stabilization advisor.
Because of the danger, the DST team embeds with the military, relying on them for security, transportation and a place to sleep at night.
Even before the fighting began, the State Department was involved in the planning and execution of the civilian operation. Its team will work alongside coalition forces, the Afghan military and the Afghan government. In the field, the five staff co-ordinate with Afghan non-governmental organization and civil-society groups, acting as what the military calls a "force multiplier."
Part of their job is political. They help the Deputy District Governor-designate for Marjah who, security situation permitting, plans to immediately hold a series of tribal meetings, called "shuras," in cleared areas trying to connect the Afghan people to their government.
The team also plans to identify and carry out immediate cash-for-work projects, employing members of the local community in things like canal dredging, sanitation and repairing any damage that may have been caused during the military operation.
Money for that comes from USAID's Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative program which provides quick access to funds for immediate post-fighting projects. The first-year budget is $100 million, spread across approximately 10 key districts in Afghanistan.
Marjah is the epicenter Afghanistan's narcotics trade which is a key source of funding for the Taliban. It's also the largest remaining safe haven in Central Helmand for Taliban, insurgents and narco-criminals. Showal in northern Nad Ali has been a seat of the Taliban shadow government.
The civilian team will work with the Afghan government to identify agricultural projects to replace poppy-growing with legitimate agricultural activities. The Afghan government has been helping farmers in Helmand make the switch through the Food Zone program which distributed seed to 36,000 farmers in 2008 and 40,000 in 2009.
When the fighting is over the military move on to new operations; civilian teams, according to the State Department, are in it "for the long-haul." Officials say if they don't make a difference in Afghan citizens' lives, the areas cleared could fall right back into the hands of the Taliban.