Lt. Gen. John Allen is set to take over command of the war in Afghanistan when Gen. David Petraeus becomes CIA director in September. The battle against the Taliban remains the centerpiece in the Afghanistan effort, but the development mission — the world’s largest and most challenging -will also be a focus for Allen.
In a long interview with USAID’s Frontline magazine, Allen talked about the development challenges in Afghanistan and recounted his experiences working with development professionals in the Mediterranean in the 1970s, running the task force that led the U.S. government response to the Asian tsunami of 2004-2005, and coordinating development projects in Iraq during the surge from 2006 to 2008. He promised to push for increased cooperation between soldiers and aid workers and fight for USAID’s continued support from the military and Congress.
Here are some excerpts:
On the challenges in the military-civilian relationship in a warzone:
It’s largely in the sequencing. Ten years ago, I’d have said it was cultural. Not today. Yes, the development and military cultures are inherently different, but after a decade of war, where our paths in many ways are now inextricably linked, our institutional cultures are largely in harmony and we draw strength from the relationship. This includes development NGOs as well…. When the development and military entities are closely tied together in planning and execution –“within the hearing of the guns” — we have all the ingredients for success. While there remains room for improvement, we’re far more advanced and effective in this relationship than we were just 10 years ago.
On how to achieve better cooperation between the military and development personnel on the ground:
For the military, working better on the ground with USAID can come specifically from establishing a close working relationship with the USAID elements which will be operating with or alongside the military units. During periods of conflict, this ideally begins at the unit’s home station before the deployment and continues without interruption right down to the ground level during the deployment and employment. If we’ve done this right, USAID or development personnel who’ll be in the same area have had the chance to participate in the military unit’s training during its preparations and in its mission rehearsal exercises prior to deployment.
On development’s role in preventing conflicts:
As we start our second decade of counterinsurgency efforts in CENTCOM, it has become clear to us that one of the best ways we can defend our nation is to prevent factors that combine in our region which severely stress social systems … ultimately creating a critical mass of hopelessness, and frequently leading to insurgency and conflict. Indeed, the social turmoil playing out in our region, the so-called Arab Spring, is a direct result of these societal forces boiling over….
On why domestic support for development is lower than support for the military:
I honestly think it is simply a combination of word association and exposure. Through the media, particularly since 9/11, your average American has had far more day-to-day exposure to the military culture than to the development world. Americans are accustomed to and generally understand the broad mission areas of the military in ways they never had prior to 9/11. In contrast, they may not have had any exposure to, or understanding of, the art and science of development.
In many respects, USAID’s efforts can do as much — over the long term — to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force. There are adversaries in the CENTCOM region who understand and respect American hard power, but they genuinely fear American soft power frequently wielded in the form of USAID projects. While the hard power of the military can create trade, space, time, and a viable security environment, the soft power of USAID and the development community can deliver strategic effects and outcomes for decades, affecting generations.
On the budget fight over funding for USAID:
The development programs carried out by USAID directly support the president’s National Security Strategy and are a sound expenditure of our nation’s precious resources. As you note, some do feel that expending funds in support of development projects is a luxury. This argument complements the ever increasing concerns over the economic realities facing our government. The fiscal pie is only so big and the ability to carve out a larger slice — no matter who you are — will only continue to become more challenging.