Afghanistan Update:

Winds of Change has the most encouraging story I've seen from Afghanistan in a while. It shows that CENTCOM is employing some creative thinking in the Afghan rebuild:
US military officials have developed hybrid groups, comprising soldiers and humanitarian aid workers, to hasten the reconstruction of Afghanistan�s unruly provinces. The groups, known as Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), are designed to help extend the influence of Afghanistan�s government beyond Kabul. So far, however, PRTs have found that the influence of warlords in the provinces will not be easily reduced.

Three US PRTs are operating in Afghan provinces � in Kunduz, Gardez and Bamiyan. In addition, a 72-member British PRT started working in late July in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. "PRTs are an innovative means to extend central government authority to the regions, enmesh local government with the central government and help with reconstruction" said General F.L. "Buster" Hagenback, the acting commander of US forces in Afghanistan. "Over time, as security improves, these military-led PRTs will mutate into [a] civilian organization[.]"
Now that's outstanding on several counts. The first is that the military is not clinging to traditional models, but looking around to see what is needed in this particular situation.

The second is that they're already engaged with models that are meant to "mutate" into civilian authorities over time. This has, in my opinion, been one of the weak points of our nationbuilding strategies in the past. Nationbuilding requires enforcing authority so that, with your authority, you can also enforce order. However, in the process of knocking down challenges to your authority, it can be easy to knock down all the developing institutions that could take over power from you when you leave. Such institutions work best if they are organic, growing naturally from within the community you'd like to hand power to on your way out. Sometimes you need to plant some seeds, though, and these PRTs might be that.

(An aside: General "Buster" Hagenback had a memorable quote earlier in the Afghan war that ought to be remembered. After guerrillas had killed the first US soldiers in battle, he said:

�This is not the last battle of this war, but so long as [al Qaeda & the Taliban] want to send [guerrillas] here, we will kill them here. If they want to go somewhere else, we will kill them there.�
I think I can see why Rumsfeld picked him for the job. That reads much like what you'd expect to come out of the mouth of the SECDEF.)

In Iraq, there are a number of people calling for Shi'ite militias to guard holy sites from US plundering and unfortunate accidents. For now, calls are for an unarmed militia. I think the CPA will probably view this as an unacceptable challenge to their authority, but I think it would be wiser to embrace and work with it. With some negotiation, we could probably reach an agreement that would allow these unarmed militias to do just what they want to do, which would remove a source of friction between US forces and the Shi'ites. More importantly, these unarmed militias represent an organic movement that could begin providing stability and security to parts of Iraq. If we reach out to them and provide a space for them straightaway, they become a useful tool for our goal of founding a stable, independent Iraq that we can eventually leave.

If we suppress them, on the other hand, two things could happen. At best, we could lose that potential pillar of support for a stable and independent Iraq. At worst, they become like the Black Panthers: originally a scrupulously law-abiding militia movement designed to protect citizens against abuse by the authorities, when suppressed it became an underground guerrilla movement.

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