Lew and Shah on their Af/Pak Trip

April 20, 2010 By Jordan Smith

Rare as it is in America’s hyper-partisan political culture to find agreement on major issues, something of a consensus has emerged on the need for increased civilian resources in foreign policy, and improved civilian-military integration. On this, Republicans and Democrats, military personnel and their civilian counterparts, agree. During his recent trip to Afghanistan, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew recognized improvements in civilian-military coordination in the region. Speaking at a press conference last week, Lew said that “I must say that it left one with an overwhelming sense that we’ve made tremendous progress in the last year, putting together a truly integrated coordinated civilian-military plan. And truly coordinated means not just between the U.S. civilians and the U.S. military, but with our international partners, and most importantly, with the Government of Afghanistan.”

Civilians are able to perform effectively not only because of their expertise, but because their presence is often more acceptable to locals. “[O]ne really did have the sense from the reaction to our civilian presence there that having civilians there at the very beginning makes all the difference in the world in terms of the effectiveness of the transition from a clear to a hold phase.”

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah was also in the region, and he echoed Lew’s thoughts. “I saw a strong civilian and military cooperation, especially at that outpost – a combined effort of providing agricultural vouchers to local farmers working to improve the irrigation system in that area, helping to improve some of the road infrastructure. Those things have really made a difference.”

USAID in particular, has played a vital role in giving Afghanistan a modernized infrastructure. Now that the U.S. and its allies have been in Afghanistan for nearly ten full years, civilian agencies have a better understanding of the country and its norms, allowing for better project-building. The US is “really shifting the assistance program to focus more on energy, water, and agriculture, and larger-scale, really more transformational types of investments that could take us all where we want to go so that 10 or 20 years from now, you could look back and say you started to see these big increases in agricultural value added and productivity because of unique things that were done now.”