- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

The Pentagon is boosting the number of Army civil affairs soldiers in Afghanistan as the military plans to increase outreach to villagers who need help modernizing farms and educating children.

Civil affairs soldiers, an element of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, specialize in rebuilding communities after a war. About 200 such soldiers, bolstered by similarly skilled people from other nations, have been in Afghanistan the past months helping Afghans start over.

Administration officials said the increase underscores the shifting mission in Afghanistan more than nine months after the first bomb was dropped Oct. 7. The mission has changed from significant battles and air raids to searches for small pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas.

Some in the Pentagon have advocated a beefed-up program to concentrate aid on the countryside to win the hearts of villagers loyal to the old Taliban regime or to anti-U.S. warlords.

Civil affairs soldiers can play a critical role in "winning the peace," as one Pentagon official put it in an interview. In postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, for example, these Army specialists played a major role in restarting government functions and building new schools.

Col. Roger King, spokesman for Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, who commands all 7,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, confirmed to The Washington Times that more civil affairs (CA) soldiers will arrive.

"In the process of rotating forces, Lt. Gen. McNeill asked for some increase in the number of CA soldiers assigned to Afghanistan," Col. King said. "The total increase in civil affairs soldiers doing CA work in the field will be about 80 soldiers."

The Army operates five civil affairs commands. Most of the soldiers are reservists. Sources say the Pentagon will soon activate a new cadre to go to Afghanistan. A spokesman for Army Special Operations Command declined to comment.

Gen. McNeill's command is reorganizing civil affairs soldiers into a much tighter unit. Instead of an ad hoc team called the "coalition joint civil military operations task force," there will be one brigade headquartered in Kabul.

"It doesn't involve a change in mission, just a unit better able to do the job assigned," said Col. King.

A need for a greater coalition presence in the countryside emerged after a July 1 friendly-fire incident in Uruzgan province north of Kandahar. Locals say scores of civilians were killed when an Air Force AC-130 gunship fired at what the crew identified as an anti-aircraft artillery battery.

Afterward, Gen. McNeill decided to send humanitarian workers to Uruzgan, a Taliban stronghold, to form closer relations with Pashtun tribal leaders and local farmers.

"I believe a decision has been reached to try to work out ways that the U.S. presence could be there, assisting on the humanitarian and civil affairs front," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said earlier this month.

Civilian policy-makers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been brainstorming inside the Pentagon in recent weeks over the right mix of forces in Afghanistan now that the first phase of the war is largely won. The United States has ousted the Taliban from power, and killed or evicted most al Qaeda. Now, the major challenge is to convert the country into some type of stable democracy.

"You cannot put more troops in Afghanistan to just sit on the country," said a senior administration official. "You have to be engaged with the people. Afghanistan is run by tribalism and warlordism. You can't totally change that. But you can't let it become a petri dish for terrorism either."

U.S. Army Special Operations Command says its civil affairs soldiers "possess unique training skills and experience. Since the majority of the civil affairs forces are in the reserve component, these soldiers bring to the Army finely honed skills practiced daily in the civilian sector as judges, physicians, bankers, health inspectors, fire chiefs, etc."

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