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PRTs Are "Smoke and Mirrors Operations"
What the State Department Is Not Accomplishing in Iraq
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/13/2007 4:35 PM ET
"The experience of one senior foreign service officer—a woman named Kiki Munshi who came out of retirement to run the PRT in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad, for most of 2006—is instructive," writes Robert Kaplan in a new piece on Atlantic Unbound.

Kaplan has interviewed Munshi about her year-long experience, and what that has taught her about the utility and effectiveness of provincial reconstruction teams--something that was apparently of little interest to representatives of the US State Department.

What Munshi’s team really needed—along with improved security in Diyala—was more financial autonomy and access to a higher level of technical expertise on a short-term basis. They needed real experts dispatched for a month or two to the field, rather than Army reservists with basic skills dispatched for up to a year.

Munshi tried to communicate all this to the State Department upon her return, but nobody especially wanted to debrief her. The after-action meetings she did have were set up at her own insistence, she told me, with bureaucrats who were sympathetic but ultimately powerless. The State Department and USAID apparently have no debriefing system in place, even for someone as crucial as a PRT leader in one of the most violent parts of Iraq. Without a mechanism for reporting lessons learned, any bureaucracy is moribund.

The PRTs, as presently constituted, are often smoke and mirrors operations, Munshi intimated. As a concept, they have been successfully sold to the outside world, but they have yet to be sufficiently staffed and bureaucratically developed. They provide useful fodder for pep talks to the media, but on the ground, they run the risk of irrelevance. Unfortunately, the same could be said of other operations in Iraq.

The entire piece deserves a read--particularly the part about what a pain it was to rely on Blackwater for security, a situation that left Munshi a virtual "prisoner of the base" for the first month of her appointment in Diyala.

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