Afghan forces and Marines from 3rd Battalion/6th Marine Regiment cordon off intersections leading to an Afghan Local Police site. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael O’Connor)
WASHINGTON (August 18, 2011) — Corruption and insurgent violence remain serious issues, but Afghan community members and leaders are strengthening their local governments “from the bottom up,” a senior Defense Department civilian serving in Afghanistan said today.
Alisa Stack, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command’s deputy chief of staff for stability operations, briefed Pentagon reporters by video uplink from the command’s headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Stack has served in her current position since fall 2009, when ISAF’s Joint Command was formed. She is responsible for synchronizing security plans and operations with national and provincial plans for governance and development.
“I’m focused on local government initiatives and work for those responsible for providing daily support to Afghan citizens,” she said.
Stack said the command, known as IJC, not only brings together coalition members and Afghan partners, but also coordinates with other governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations working to improve conditions in Afghanistan.
“I can verify that our partnered efforts have brought about some truly remarkable achievements,” she said. Examples of concrete progress in governance and development can be found in many areas, she added.
“In Helmand province, the security situation has improved sufficiently that work is now under way to add justice centers in Marja, Nad Ali [and] Gereshk, expanding on the success of the province’s initial center in Lashkar Gah,” Stack said.
Complementing that work, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission recently held the first monthly district outreach shura – a community council – in Nad Ali, Stack said, while the Kabul-based nongovernmental organization Women for Afghan Women is contracted to provide civil law, women’s rights and family counseling training throughout Helmand province.
Kandahar residents are seeing similar progress, as their provincial leaders begin work on a comprehensive health strategy and implementation plan, Stack said.
“Orchestrated by the Kandahar Department of Public Health, the strategy will benefit from input from a number of municipal departments, Kandahar University, the World Health Organization and [the U.S. Agency for International Development], among others,” she added.
Stack said progress in infrastructure and economic development is evident in Helmand, where a new business park is more than half complete, and in Mazar-e Sharif, where a combined U.S.-German military effort provides electricity for a growing industrial park.
“Last month, seven areas around the country underwent a peaceful, successful transition of security responsibility from ISAF to the Afghan government,” she said. “As security improves across the country and more provinces transition and assume their own control, each will … require tailored solutions to implement good governance and effective development at the provincial, district and municipal levels.”
U.S. and coalition force structures must adapt to reflect those evolving priorities, she said, with close coordination among provincial reconstruction teams, civil agencies, the international community and nongovernmental organizations.
While such assistance is essential to helping Afghans develop government and development capacity, Stack said, “ultimately, Afghanistan’s success in this counterinsurgency must come from a capable government at all levels that can be trusted by the Afghan people.”
That government must be real, it must be fair and just, and above all, it must serve the needs and the will of the people, she said.
Corruption is a concern Afghans in and out of government have expressed to her repeatedly, Stack said.
“It is a serious problem, and it’s one that the Afghan government and we are taking very seriously,” she said.
IJC has examined its own business practices and directed the regional commands and others to take an “Afghan-first approach,” looking for direct agreements with Afghan businesses in hiring and contracting, Stack said.
“We are taking it very seriously,” she added. “We do take a holistic approach to it. And I think one of the strongest things that we’ve done is change how we work, and that has a very strong effect then on the Afghan market and on the expectations of the Afghan people.”
Insurgent attacks on government officials and Afghan civilians are “absolutely a concern” for Afghan government and ISAF officials, Stack said, but recent incidents also highlight the nation’s growing capability.
Following an Aug. 14 attack in which six suicide bombers killed at least 22 people during a raid on the Parwan governor’s complex, Stack said, “the Afghan national security forces reacted very well … with minimal support from us.”
Within hours, the Afghan government and private organizations were working to repair damage to the provincial center, she said.
“The governor remained working throughout that day, and is working today,” she added.
While IJC does not lead the effort, Stack said, several coalition members and USAID are working to train civil servants and local officials. The Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission, through the U.S. government and USAID and with sponsorship from the Afghan Civil Service Institute, has trained 16,000 civil servants nationwide, she noted.
“Germany just started a program that’s focused on developing provincial councils … to understand what it means to represent a constituency, how you run a council meeting – just the order for minutes, for notes, for follow-up,” she said.
Italy has taken similar efforts in the west, and the United Kingdom has a provincial reconstruction team in Helmand partnering directly with local officials, she added.
The Afghan government and people’s performance this summer and last shows resilience and persistence, Stack said, as well as “the desire for competent administration, to be competent administrators, and to have control over governance in their area.”