Civilians still slow to enter combat zones
WASHINGTON — The secretaries of Defense and State acknowledged Tuesday that despite cooperation between the agencies, the military still bears the brunt of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan because of a lack of qualified civilian personnel.
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told lawmakers the issue isn’t a lack of willing volunteers, but the slow pace at which the department can transform itself from a peacetime mindset to the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There are no longer neat categories between war and peace,” she said. “More often, we’re facing a continuum of war and peace … so we’re required to think of ourselves more expeditionary, as a national security agency.”
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the two agencies have developed a good working relationship in recent years, and urged lawmakers to extend interagency funding programs for building up foreign military forces and hiring civilian experts.
Still, lawmakers on the committee expressed concern that military leaders are still performing too many diplomatic jobs that should be the responsibility of officials from other agencies, like the State Department.
“The long-term answers must reflect an integrated approach to foreign assistance and not simply a shift in those types of missions to U.S. military forces,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.
“I see the enlistment rates for our soldiers in Iraq are extraordinary … and then read stories about how [the State Department] can’t find 40 people to deploy to the Green Zone. There’s a distinct difference in the attitude and culture in terms of engaging in this enormous challenge to our country.”
Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., noted that the national security structure remains largely unchanged from the 1960s, hardly appropriate for new conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Still, he said, officials need to emphasize “holistic strategies that make use of the capabilities of all government agencies” not just for the current conflicts, but looking ahead to future military actions.
But Gates said the biggest obstacle is the ability for workers from the Departments of Treasury, Agriculture and other agencies to deploy into a war zone as troops do, a test most of those specialists haven’t faced in the past.
Still, he admitted frustration with the slow pace of finding solutions to that issue.
“In the past, where you’d see the military building walls to keep other agencies out,” he said. “Now they’re out begging, practically, for greater involvement.”