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Mideast edition, Friday, September 7, 2007

WASHINGTON — More training, better pay and greater opportunities for promotion might convince more civilians to work in Iraq and Afghan provincial reconstruction teams, analysts told members of Congress on Wednesday.

But the experts added that staffing the rebuilding teams will remain largely the military’s burden until safety in both countries is improved.

“The Department of State and civilian agencies have had a very difficult time finding personnel … because they rely on volunteers, and because of the dangers still there,” Deputy Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Ginger Cruz told members of a House Armed Services subcommittee.

“There’s not necessarily a reward for a person in these career paths to take the risk of working in Iraq.”

Twenty-five PRTs are operating in Afghanistan and another 25 in Iraq, 15 of which are small-staff teams embedded with combat brigades. The majority of staffers in both countries are military personnel, with State Department employees and other civilians typically filling only four or five posts.

Frederick Barton, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes that nonmilitary agencies simply haven’t seen the reconstruction teams as a top priority.

“They’re still operating as a sideshow,” he said. “There’s not the training, the best people aren’t chosen, promotions don’t result from serving in these places, they don’t get the money. There are a lot of signs that we’re not sincere in what we’re doing.”

Lawmakers called the continuing lack of civilian participation in the PRTs discouraging.

“PRTs are considered to be so critical to the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark. “The national effort involves more than just military actions, and requires integrated efforts and the resources of other governmental departments besides the Department of Defense.”

Barton and Cruz said that despite the shortage of staff and lingering problems with cooperation between agencies, officials have seen signs of progress from the teams. Although mainly military, the number of team members in Iraq has grown from 238 last year to 610 currently, thanks to an expansion from 10 teams to 25.

Cruz said military officials have done a better job in recent months of placing reservists with relevant skills into PRT posts, instead of using any available troops for legal work, construction planning or other skill-specific jobs.

“It is still one of the most valuable programs the United States runs,” she said. “Further expansion is still on course. With further improvements, it could serve as a model for civil/military stabilization efforts.”

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