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WASHINGTON — A Democratic senator who recently toured Iraq and Afghanistan wants to require skilled State Department workers to serve overseas to help with reconstruction efforts, creating military-style expeditionary teams of civilians.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said more private citizens are needed to bring organizational knowledge and rebuilding skills to those countries.

He said teams of experts on sewer systems, water plant operations and other critical infrastructure services could help local authorities take over responsibilities from military forces.

Reed, a 1971 West Point graduate who served as an infantry platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne, spent two days each in Iraq and Afghanistan last week and said military civil affairs teams are performing good work.

But often they don’t have the technical, day-to-day knowledge that local governments need to rebuild their infrastructure, he added.

“We need the developmental assistance equivalent of shock and awe over there,” he said during a Tuesday news conference.

“We’re not just talking about the Department of Defense or the Department of State,” he said. “Afghanistan needs help from the Department of Agriculture, to help work out programs to teach people how to farm and fight their drug problem.”

Defense Department officials said that idea echoes their own directives.

A directive on military reconstruction issued by then-acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England in November notes that while U.S. military must be prepared to help establish order and get basic social services functioning, “many stability operations tasks are best performed by indigenous, foreign, or U.S. civilian professionals.”

A Defense Department spokesman said he did not know about any specifics related to Reed’s proposal, but in concept, officials would support the move and it would not interfere with civil affairs work by military forces overseas.

State Department officials had no comment on the idea.

The department already has some civilian employees working in Iraq through the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office and in similar programs in Afghanistan, but most are volunteers.

State Department officials have offered general support for more interagency cooperation in overseas efforts, and have created an Active Response Corps of department employees who act as first responders for diplomatic missions overseas, handling tasks such as embassy staffing.

Reed also said more international funding is needed in both Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure progress continues overseas, noting that “my preference is to contribute dollars rather than soldiers” in future rebuilding plans.


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