The Foreign Service Journal, January 2011

J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 21 The diplomacy required to successfully partner with local Afghans — such as village leaders and community councils — in the context of a COIN campaign can be understood as ‘microdiplomacy.’ While the U.S. has long experience working with formal government entities, the challenge of engaging local, informal actors is something at which we have not always been adept. This article will present some of the microdiplomacy strategies used in Kapisa province to focus on strategi- cally important communities, and their formal and infor- mal leaders. Most notably, the French military (Task Force La Fayette) and the American Provincial Recon- struction Team which supports it, have sought to improve the consistency, unity of effort and productivity of part- nerships with local Afghan actors through dedicated “en- gagement strategies” for local communities. Our analysis reflects the situation on the ground in Kapisa as of the summer of 2010. Kapisa province is located on the strategic approaches to both Kabul and Bagram and has been on the front lines of every conflict since the Soviet invasion. Its deep valleys and high mountains proved impenetrable to the Russians and continue to offer sanctuary to various in- surgent and criminal groups. The Tajik-dominated provincial government has a reputation for corruption, and the minority Pashtun and Pashai’i communities com- plain bitterly about the lack of social services from the government in the provincial capital at Mahmood Raqi. As one village leader confided, “You know and we know the government [here] is weak.” Although various U.S. and French units have cleared the most insurgent- plagued valleys several times over the years, and spent tens of millions of dollars on development projects, the insurgency has proven highly resistant to coalition efforts to win over the local populations and strengthen the Afghan government. Task Force La Fayette and PRT Kapisa have therefore begun to use the microdiplomacy principles described in this article to change that situa- tion. Obstacles to Successful Community Engagement Before proceeding to describe solutions, it is neces- sary to outline several basic challenges to successful com- munity engagement on the ground in Afghanistan. The first is inconsistency in the coalition’s efforts at building relationships with local Afghan leaders and communities. The primary cause of this inconsistency is the sheer mul- titude of coalition actors working on the ground, ranging from brigade teams such as Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations and Information Operations to platoons of combat troops. The PRT, for its part, has an eclectic mix of civilian representatives from the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development and the De- partment of Agriculture, as well as military civil affairs and civil engineer teams. In addition to this multitude of actors, there are mul- tiple “lines of effort”: development, security and gover- nance. In theory these ought to be building off one another, but in practice they can sometimes lead to di- vergent efforts. The challenge of coordinating so many internal actors is incredibly difficult, especially within the context of a violent combat zone and an incredibly com- plex local sociopolitical situation. A related challenge is overcoming perceptions that coalition forces are unreliable— the result of multiple bu- reaucratic contraints. As a village leader once lamented to us, “Be serious if you start something; you must be consis- tent.” Sharing the sentiment, another added, “I am a man. When I shake hands, I will do what I said I would. So should you.” Compounding this problem is the relatively quick ro- tation of coalition forces. This means a local leader or community cannot be sure that their PRT counterparts will stick around long enough to make a difference. One villager told us, “The problem is, I make friends and then they leave.” Many Afghans would like to support the coalition and the central government, but stay on the C OVER S TORY Matthew B. Arnold recently completed a year as a social scientist on the Human Terrain Team with Task Force La Fayette, the French brigade in Kapisa province, Afghani- stan. He has extensive experience working in conflict zones and will soon be on the ground in Sudan. Dana Deree, a Foreign Service officer currently serv- ing as deputy principal officer in Auckland, was the senior civilian representative on Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa. He has previously served in London, Managua, Tijuana and Washington, D.C. He is also a Marine Corps combat veteran and a Navy Reserve public affairs officer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the De- partment of State, the Department of Defense or Task Force La Fayette.