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The Role of Interagency Partners in Reconstruction

July 12, 2012
By Rita Boland
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Working together in coalition or interagency environments is hard, even after years of not just talking about it but also operating that way. However, partners must continue working to put the right people, processes and technologies in place to win battles or solve humanitarian problems. During a panel discussion Thursday at TechNet Land Forces South in Tampa, Florida, about teaming with agency partners on reconstruction and beyond, Jim Craft, chief information officer for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, stated that, "Evil is creative." Interagency partners much match that creativity to defeat it.

Craft said one of the main problems with reconstruction is that no one focuses on it or studies it. More effort goes into examining motorcycle safety than how to carry out reconstruction efforts. The real key to success is people, glued together through information infrastructure. Government groups must do more to partner with industry members, who often are invited last to become part of reconstruction efforts. Craft explained that the military uses internal networks to the detriment of cooperating with nongovernmental organizations and similar partners.

The chief information officer said other important components of success are the national will to help nations with reconstruction and thoughtful analysis. He shared that Iran built the first fiber lines into Afghanistan. Private companies from China and India, not the United States or its allies, are building the fiber rings. Panel moderator Maj. Gen. Chip Chapman, British Army, senior British military adviser to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), added that military forces must leave Afghanistan with the right reconstruction pieces in place so industry can move in and conduct business in the country.

Brig. Gen. John W. Baker, USA, the J-6 at CENTCOM, explained that a major communications challenge in Afghanistan is putting in place the right domain for communications. The Middle Eastern nation lacks the skill set to operate a domain as robust as the one in place for CENTCOM. Communications personnel are striving to find an adequate network to support Afghan National Security Forces and others in government. Possible solutions include cloud-based technology.

Gen. Baker stated that CENTCOM and partners can build networks with relative ease, but identifying coalition partners who need to use them is more difficult. He explained his biggest challenge as putting the right policies in place so information on the networks starts flowing to people who need it. Industry can help by developing training modules.

Afghanistan has had success with cell phone capabilities. In the last few years, the number of cell phone users has grown from one million to 19 million with five companies offering the technology, Craft said. The trend emphasizes the importance of marshalling the self-interest of the local populace.

The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has a long history of interagency cooperation and helping foreign nations improve internal conditions. The earthquake in Chile two years ago showcased some results of those efforts, when the only assistance requested by leaders there was Iridium radios. The remaining problems they could manage internally, explained Joseph Bitto, deputy J-6 of SOUTHCOM. Response to the earthquake in Haiti the same year involved many more groups providing direct support, resulting in the emergence of the All Partners Access Network (APAN) as a tool for operational use. The Defense Information Systems Agency now has assumed control of that network. However, APAN is not meant for command and control, and operational security issues stem from people using it for that purpose.   

Rear Adm. Vincent B. Atkins, USCG, J-3 at SOUTHCOM, added a twist to the discussion by saying people need to consider the idea that the military should not be closely involved in reconstruction efforts. Forces bring capacity, but how long should they stay and what issues will crop up when they leave, Adm. Atkins postulated.

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