U.S. Military, Diplomacy Efforts Are 'Imbalanced'

While there has been much discussion over the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, there hasn't been much of a public conversation on U.S. diplomacy there. Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations talks to Renee Montagne about diplomatic efforts in Afghanistan. Markey used to do policy planning on South and Central Asia for the State Department.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

We've been hearing a lot about the new face of war in Afghanistan, and it's not hard to imagine what those under General David Petraeus are doing there. In a moment, we'll take you to a battleground in the fields of Kandahar.

KELLY: First, though, we'll hear about a less visible part of the strategy in Afghanistan that's still key to winning the war. That's the diplomatic side. Daniel Markey worked on Afghanistan policy at the State Department until 2007.

Mr. DANIEL MARKEY (Former State Department Official): The diplomatic approach in Afghanistan is to build up the capacity of the Afghan government to increase its authority, its legitimacy and its ability to reach out and improve the lives of Afghans so that average Afghan citizens will choose to fight with and be sympathetic to that Afghan government rather than to side with the Taliban.

MONTAGNE: The face of this diplomatic effort is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry. Daniel Markey says he's working with far fewer resources than is the military.

Mr. MARKEY: So it's a very tall order. It has also, of late, included the effort over the past year to bring in something like 700 or 800 new civilian officials into Afghanistan - U.S. officials to spread out around the country and to help with assistance efforts in far-flung villages and towns throughout Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Well, you're talking hundreds there. On the one hand, it sounds like a lot, and especially a lot to distribute in conflict areas that make it hard for anyone to go in. But compared to 100,000 American troops, which will be the final number when they're all there, it doesn't seem like very much on the diplomatic side.

Mr. MARKEY: No, it sure doesn't. And it points out a stunning and dramatic disparity between U.S. military capabilities, numbers of people, and even ability to assume risk in a place like Afghanistan, as compared to civilian efforts. So this just shows this imbalance across the board. It's true in Afghanistan. I'm afraid it's true everywhere else around the world as well.

MONTAGNE: Give us an example of the sort of thing that the State Department people - the ambassador would have his people doing.

Mr. MARKEY: Right. So, there has been some concern in Afghanistan, and rightly so, about problems of lack of capacity within various ministries. There's also a problem within the actual buildings that are, by most accounts, populated by a very slim layer of reasonably well-educated and capable individuals. And then the rest of them are essentially either serving each other tea or doing very little work.

So there have been, at various points, efforts by the U.S. embassy to actually put into some of these ministries more qualified - either U.S. contractors or actually, U.S. government officials to help in the functioning of the ministries, to actually work directly with those staffs to do the jobs of the Afghan government.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, back to some of the political aspects of all of this that have been making the news, we've heard much now about the tension and lack of coordination in the diplomatic and military sides in Afghanistan. Has this really been a perfectly decent working relationship?

Mr. MARKEY: I think some of the working relationships have been better than reported. But I do think that there's a cultural gap between the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the NATO headquarters. When you pass from the gates of one into the gates of the other, and they are...

MONTAGNE: Just across the street.

Mr. MARKEY: ...almost co-located. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARKEY: You can just walk from one to the next. You see a different culture at work. The military is very clearly engaged in what is a costly and -unfortunately, at times - quite bloody activity inside the country, and they behave like they're at war. The embassy has a somewhat lighter feel to it. I'm not saying that people aren't working very hard, but military officials I've spoken to, they believe that the civilians aren't fully aware of what they're confronting.

And it may be, in part, because the civilians are far less able to get outside of their compound and see the rest of Afghanistan, to see what's going on, to recognize what kind of challenges they're facing.

MONTAGNE: Daniel Markey is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he focuses on U.S. policy in South Asia. And tomorrow, we'll hear what the U.S. is doing to get Afghans involved in reconstruction projects.

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