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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm David Greene. Good morning. As NATO troops make their plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, there are serious questions about that country's stability. The stability will rely, at least in part, on the success of provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs. They're small military units who are partnering with civilian experts to focus on development in that troubled country.

Over the past decade, these teams have invested millions to build schools, clinics and roads. But as NPR's Sean Carberry reports, they have a mixed record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARCHING BAND)

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: It's a sunny spring day in Eastern Afghanistan's Paktya Province. U.S. troops and civilians and Afghan officials are gathered inside an ancient mud fort in the center of Forward Operating Base Gardez to mark the formal ending of the work of the Provincial Reconstruction team.

The U.S. launched its first PRT here in November of 2002, just months after a major military operation aimed at clearing Taliban and al-Qaida militants from the area. The PRT was a new twist on an old concept: nation building. Captain Eric Rauglas is the host of the closing ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF CEREMONY)

CAPTAIN ERIC RAUGLAS: This unique organization comprised of active Army, Air Force, Army National Guard, Army Reserve and U.S. Government agencies all work together to provide governance, security, economic assistance and reconstruction for Paktya Province.

CARBERRY: PRTs were designed to promote security by building things. They were also part of the campaign to win hearts and minds. As military units, the PRTs were designed to operate in areas too insecure for traditional development agencies. Juma Khan Hamdard, the governor of Paktya Province, praised the work of the PRT, but he says there will be challenges ahead.

GOVERNOR JUMA KHAN HAMDARD: (Through translator) The people will continue to have needs here. Before, they asked the PRT for assistance, and now they will ask the provincial government.

CARBERRY: They will ask, but will they receive? Some here believe Kabul will step up. But Jamila Yousefzai with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission isn't so sure.

JAMILA YOUSEFZAI: (Through translator) We don't believe that the central government will be able to deliver 100% of the services the PRT was providing.

CARBERRY: But U.S. diplomat Stephen McFarland believes the Paktya Provincial government is ready to stand on its own.

STEPHEN MCFARLAND: You stay too long, and inadvertently, you smother the capacity that you're trying to build up.

CARBERRY: Ambassador McFarland and others acknowledge it's been a struggle to find a balance between providing services the local government couldn't, while not creating a culture of dependency on the PRT.

At times, through the years, the PRTs have come in for criticism from Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, who decried what he termed a parallel structure that was working on projects without coordinating with his government.

That was a result of an early culture of doing so-called quick-impact projects designed to win hearts and minds, says Hamid Afghan, who handles PRT transition issues for the Afghan government. That approach lead to countless poorly planned and constructed projects that have been abandoned.

HAMID AFGHAN: For example, in Badakshan, a bridge was built, but there was no road access to that.

CARBERRY: Clare Lockhart is the author of "Fixing Failed States." She says that several years ago, there was a sea change in the PRT approach. The teams began to tailor projects to Afghan needs, and they began to focus more on strengthening the capacity of provincial governments.

CLAIRE LOCKHART: Capacity varies enormously across the country as a result of many different factors.

CARBERRY: It's too soon to tell if the Paktya government can stand on its own. But other PRTs have been closed long enough to judge their legacy. Mohammed Tahir is head of technical services for Panjshir Province, one of the safest places in Afghanistan. He points to all the PRT projects surrounding us.

There are wind turbines on top of one of the peaks. The road we're standing on, still under construction, was a PRT project. Many of the government buildings were constructed by the U.S.-run Panjshir PRT, which left in the summer of 2011.

MOHAMMAD TAHIR: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Tahir says the Panjshir government will have no problems completing the work, but Haji Ahadmir, a local driver, is not so sure.

HAJI AHADMIR: (Through translator) Americans were doing a good job in terms of construction, but the work slowed down when the local authorities took over the projects.

CARBERRY: That's where Afghan and Western officials say the real problem lies: For the foreseeable future, Kabul won't have the resources to make up for the drop in PRT spending. And that could undermine provincial governments as they try to stand on their own. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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