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Civilians in Helmand: An Update

So after I wrote this post, I checked in with State Department contacts to see what’s on the horizon for resourcing the Marine offensive in the Helmand River Valley. The biggest piece of news I can report: lots of diplomats are anticipating a relaxing Fourth of July. But there’s more.

The two State Department and USAID officials now in Helmand have been there for two years, so they’re not starting from scratch in terms of understanding the area, which is a necessary trade-off of a so-called civilian surge into Afghanistan. This weekend, another USAID stabilization expert arrives in Helmand, with three more to follow in the coming weeks, and two other USAID employees will accompany Marine maneuver units this weekend. A USAID development adviser is scheduled to arrive on July 7. By the end of the month there should be 20 new USAID employees in Helmand and Kandahar, though I don’t have a breakdown of who’s going where or doing what.

These U.S. development experts are supplemented by contract and international partners. Between the British, the Danes and the Estonians, there are about 50 diplomatic and development officials in Helmand. USAID programs also employ what I’m told, according to a fact sheet that was emailed to me, are “30 expatriate technical advisors and 500 Afghan technical staff.”

I have no idea if this is a sufficient civilian complement to the Marines’ efforts in Helmand, but I doubt it. The USAID complement still sounds rather spare — there are, what, 4,000 Marines involved in the operation? – and the diplomatic component is even slimmer. Brig. Gen. Nicholson talks about Marines drinking tea and eating goat, and that’s a diplomatic burden they shouldn’t have to bear alone.

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