The Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan will soon augment his team with one of the senior-most officials responsible for implementing the civilian surge on the ground. Frank Ruggiero, who oversees 110 U.S. and allied civilians in southern Afghanistan, is set to become Amb. Richard Holbrooke’s deputy this summer, State Department officials confirmed.
Ruggiero is a well-respected career civil servant who’s worked with the Department of Commerce as well as the State Department, where he’s most recently been at the top of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs before heading to Afghanistan last summer. As part of the “civilian uplift,” Ruggiero has established and coordinated small teams of civilians in Helmand and Kandahar provinces known as District Support Teams to embed with NATO military battalions in order to assist Afghan officials with delivering services for local citizens in order to reduce the demand for the Taliban’s shadow governance. While the hundred-plus civilians on Ruggiero’s team is up from fewer than ten civilians in southern Afghanistan before Ruggiero arrived, the effort still dwarfed by the thousands of U.S. Marines, soldiers, NATO troops and still-arriving U.S. forces as part of the “extended surge” focusing on the south of the country.
Still, Ruggiero should be able to provide Holbrooke, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama with ground-truth visibility on the difficulties and possibilities of fostering credible, deliverable governance for Afghans in the south, a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. That’s especially salient since Clinton indicated today at a NATO conference that the civilian presence in Afghanistan will outlast the U.S. military’s post-2011 drawdown.