Civil/Military development assistance
In Afghanistan, Australia's strategic approach to aid involves
'interlinked diplomatic, development and military elements'.
Australia's mission brings together the work of these three elements with the
- train an Afghan National Army (ANA) brigade in Uruzgan province
to assume responsibility for security;
- help to train the Afghan National Police (ANP) to assist with
civil policing functions in Uruzgan; and
- strengthen the ability of the Afghan Government to deliver basic
services and to assist with capacity building in Uruzgan, so that the
provincial administration can in time also assume responsibility for civil
In the previous chapter, the committee described the combined effort of
DFAT, AusAID, ADF and the AFP in Uruzgan, particularly as members of the
Uruzgan PRT. While considering the positive results achieved through Australian
aid to date in Uruzgan, the committee also looked critically at some elements
of the effectiveness of this aid. The committee now turns to look at concerns
raised about the military's dual role in Uruzgan as combatants and as part of
the reconstruction team and the implications that ADF's engagement in
delivering assistance has for aid effectiveness.
Winning hearts and minds
In 2010, an evaluation by the Afghan Ministry of Finance noted that an
added complication to the effective delivery of aid stemmed from the widely
held assumption among policy-makers and practitioners that development
assistance could serve as a 'soft power' tool to promote stability and security
in Afghanistan. It found that this assumption:
...results in aid flow largely for protection of military
interests through hearts and minds win of people, argued to be required for
promotion of security.
AID/WATCH termed the military's engagement in such activities as the
'militarisation of aid'.
It saw this mode of delivering assistance as part of a broader trend to use
international development aid as a 'soft power' tool of foreign policy.
According to AID/WATCH, Western donors in Afghanistan have directed significant
components of their aid budget to winning the 'hearts and minds' of local
people in areas in which its military forces are operating.
Professor Howe and Mr Pryke explained that where the strategic objective is to
win hearts and minds through development assistance, the essential aim is 'to undermine
insurgency and build support for the existing, but threatened, government
and/or its international allies'.
Under the inquiry's terms of reference, the committee is not required to
consider in detail Australia's military combat role in Afghanistan. The ADF,
however, became actively involved in non-combat activities in Uruzgan intended
to assist local people to improve their situation, which was part of the
broader counterinsurgency mission.
Australia's counterinsurgency strategy in Uruzgan
Although significantly weakened, the Taliban did not formally surrender
after their defeat in 2001 and by 2005 there were troubling signs that their
remaining members and other extremist groups were reorganising.
Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan, which had fallen to a few
staff officers in headquarters, picked up again in September 2005 with the
deployment of a Special Operations Task Force.
According to Major General Peter Cosgrove:
Late in 2005 and early 2006, the pacification campaign in
Afghanistan was faltering and it was decided by Australia and a number of other
countries that they had to beef up the forces in Afghanistan. Being in on the
ground floor, so to speak in 2001, it was natural that Australia would provide
a bigger contingent the second time around.
Since 2006, the ADF has not only been actively engaged against the
Taliban, but has been working through its Mentoring and Reconstruction Task
Force with the people and Afghan security forces to deliver better services.
When Australia took charge of the Uruzgan PRT in August 2010, the ADF
was presented with increased opportunity to engage in construction projects in
Indeed, the announcement of Australian leadership foreshadowed a significant
escalation in Australia's overall contribution to development work in Uruzgan
and ushered in a new phase of Australia's engagement in the province. The then
Minister for Defence explained that Australia's larger part in the PRT was
vital to the entire Coalition’s efforts in Uruzgan—the heart of its
He noted that PRTs were:
...key to delivering the 'build' part of ISAF’s counterinsurgency
strategy of 'shape, clear, hold and build'. By mentoring and assisting local
officials, and by supporting economic and infrastructure development, the PRT
helps extend the reach of the Afghan Government in Uruzgan, and win the hearts
and minds of the people. The PRT is fundamental to the stabilisation efforts
across the province and the eventual transition of responsibility to Afghan
In this regard, Mr Brendan Sargeant, Defence, made clear that the ADF's construction
and development work 'complements its efforts to develop security across
Uruzgan'. The development activities help to create a safe environment in which
the ADF is able to conduct operations, which is a key part of the ADF strategy
in Uruzgan. He explained:
Development projects help to build relationships and goodwill
with the local population, increasing support for both the ADF and Australian
civilian agencies in Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that the ADF's reconstruction work on the ground in
Uruzgan has achieved impressive results. In 2010, local feedback to the TLO
Due to their more visible and hands-on approach, going out to
build schools and clinics, they [ADF] are generally considered to be 'more
serious' and productive when it comes to both development and security. This
leads to the overall perception that the Australian military is best about
delivering what they promise, and best about monitoring their projects. This
exemplifies that sometimes 'small is beautiful' as the Australians overall do
less projects than the Dutch, but their visibility and quality control gives
them a lot of credit.
Even so, this 'winning the hearts and minds' policy: this mixture of
combat and development activities drew criticism. Thus, while Uruzgan shows
tangible signs of benefitting from development assistance delivered through the
combined civilian-military-police effort, a number of reports, supported by
evidence from witnesses, identified a potential down side to the military engagement
in delivering aid.
The 2009 TLO report recorded that when the NATO-mandated Dutch troops,
supported by a significant contingent of Australians, took command of Uruzgan
PRT in August 2006, they entered a 'charged political minefield'—a deeply
divided and polarized environment.
At the time, the TLO observed:
The operations of international forces, often perceived
(rightly or wrongly) as heavy handed and culturally offensive by the local
population, has added water to the mill of insurgents' propaganda. The fact
that international forces are perceived as having made a number of wrongful
arrests over the last years as a result of incorrect or manipulated
intelligence has also contributed to a general feeling of discontent that
insurgents have been quick to capitalize upon.
The report found that this perception had 'led some communities and
their leaders to withdraw support from the Afghan Government and/or seek active
engagement with the Taliban'.
With regard to the ADF, the TLO observed:
The local population mostly perceives a contradiction between
the more 'hands off' Dutch approach of 'reconstruction where at all possible,
military action where necessary' and the more aggressive counter-terrorism
stance of the Americans troops. Australians are in between, supporting both
Dutch development efforts as well as providing Special Forces to the
American-led contingent in capture and kill missions.
Some argued that associating military aid with development assistance
not only created confusion in the minds of the local population but also
influenced their attitudes toward aid. For a number of witnesses, the problem,
however, went way beyond simply blurred understandings to actual behaviours
that compromised the delivery of aid.
Professor Maley, who described Uruzgan as a pretty tough province, was
of the view that the Australian military had done some very good work there in
terms of skilling local elements of the population and in construction
activities in Tarin Kowt.
He suggested, though, that there was very little evidence indicating that
developmental activity would win a political dividend for the Afghan Government
or its international backers. In his view, this was due in part to Afghans
rationally aligning themselves politically 'not on the basis of gratitude for
what has been done for them in the past, but rather on the basis of what
alignments are likely to protect their interests in the future'.
Indeed, he concluded that if a province or region remains unstable, the fruits
of reconstruction spending may prove negligible in the long run.
Nonetheless, the overall major concerns about the military providing
development assistance related to its potential to undermine aid effectiveness.
A number of witnesses questioned the extent to which the military's
direct involvement in delivering aid made a positive contribution to
development. Save the Children, Oxfam and World Vision referred to a growing
body of research that questioned the effectiveness of development assistance
implemented by military actors. It cited a 2010 study by a number of aid
agencies, Quick Impact, Quick Collapse: The Dangers of Militarized Aid in
Afghanistan, which reported:
...military institutions often lack the capacity to effectively
manage development initiatives, and are unable to achieve the level of local
trust, engagement and community ownership required to achieve positive and
Mr Denis Dragovic, who is familiar with working in conflict areas, wrote
that there was no basis for claims suggesting that improved development
outcomes had been achieved 'as a result of closer integration on the ground
between civilian and military personnel'. He stated further:
The unnecessary extension of the whole-of-government concept
to the coal face in a way that includes the establishment of PRTs and
Australian Civilian Corps personnel being seconded or integrated into military
units is largely driven by a misguided idea that cost and operational
efficiency across all levels equates to improved developmental results.
In particular, some witnesses referred to aid in Uruzgan as short-sighted,
'quick fix' projects that address immediate tactical concerns without due
consideration to longer term consequences—schools without teachers or
Distribution of aid
By the very nature of its combat role, the military tend to be
concentrated in areas of perceived, potential or actual insecurity. Professor
Maley observed that aid funds have a tendency to follow the military. He
This is a product of combining a 'whole of government'
philosophy of integrated operations with a military effort on the ground in
Afghanistan that is focused on counter-insurgency in unstable parts of the
south and east. The result (quite apparent, for example, in Australia's
involvement in Oruzgan) is that aid funds can be channelled into the least
stable parts of the country, with the intention of reinforcing military
achievements with reconstruction activity.
Professor Maley referred to this situation as a 'moral hazard' problem,
which could arise easily if developmental activity were designed to complement
the efforts of the military. Local people then gain the impression that the way
to get project funding 'is to create an atmosphere of ambient insecurity'.
The risk is that areas in which ordinary Afghans have done
their best to produce local security will be neglected by aid agencies, and
that this will send the signal that the way in which to secure aid money is to
generate local insecurity.
He also spoke of the uneven distribution of support on the ground that
does not necessarily reflect variations in need among the many PRTs in
Afghanistan due to the resources expended by the respective forces. As an
example, he noted that US-led PRTs had been generously supported by US aid
funds unlike the Romanian and Lithuanian PRTs. As smaller and less wealthy
countries, Romania and Lithuania were simply not able to marshal resources on a
Mr Jim McMurchy, who has visited Afghanistan four times over the last
five years, was similarly concerned with the military absorbing and tying aid
projects to their PRTs as part of the counterinsurgency strategy. In his view,
this practice blurs the line between humanitarian aid and military assistance:
Such aid projects tend to be short sighted projects, located
in the areas of greatest insurgency to gain the 'hearts and minds' of the local
population in an attempt to lure them from the fear or attraction of the
AID/WATCH, one of a number of NGOs highly critical of the military's
'winning hearts and minds' approach, also referred to the problem of military
aid causing distortions in the allocation of assistance towards regions
It stated that while militarised aid could advance the short-term tactical
goals of the military, in the long term it 'tended to intensify conflicts
associated with the war in Afghanistan'.
Some witnesses, including AID/WATCH, were concerned that projects may
not only produce immediate, quick-fix benefits but detract from the important
long-term development objectives or humanitarian matters. It noted that by
favouring projects that support the security objectives of ISAF, military aid
displaces poverty-oriented projects thereby overshadowing the 'goals of poverty
alleviation, self-determination and human rights.'
The mandate, for instance, to reduce the incidence of poverty
gets undermined by the relationship that the aid agency is required to
construct with the military in order to deliver the aid.
PRTS were singled out for this type of criticism.
Save the Children, Oxfam and World Vision drew on a body of research suggesting
that 'militarised aid' tended to focus on winning hearts and minds rather than
on poverty alleviation and may prove ineffective.
It cited a report that found:
As political pressures to 'show results' in troop
contributing countries intensify, more and more assistance is being channelled
through military actors to 'win hearts and minds' while efforts to address the
underlying causes of poverty and repair the destruction wrought by three
decades of conflict and disorder are being sidelined.
Mr Poulter spoke of the focus on stabilisation and strengthening of
government, which, although understandable, could divert attention from the
humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan for example the large numbers of displaced
It is important to note that the ADF does not receive money from AusAID.
Any funds spent by the ADF on development assistance is not ODA money allocated
to the ADF rather the ADF uses its own funds and resources when delivering
In Dr Bizhun's view, the military approach of winning hearts and minds
in Afghanistan had undermined institution building and state and society
relations. He gave the example of where a local community approaches a military
general who accedes to its request for important infrastructure such as a bridge.
Dr Bizhan argued that this military response to a community's request 'distorts
the relationship between the local government and the local community'. He
explained that when there is a problem with the project, the local community
will take it to the local government. According to Dr Bizhan, this 'quick fix'
practice ignores local institutions and is not a viable approach for
Afghanistan. He reasoned that bypassing local institutions removes opportunities
to build capacity and is not part of an exit strategy—it is more like a
AID/WATCH also referred to military development assistance creating greater
barriers to community participation in decision-making processes.
Risk of attack
Dr Bizhan also noted that while the military were looking to contribute
some visible outcomes to win the hearts and minds of locals, those visible
outcomes could also become visible targets for the insurgents.
Mr Poulter shared this concern that school buildings constructed with military
aid could be more susceptible to attack than those built by NGOs or by the
communities themselves with support from civil society.
Professor Maley similarly observed that if the military were engaging in
construction one day and in combat activities the next day:
...the real danger would be that the school that they may have
been building on the first day will end up being burnt down by the insurgents
because they see it as something which symbolises the activities of the
Mr Loewenstein acknowledged that in certain areas some Western forces have
provided positive outcomes but, from his experiences and conversations with NGO
and foreign NGO workers, he learnt that military aid carries danger. He
explained that a lot of the established health centres:
...were not very well frequented because of the sense that if
someone sees you going into that centre, whether or not you support the
occupation, the fear is that it is a very tribal culture and that people are
worried that they would suffer a consequence of doing so.
Save the Children, Oxfam and World Vision also noted that 'militarised
aid' could put beneficiaries at 'risk of attack'.
A more recent study came to the same conclusion finding that 'poorly conceived
aid projects aimed at winning "hearts and minds" have proved
ineffective, costly, and have sometimes turned beneficiary communities into
targets of attack'.
In addition, aid workers are exposed to the same dangers.
Risk to non-military aid
The TLO Profile noted that some aid organisations raised concerns about
Australian military forces directly participating in development activities,
which blurred the civilian-military lines and potentially placed other
non-military related organisations at risk.
This observation has relevance for PRTs. The TLO reported several NGOs
indicating that they 'tried to stay away from the PRT as much as possible, even
seeing the location of the airstrip inside the PRT as an easy way to tarnish a
It also mentioned that some NGOs were frustrated with the unwillingness of
international military forces to coordinate with NGOs.
A number of witnesses shared this concern about the military delivering aid
and spoke forcefully about the dangers it posed to aid workers operating in the
Professor Maley noted:
Many aid agencies are working cheek-by-jowl with military
forces, and face the expectation that their humanitarian and development work
will complement the security-building activities of the security sector.
He explained that a lot of Afghans will not easily distinguish between
military personnel who are engaging in a building project or in the protection
of NGOs doing development work. Mr Loewenstein noted that in an environment
where the military are delivering aid to local communities, 'NGOs and soldiers
become indistinguishable, a danger to the former'. According to Mr Loewenstein:
Resistance to the Australian presence will only deepen in the
coming years if we both deliver aid while at the same time conduct destructive
and futile night raids against supposed insurgents.
Mr Dragovic also highlighted the problems created by the cohabitation
and overt collaboration between military and civilian personnel, which, in his
view, exposed the 'majority of foreign aid workers, current and future, to
AID/WATCH similarly voiced concerns about risks to the safety of aid workers as
projects are drawn into existing conflicts and become targets.
It was also concerned about what it perceived as the 'progressive narrowing' of
the humanitarian space.
Dr James Goodman argued that:
...the humanitarian space is a space in which the aid agencies
exist and which they rely upon. If that humanitarian space is in any way
undermined then their mandate [to reduce the incidence of poverty] is
undermined and very directly the security of their people on the ground is
undermined and so is the effectiveness of the aid. The aid is tainted by its
political associations. So the humanitarian space is crucial for the
effectiveness of any aid program so that it does not get contradicted by what
may be seen as political goals.
NGOs that share this space also gave evidence before the committee. Mr Poulter,
CARE Australia, noted that people in areas where the military is delivering
development assistance sometimes perceive NGOs as part of a general 'Western
effort', which includes military aspects.
He stated that this situation 'can place our staff at risk on the field':
...as a humanitarian organisation we are there to respond based
on need alone, to try and work independently of the different armed actors and
to negotiate access to the areas to assist the most affected. In a situation
where there are military assets in an area there can sometimes be that challenge,
that you will be seen to be along with them. That is why we have a policy
around not working closely with provincial reconstruction teams, for example.
The committee notes and understands that neutrality is vitally important
to NGOs providing development assistance and humanitarian aid.
Dr Bizhan noted that the militarisation of aid in Afghanistan has 'been
one of the major challenges for development actors and foreign aid actors in
He did note, however, that there were areas where the government did not have
mechanisms to deliver aid or where development actors could not reach but where
military actors could provide assistance. He submitted that even though such
military aid made development actors a little sceptical, that kind of contribution
should be appreciated.
In its submission, the Australian Civil-Military Centre suggested that
the military and police must, in their planning, take into account that NGOs
and other actors may be providing similar support and that locals may perceive
them as having intentions associated with the military. It stated further that
military and police should be careful to distinguish their assistance from that
of humanitarian and development workers, so as not to put such workers at risk
of being seen as part of, or supporting, the military and police.
Defence's perspective on
civil-military relations in Afghanistan
Defence responded to the concerns that the ADF's 'win hearts and mind'
strategy overrode long-term development objectives. Mr Sargeant explained that the
ADF engaged in range of operational undertakings—fighting and stabilisation
activities—some of which, as part of a broader ISAF counterinsurgency strategy,
included the provision of aid projects. He accepted that they were likely to be
tactical because they would be conducted quickly on the spot in response to
local situations. This approach was in contrast to long-term capacity-building
development programs of the sort that AusAID would do. According to Mr
Sargeant, the ADF was in Afghanistan primarily to support the development of the
country's security by training the ANA 4th Brigade. As part of that, the ADF
involved itself in a range of activities including support for AusAID and the
provision of some projects categorised as development. He stated:
The criticisms make sense from one set of perspectives but
they also, in a sense, do not recognise the nature of the ADF mission and what
it is actually doing. It is very important to recognise that the ADF is not an
aid-delivery organisation in its primary mission. It has the capacity to do
some things which can be categorised as aid or project development because it
has those skills and capabilities.
Mr Sargeant also informed the committee that the ADF was aware of the
potential for military operations to compromise aid programs and that its
personnel worked with AusAID and international humanitarian organisations to
try to ensure that ADF's activities did not put aid workers in danger. He told
the committee that Defence adheres to international guidelines developed for
the use of military and civil defence assets to support humanitarian
organisations in complex operations.
He explained that the ADF tries to reduce the level of risk to non-combatants
and to ensure that innocent people are not caught up in the conflict. Even so,
One of the difficulties in this conflict is that it is a
civil war and that the enemy will exploit circumstances to try to persuade or
coerce parts of the population to either not cooperate with the government or
to support them. That is one of the unfortunate things that happen. In our
approach to it we try to avoid or minimise that happening, but it is part of
the nature of the conflict.
Mr de Groot explained that while Caritas agencies have very clear
mandates separate from those of the military forces in country, there is open
and transparent communication between them on all facets of safety.
Committee's previous consideration
The committee gave detailed consideration to civil-military engagements
in its 2008 report on Australia's involvement in peacekeeping. It recognised
that the failure to establish effective and appropriate civil-military
relations not only created inefficiencies but could also have more serious consequences
for the mission. The committee's findings on the ADF's involvement in
development assistance have changed little from 2008.
Clearly, the complex foreign policy space in which stabilisation and
development operations occur brings different pressures on the relationship
between humanitarian and security agencies. The committee recognises the
critical role of the ADF in creating a secure environment and the important
work of aid agencies in providing assistance in conflict-affected countries
such as Afghanistan. Together the military and civilian agencies create the
conditions necessary for rebuilding a state.
In some instances, due to the level of security risk or the lack of
existing infrastructure, the military may be the only, or the most able,
organisation in a position to provide humanitarian relief or development
assistance. The committee considers it appropriate that the ADF use available
resources, including the military's material and logistical resources and the
skills of its members where required, to meet local needs.
It also only makes sense for the military to try to build good, solid relations
with, and to assist where possible, the people it is protecting.
Nonetheless, it is clear that when engaged in humanitarian or
development work, the ADF needs to appreciate and respect the concerns of NGOs,
and be especially sensitive to the importance they attach to neutrality and
impartiality. On the other hand, NGOs need to understand the reasons the
military becomes involved in delivering assistance. Mutual understanding and
close liaison based on regular consultation, joint planning and training would
help the ADF and NGOs to resolve tensions. On a practical level, these would
also encourage a more economical, efficient and better-targeted use of
AID/WATCH argued that the extent to which problems with military aid
apply to Australian assistance was unclear due to 'a lack of transparency' in
aid delivered by the ADF.
In this regard, the committee asked Defence whether it had assessed its
development assistance and its effect on the safety of aid workers or those
intended to benefit from the aid. Mr Sargeant indicated that he was not sure
whether the ADF had undertaken such an evaluation.
The ADF has been deeply involved in delivering development assistance in
Afghanistan since 2006. The committee believes that the Australian Civil-Military
Centre has a clear and important role in assessing, evaluating and reporting on
Australia's civil-military-police activities in conflict-affected countries.
Australia's engagement in Afghanistan reflects a heavy commitment of personnel
and funds to help Afghanistan become self-reliant, yet it appears that it has
undertaken little research on the effectiveness of its integrated
civil-military mission in Uruzgan. The committee believes that the lack of
research and analysis is a significant weakness, especially in light of the
seriousness of the concerns raised in a number of reports and by witnesses to
this inquiry, including NGOs operating in Afghanistan.
The committee recognises that many organisations and individuals remain concerned
about the ADF's involvement in providing development assistance in Afghanistan.
As in 2008, the committee is convinced that greater attention should be given
to civil-military engagements of this nature in order to better understand the
effect of the ADF's involvement in delivering aid, how to mitigate any adverse
consequences and build on the positive.
The committee believes that Australia's mission to Afghanistan,
especially its pivotal role as leader of the Uruzgan PRT, warrants a
comprehensive and independent evaluation to determine its strengths and
weaknesses. The Australian people deserve to have a much better understanding
of the work undertaken by Australians in Uruzgan. Clearly, it is well overdue
for the Australian Civil-Military Centre to undertake or commission such a
review. With this in mind, the committee makes the following recommendation.
The committee recommends that the Australian Civil-Military Centre
undertake a comprehensive review of Australia's civil-military-police mission
in Uruzgan Province that includes taking submissions from NGOs, local NGOs and
civil society organisations working in the province. The scope of the review to
include whether, or to what extent, the ADF's involvement in delivering
development assistance in Afghanistan has:
- served counterinsurgency objectives;
- affected sustainable development by having short-term, tactical
influenced the distribution of development assistance with
more funds directed to insecure areas;
- diverted development effort away from poverty alleviation;
- placed facilities built with military aid, and those using
them, at increased risk from attack by anti-government forces; and
- undermined the perceptions of NGOs as neutral and impartial
thereby placing the safety of their aid workers at greater risk.
The committee also believes that it is important for the review
to consider whether Australian development assistance had any role in
empowering local individuals in Uruzgan and, if so, the lessons to be learnt
The committee now turns to consider a number of specific projects in
Afghanistan that have drawn particular criticism.
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