I.          IntroductionThe conflicts of the 1990s are often viewed as a departure from state dominated interests in favor of national or other interests and thus called “new,” “post-modern” or “residue” as distinct from the conflicts of the Cold War era. [1] The most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq represent another departure in at least two interconnected ways: first, the supra-nationalist or religious interests of non-state actors are challenging the dominant world system. [2] For the United States government, at least, this has resulted in renewed activism around the world in an effort to combat terrorism.  Second, the relationship between the military and humanitarians has been affected by renewed activism; most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq.  This second change is the focus of this paper.

In its present form, the high degree of interaction between the military and humanitarians is only slightly more than a decade old. [3] As such, the relationship can be viewed as productive and contentious.  On the one hand, the relationship has been formalized through various coordination mechanisms, doctrine, frequent correspondence and the establishment of centers and institutes.  On the other, the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq raise doubts about the cohesiveness of the relationship between humanitarians and the military.  These doubts call into question the perceived ground made during the last decade.

This paper sets out to address two questions: What are the previous broad lessons learned in the interactions between the military and humanitarian actors?  And, how were these lessons “relearned” during the recent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?  This paper does not contribute to theory nor delve deeply into the contentious debate over appropriateness of so-called humanitarian intervention or military humanitarianism.  Rather, this paper makes attempts to add to the discourse that has emerged between humanitarians, the military, and scholars.

The first part of this paper presents background of the recent military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Given the efforts made to improve civil-military relations during the past decade, the contention is made that this relationship has take “two steps back” because of growing discord between the military and humanitarians, continuing lack of security, and frustration over the lack of progress in what are thought to be “lessons learned.”  Second, five lessons learned in the relationship between the military and humanitarians is presented with a discussion of how each has been were ignored or relearned in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Third, based on experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, at least two emergent issues or “lessons” are discussed.   Finally, the conclusion suggests further steps in improving the way the military and humanitarians interact and presents several questions worth further inquiry.

II.        The Context of Afghanistan and Iraq

Before reviewing the situation in each country, it is worth discussing the wider setting.  To be sure, there has been enormous change since the attacks of September 11th (2001).   Many fields including economics and international relations have been altered in profound ways.  Economic downturn and renewed US activism overseas serve as clear examples. [4]

Yet what may be more significant is what has remained consistent.  In other words, many of the trends, modalities and lessons learned of the past decade are as germane today as they were before two years ago.  For the military, and America’s in particular, much has remained the same save its more active deployment schedule.  The strategies and tactics are consistent with many past missions.  While not without new challenges, most forces continue to conduct operations as they would before 9/11.

For humanitarians, much too has also remained constant.  In a background paper entitled “Humanitarian Action in an Age of Terrorism,” Minear articulates three elements that have stayed the same. [5] First, the problems faced by humanitarians remain largely unaffected.  These include gaining safe access to beneficiaries, mobilizing resources, and ensuring program sustainability.  Minear writes that “those challenges have not changed as a result of the prevailing constructs through which geo-political events have been understood.” [6] One particular problem that continues is the politicization of humanitarian efforts.  If the military enjoyed increased hegemonic control of civil-military relations in Somalia and Kosovo, argues Pugh, then the evolution of this trend can be seen as complete in Afghanistan and Iraq. [7]

Second, humanitarian organizations have not significantly evolved.  In this sense the world has changed faster than the institutions (whether political, military or humanitarian) themselves.  Indeed, many models used today, both in delivering aid and in fighting asymmetric wars, were developed during previous conflicts such as the Vietnam War.  Two years is simply not enough time for organizational change and development to occur.

Finally, many of the countries that are at the top of the terrorism “agenda” are the same for aid and military assistance in previous decades including Afghanistan and Iraq.  Afghanistan was itself a recipient of massive aid programs with the Soviets dominating in the north building damns and agriculture collectives and the Americans in the south with airports and other projects.  Iraq under Saddam Hussein, seen as a Cold War ally, received heavy military support nearly up to its invasion of Kuwait in 1991.  Minear notes that “what has been transformed is the optic through which the terrain and the prevailing objectives of outside intervenors are viewed.”  This situation presents a veritable minefield of issues such as impartiality and neutrality for humanitarians operating in areas next to the Coalition.


The initial phase of Coalition operations in Afghanistan may be seen in retrospect as a huge victory for combined and joint special operations methods and strategy.  Support to the Northern Alliance by special operations forces and air assets made the military difference.  The groundwork was laid for renewed hope among Afghans in less than three months following the September 11th attacks.

After the liberation of Kabul in early December 2001, the Coalition Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF) was established for strategic command of Civil Affairs (CA) assets.  At the tactical level, following the deployment of Special Forces operational detachment’s in key areas, the Coalition deployed Coalitional Humanitarian Liaison Cells (CHLCs – pronounced “chicklets”) in several urban areas around Afghanistan.  The CHLCs in many ways functioned as Civil-Military Operation Centers (CMOCs) but did not open “store front” offices as was common practice in the Balkans and other post-conflict situations.  The CHLCs often operated in civilian clothes and supported USAID by providing logistics and security. [8] The CHLCs performed a variety of tasks including assessments, information sharing, contracting projects and supporting combat operations.  Depending on their mandate and mentality, some humanitarians cooperated with the CHLCs while others kept them at an arms length. [9]

In the summer of 2002, as the mission changed from combat to one of supporting stability, the US government launched combined civil-military teams called Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). [10] These teams, comprised of several different military and civilian government staff, were first established in Gardez and expanded to select cities although none in the South of the country.  In many ways, the PRTs serve as a stop gap measure in areas where the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) [11] has not deployed and the nascent Afghan transitional government fails to hold sway.  The PRT’s presence is thought to add to security, but the teams are largely preoccupied with their own security with the hope that the embryonic Afghan National Army will assume more responsibility.

From the Coalition’s perspective, the PRTs have been a success.  As US Ambassador Robert Finn explains, “not many initiatives have been as successful in reaching Afghanistan’s population with the direct and immediate impact of the many projects carried out by the civil affairs teams associated with the Coalition Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force (CJCMOTF).” [12] This was supported by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who said “I, personally, and our country, our government, are very encouraged” by PRTs activities. [13]

Humanitarians hardly share a positive view of the PRTs in Afghanistan.  The PRTs have been roundly criticized for their mission, structure, and, now that they are in place, their lack of effectiveness.  A commonly held view among humanitarians is that the PRTs “have failed to tap local resources and have botched construction projects.” [14] Further, according to CA, “The teams operate in environments where nongovernmental organizations won’t,” but it is notable that they are in permissive locations like Bamiyan and Kunduz and not, as mentioned, in Southern areas such as Kandahar. [15] Perhaps what alarms humanitarians most is the banding together of military units, including those specifically tasked with routing out terrorist elements, and civilian officials from USAID.

There is a long history of humanitarian involvement in Afghanistan stretching back to the 1950s and 1960s until the present including the Taliban regime.  The structures of coordination were formalized through various means including the Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief established in the 1980s.  There are also large numbers of Afghan relief and reconstruction organizations – although the line between them and the commercial sector is not always clear.

During the most recent war, there were different access points for both military and humanitarians including Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other countries.  The US umbrella NGO, Interaction, placed a representative at CENTCOM in Tampa, Florida to share humanitarians’ perspectives and opinions.  As areas opened following hostilities, humanitarians moved their activities and offices into Afghanistan, sometimes after years of exile.  In certain locations, they continue to wait for areas to be declared safe.

Despite the success, there are lessons to be learned from a military-political point of view and perhaps none stronger than the realization that to secure peace is more difficult than winning wars.  Many, especially inside Afghanistan, feel that the stability is patchy, reconstruction slow, and the dividends of peace less than expected.  With the recent death of two Afghan humanitarians, continued factional fighting, and pervading warlordism, the strategic goal of securing a peace that lends itself to development in Afghanistan is far from complete. [16]


If the Coalition operation in Afghanistan was an achievement of specialized warfare, the offensive in Iraq was a reaffirmation of conventional military power.  The mission of regime change in Iraq is widely known.  Rather than trying to stitch together a devastated tribal society as in Afghanistan, the Coalition’s mission is to “de-baath” an educated, oil rich state. [17] While both countries are ethnically divided and prone to corruption, the level of complexity in Iraq is probably several times greater.  Yet, it is still too early, with almost daily attacks against Coalition forces, to assess the extent in which this success will be translated into a durable peace.

During combat, US Army Civil Affairs (CA) units were assigned to support conventional units.  They assumed a role supporting conventional forces in reducing civilian interference of combat operations, liaising with civilian agencies, and helping displaced persons as needed.  These units also played a role in finding civilian resources for military use. [18]

As a post-conflict country, Iraq is somewhat unique for its absence of the United Nations as a major presence.  For this reason, the Coalition fills an important role in organizing coordination meetings, identifying civilian needs and sharing information of a humanitarian nature.  Once Baghdad had fallen, the Coalition also implemented its own rehabilitation and humanitarian projects, usually through local contractors.  As happens in Afghanistan, sometimes these projects compete directly with humanitarian organizations’ initiatives.  Unlike Afghanistan, however, CA had prior experience working alongside conventional forces in Iraq.  Their role in the first Gulf War was similar to the most recent mission, but on a more limited scale. [19]

The civil-military structure of the US Army in Iraq is somewhat unique for its scope but followed established doctrine closer than in Afghanistan. [20] At the strategic level, the Coalitional Provisional Authority (CPA) has established the Iraq Assistance Center (IAC) in Baghdad to coordinate humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.  At the operational level, three Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Centers (HACCs) have been set up; one each in Baghdad, Jordan and Kuwait.

In addition to command and control, various tasks are accomplished at the strategic and operational level including compiling lists of active organizations and Iraqi contractors.  Sharing information is also a key function as many humanitarian organizations base themselves in the capital.  Initially, there were eleven daily, some redundant, “coordination” meetings conducted by the Coalition in Baghdad alone. By July, this number was reduced to a handful of meetings. [21]

At the tactical level, there are twenty-one Civil-Military Operation Centers (CMOCs); half of these located in Baghdad and the rest scattered throughout Iraq.  These centers provide CA with an on-the-ground presence and allows them to support directly brigade combat teams.  Unlike many of the peace operations of the past decade, CMOCs are located within fortified areas; with about half of them being co-located with headquarter units.  This arrangement met force protection measures but has been a trade off for reduced access to civilians.

For the time being, it does not appear as if the PRT arrangement used in Afghanistan will be replicated as the situation develops in Iraq.  The local context, with its educated and urban population and natural resource base, is simply different.  Currently, there are plans for “civilizing” the CMOCs, through recruiting and training Iraqis in its functions, and turning them over to district advisory councils.

For humanitarians in Iraq, the challenge is somewhat different from other recent crises.

Unlike Afghanistan, the presence of humanitarian activity in Iraq is relatively new.  Far fewer humanitarians have the depth of experience in Iraq as they might have in other crisis prone countries like Afghanistan.  Further, while fairly devastated by war and bad governance, Iraq’s infrastructure is relatively developed negating the need for many types of humanitarian projects. [22] While there are certainly significant needs, Iraq is not currently experiencing a complex emergency leaving many organizations with the decision of whether to stay in-country at all.  Add to this the suicide bombing of the United Nations headquarters on August 19th and continued violence in other parts of the country (such as Basra) has led to a perception that the Coalition is failing in its basic responsibility of providing a safe humanitarian space.

III.       Previous Lessons Learned

Problems can always be expected, but what frustrates smooth interaction above all is the repeat of lessons that are thought to have been learned from recent experience.  This is not a novel issue.  Fitz-Gerald and Neal write that “numerous examples of evaluation recommendations can be found that are repeated from operation to operation year after year with no apparent progress being made.” [23] Minear notes this issue as well:  “Problems encountered both within the humanitarian enterprise and external to it have frustrated the implementation of well-identified lessons from earlier crises….” [24] Five broad problems or lessons learned, [25] which are obstacles to effective interaction, are discussed here as they relate to recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

1.         Roles and missions may be at odds

One point agreed upon by both the military and humanitarians are the core missions of each; respectively, to win wars and to help alleviate human suffering.  While these two roles may seem to be at odds, they are not entirely incompatible.  There are examples of positive interaction, for example, where military resources have made a critical humanitarian impact, but the negative perception remains. [26]

In insecure environments, an important military mission is handled by CA and other units by fostering goodwill toward the military, and thus carrying out a force protection role.  Humanitarians have a fundamental need for the military to open (and keep open) access routes and create safe operating spaces.  This has been noted as “one of the biggest obstacles in the way of cordial civil-military relationships” in the lack of providing active protection of civilian populations. [27] To many humanitarians this would seem at least a half-failure in which the military has not as yet succeeded in creating a safe environment for even its own personnel to operate.

In Afghanistan, humanitarians banded together to forward concrete recommendations to the Coalition. [28] The resulting policy brief outlined a reemphasis of military activities such as arms collection and demobilization.  Where CA wanted to carry out civic-action projects on schools and health clinics, humanitarians often suggested they concentrate on security and fixing those things that were destroyed by the Coalition in battle. [29] The brief also recommended a de-emphasis on humanitarian activities by the Coalition:  “The military should not engage in assistance work except in those rare circumstances where emergency needs exist and civilian assistance workers are unable to meet those needs due to lack of logistical capacity or levels of insecurity on the ground. … All such work should fall under civilian leadership.” [30] For a variety of reasons, including a lack of donor and political will, these recommendations have not taken effect.

In Iraq, following the experience of Afghanistan, the debate about the justness of the war further muddied the water as many humanitarians took a strong stance against military intervention.  The military has made strides in its attitude towards “civilians on the battlefield,” but many early meetings between humanitarians and the military were sometimes touchy. [31] The postwar guerilla campaign to undermine the Coalition and the Provisional Authority efforts to improve conditions has shown a failure by some military decision makers to understand the complexity of the journalistic quip “winning the peace is harder than winning the war.”

2.         Humanitarian activities must be independent

Widely known and enshrined in international law, but not completely understood or implemented, independence of action and identity is a critical principle for humanitarians to maintain.  Yet, this is has been a contentious issue.  One reason is that the aid industry relies on the donor market place for its existence and many humanitarian agencies rely heavily, sometimes exclusively, on donor governments that may be party to the conflict. [32] Experience in Kosovo and other post-conflict countries are illustrative.  A “new aid paradigm,” as Duffield observes, came about in permanent emergencies where aid is often used by donor countries in lieu of political action and NGOs are simply contractors for government interests. [33] This is a struggle that does not affect the military who are themselves state actors.

A further manifestation of this issue is the blurring of the lines of distinction between humanitarians and the military in the field.  While this has proved less of an issue where conventional troops have been the main combatants, in Afghanistan it has been highly controversial.  Objections to soldiers wearing civilian clothing were loudly raised in various capitals.  One letter from humanitarians noted: “By pretending to be aid workers, armed forces are trying to have it both ways, to benefit from the protections accorded non-combatants [in international humanitarian law] while themselves remaining combatants.” [34] The type of vehicle is also a practical operational issue in this regard with some military units using civilian four-wheel drive vehicles.

3.         The military and humanitarian operate differently, leading to difficulties

There appears to be continuing problems at the most basic level with mistrust and apprehension on the side of the humanitarians and fundamental misunderstanding about the  capabilities and purpose of humanitarians by the (especially US) military.  Here are some illustrative examples.

First, there is mutual misunderstanding of how organizations are organized and funded.  Prior to the invasion of Iraq, for example, US government officials talked of “pre-deploying assets,” which seems to show a lack of understanding at a fairly basic level.  Further, military personnel also do not usually understand the sector specialization of humanitarian organizations unless the name of an organization clearly indicates what the organization does. [35] Humanitarians for their part often misunderstand military force mix and unit composition, thinking that skills and resources can be used for tasks for which they are not intended by military commanders.

Second, when existing structures exist, it does not mean they are easily used or understood.  As Beauregard observes, “military personnel find it confusing to seek structures analogous to military command among civilian agencies – that structure simply doesn’t exist” among the humanitarians. [36] In both Afghanistan and Iraq, those humanitarians who sought out Coalition CA did not always find it easy to do so because of the different levels of command.  Outside the capitals, this was easier to do but not always the case due to force protection issues or personnel being tied up with other activities – such as supporting combat operations. [37] Further, force protection means that many humanitarians cannot readily gain access to the military even when they want to achieve a mutual objective.

Third, communication difficulties exist on two levels.  On one level, basic terms often differ impeding communications.  The military has its own acronym-filled jargon just as humanitarians do.  CA personnel are taught one definition for “refugee” while there is different one common among humanitarians. [38] Humanitarians who arrived in Afghanistan, for example, familiar with CMOCs from other conflicts were confronted with CHLCs.  On another level, communication hardware systems differ. [39] Maps are not common and humanitarians rely on satellite phones and e-mail which CMOC’s do not necessarily have. [40]

4.         More “coordination” is needed

The call for more or better coordination has been widespread.  Rather than simply mandating more coordination, past recommendations have focused on increasing familiarity between the military and humanitarians through everything from exchanges to joint manuals.  But what is clear from the recent Coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is that a deeper, more results-oriented examination and follow through is needed.

The loose structure of humanitarian organizations and they way they operate, their very ethos in fact, does not lend itself to being tightly coordinated.  Military forces and humanitarians most often try to gain consensus between themselves through persuasion. [41] Persuasion can be effective on some level, although this is not a foolproof system as, for example, the aforementioned uniform issue in Afghanistan demonstrates.

While sharing of information and assessments are noted a key CA function by the military, [42] it is unclear how often humanitarians use this information or if it has been done in parallel with other organizations.  To facilitate information sharing, recommendations for models like combined CMOC and humanitarian information center structures have not been implemented in either Afghanistan or Iraq. [43] A common feeling among Afghans in many areas was one of “assessment fatigue” when village elders grew tired of questions from outsiders and wanted to see results.  A major function became “de-conflicting” activities between humanitarians and the military.

Regarding coordination during the conflict phase in Iraq, one relief worker remarked that “it’s been the normal zoo.” [44] In the post-conflict phase as well, humanitarians felt there were simply too many meetings in Baghdad without substance and so attendance dropped.  To their credit, CA adjusted their efforts and provided more easily understood security information and developed a comprehensive contact directory but a feeling remains that the modality and output could be improved.

5.         Cultural differences exist

Much as been written about the inherent differences between the military and humanitarian organizations and the resulting barriers to effective interaction.  These are widely known but worth briefly reviewing.  The humanitarian organizations, for example, are more or less horizontal while the military is largely vertical in structure.  Humanitarian operations tend to be assembled on an as-needed basis, whereas the military prides itself on planning and preparation.  Humanitarian organizations strive for transparency and accountability while the military seeks a positive public image but must control information to ensure its operational security.  Most fundamentally, the mandates differ so vastly between humanitarians and the military that interaction, let alone cooperation, makes them strange allies (when it occurs) in a conflict.

To be sure, major distinctions exist at the organizational level.  Pugh notes that “the NGO world is a fractured, fractious zoo full of weird and wonderful animals.” [45] Humanitarian organizations are hardly unified in their stance to Coalition activities, whether military in nature or not.  This can show itself through indirect support, tacit acknowledgement, or open opposition.  Among the military there has been an emphasis on combined and joint operations but each branch and even unit has its own way of achieving results.

Profound differences exist at the individual level as well.  Often noted are the dissimilarities of “do-gooder” relief workers with hippy lineage or who are ex-backpackers versus gung-ho and robust military personnel who follow orders while disregarding other considerations or common sense.  These stereotypes bear little resemblance in realty and the differences seem exaggerated by some researchers and practitioners.  A poll of humanitarian managers in either Iraq or Afghanistan might reveal that many have military experience. There are also former volunteers (e.g. Peace Corps or VSO) who are not intrinsically opposed to the military.  Military personnel in Western democracies are often well educated and normally have genuine humanitarian concerns while on operations.  Further, by design, CA units are comprised of reserve civilians facilitating amicable interaction with civilians.  To be sure, the truth of this issue is somewhere in between yet the issue remains.

IV.       Two “New” Issues

There are two additional issues that deserve wider attention: competition for resources and training of personnel.  These are not exactly “new” issues but have had a greater impact on interaction in Afghanistan and Iraq than before.

Competition for Resources

War and post-conflict situations are low-resource environments and therefore increased competition among stakeholders is a common phenomenon.  With the Coalition taking a more active role in sectors normally the domain of humanitarians, as has been the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq, clash seems inevitable.

Humanitarians and the military often perceive that the other has resources that outstretch their own.  Analysis, however, shows that humanitarians have few resources in comparison with the military.  According to the Coalition’s own figures in Afghanistan, for example, they “rebuilt 116 schools, 28 clinics and hospitals and 42 well and irrigation systems [were rebuilt this year].  The $10,653 million dollars they have spent has almost gone entirely to these projects: basic, no frills and essential work, mostly channeled into the hands of Afghan workers and Afghan companies for the benefit of many communities in all parts of the country.” [46] This work was largely done by local contractors and brings up the issue of cost-effectiveness given the ratio of dollar per project.  This point is in addition to the fact that military personnel cost far more than civilians to field.  The cost of military personnel, when both direct and indirect expenses are included, is vastly more expensive than civilians doing similar jobs. [47]

Humanitarians on the other hand, implemented thousands of projects across different sectors from delivery relief supplies to developing civil society.  “Many of the NGOs are going bankrupt but the military has lots of funds,” commented one humanitarian working in Afghanistan. [48] This feeling is verified by at least one CA officer who remarked, “one reason that some NGOs are upset with the Civil Affairs units is that they see us as rivals, competing with them for relief funds.” [49] A similar issue is the demand for human resources.  Potential local staff have been poached by Coalition units using higher pay as an incentive (although this is a classic problem experienced by NGOs in relation to the UN).  Well qualified Afghans and Iraqis, including doctors and similar professionals, not uncommonly work as translators, administrative assistants and drivers because of higher salaries.

Another aspect of this issue is military forces receiving funds from donor agencies that are set up to fund humanitarians. The US Department of Defense has its own humanitarian funding mechanism, the British funding agency (DFID) provided resources directly to military units for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.  Although this is a repeat of Bosnia where DFID (and its predecessor ODA) funded British forces civil action programs either directly or through contractors, [50] it is a worrying trend for humanitarians.

Of equal concern is continued under-funding. [51] While 20% of UN-requested global assistance for 2002 was requested for Afghanistan alone, [52] the commitment has been far below that and it shows in the field.  Similarly in Iraq, the recent donor conference in Madrid secured 33 billion (USD) worth of pledges, far below the 55 billion that was sought.  One way to remedy this situation is to reaffirm the primacy of humanitarian work.  Donor government agencies, who control most of the resources that contribute to post-war relief and reconstruction, should work with both the military and humanitarians to address this situation.  Allied with this approach is to implement a standard approach where military and humanitarian financial resources are not commingled and CA commits not to implement projects until all stakeholders reach a formal consensus.

Inadequate Training

The importance of training and preparation to the military has been mentioned.  Yet the training received by US CA personnel is inadequate and training for common soldiers is at best likely to consist of a single block of instruction.  For an organization that prides itself on training and preparation, this may seem unfair but this is certainly an area that deserves significant improvement.

In fact, the training issue is not an entirely new one.  A Cuny Center report calls for better training of uniformed forces to the standards of professional humanitarian community.  “In addition to enhanced training programs for DOD [US Department of Defense] staff – including web-based curricula, DOD should find more opportunities to mix armed forces staff with NGOs in their own training.  Because NGO staff are few and have little time for training, it is unreasonable to expect NGO staff to attend DOD trainings or exercises in any large proportions.” [53] Similarly, Gordon notes that the challenge for the British military is “to create a greater degree of expertise and institutional memory.” [54]

Trainees of the CA enlisted course are left with the understanding of humanitarians as do-good charities, which likely existed before their training.  Without adequate understanding of their role, humanitarian organizations are therefore often seen as assets to be used, controlled or coordinated in completing a mission.  The training does not include any instruction let alone discussion of, for example, the basic ideas of development or how activities can be best coordinated in the field.  The reason for this is, perhaps rightly, that development and reconstruction are seen as something that happens after CA leaves or is done by others like NGOs.  However, this distinction has been has been eroded in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At a higher level, the discourse within the US Army could use advancement and refining. [55] Basic issues like how to run a CMOC are rehearsed rather than improving the way in which they operate.  This level of training for CA personnel would not normally be an issue, except that development is exactly the activity they have now involved in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Their superficial training, and rudimentary understanding of how to provide assistance, makes CA susceptible to ill-conceived projects in the field and as the humanitarian field has learned, this can cause more harm than good.  Knowledge upgrades are necessary and officers should be given the opportunity to obtain educations in development beyond the training now available.

Specific to Afghanistan and Iraq, training for Iraq was described as a “cluster…” [56] which focused on common tasks.  Entering a combat zone, military common tasks are essential survival skills, but advanced preparation needed for mission success seems to have been ignored.   The need for operational security meant that CA personnel could not prepare themselves for the areas in which they would be deployed.

Further, while the civilian professional qualifications existing in US Army Reserve CA units is frequently touted, [57] in reality skills are infrequently matched with job assignment.  Qualified lawyers and city planners, for example, are not necessarily placed on government support teams. [58] The reasons for this may be based on “personnel reasons” where the assumption is that their CA training is the most important qualifying factor. [59]

For their part, humanitarian organizations need to continue and increase the training provided to their staff.  This requirement is already spelled out in the Code of Conduct, subscribed to by many humanitarian organizations, and the lesser known People in Aid code. [60] Board of directors should mandate training and senior managers should further develop their staff and mobilize adequate resources to do so.  At the industry level, training opportunities exist but should be expanded and strengthen instead of the ad hoc way done to this point.  Donors play an integral role in helping humanitarians develop professionally.

V.        Conclusions and Points for further research

The relationship between humanitarians and the military has taken “two steps back” following recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.  There are three reasons for this elaborated in this paper.

  • First, there is growing negativity in the interactions between the humanitarian workers and the military.  This can be seen as politically motivated in part but also focuses on very legitimate operational concerns including a blurring of humanitarian principles.
  • Second, there is a failure to provide basic security in Afghanistan and Iraq as witnessed by the continuing unrest in Afghanistan and the August 19th attack against the UN in Baghdad.
  • Third, there is frustration by practitioners over the lack of progress in what are thought to be “lessons learned.”

Over time, especially in light of the efforts made, it is normal to assume that progress can be made in improving the relationship between humanitarians and the military.  As Fitz-Gerald and Neal point out regarding the lessons learned of the past decade, “in many cases the recommendations require a major institutional change before action can be taken but the required change is not achieved.  The research indicated that the problem seemed to be the fact that people, particularly the more operational types, were not reading the evaluations or, if they were, just putting them on the shelves and forgetting about them.” [61] Although the humanitarian-military relationship has taken “two steps back,” the damage is far from irreparable and operations in the near future (perhaps starting with Liberia) may prove this.  The fundamental point is that the onus seems to be on the military to alter the way they operate in working alongside humanitarians.

Humanitarians, by definition and purpose, must maintain the principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality in helping those in need.  For their part, humanitarians should be open-minded (to the fact, for example, that Coalition forces normally make genuine efforts to better the situation) while remaining true to their personal and organizational guiding principles.

The military, on the other hand, has a much more singular purpose which is winning wars.  Provided that strategic, operational and tactical objectives are fulfilled, interaction with civilians can be carried out in various ways and not necessarily in its present form.  According to the Cuny Center report, the “DOD can’t improve its fit in humanitarian operations without first improving its memory, its recording of what its impact was.  A chief failure of DOD’s after-action reports to date is that they record the lessons of humanitarian activities using methods that are not rigorous, and which do not take into account the perspectives of achievement of other actors.” [62] Transformation within the military, as called for by some decision-makers, may help but this is yet to be seen and may be resisted by senior staff.

US Army CA and similar units have a value-added “force multiplier” combat support role.  Their overall mission is to first help separate or clear civilians away from battle areas to increase the efficiency of military operations, and second to build stability once fighting has stopped.  In Iraq, and to a lesser degree in Afghanistan, this seemingly dichotomous second mission has been complicated by spiraling violence and a blurred line between war and peace.  This has led to a reluctance of humanitarians to work closely with active combatants.    In fact, what seems to trouble many humanitarians is that CA’s role spans across the spectrum of conflict into peace.  “How can combatants be humanitarians?” was a frequent refrain among relief workers in Afghanistan referring to Coalition soldiers who went from shooting to fixing schools.  Yet, the “blurring of the lines” seems to be part of a larger trend in the humanitarian industry and so perhaps humanitarians need to find better approaches. [63]

At the least, what is needed is further dialogue and clarification between the military and humanitarians if the cycle of relearning lessons is to end.  For the military, this means a full reexamination of the way they operate.  And for humanitarians, rather than decreased dialogue, what is needed is a greater unity of effort and clarity of both core principles and operational issues.  Humanitarians might benefit from further codification or guidelines regarding their relationship with the military. [64] To be sure, flexibility is crucial and this is the likely reason more significant change has not been in place to date.  As Barry and Jefferys observe, such engagement is “not a shift to humanitarian minimalism, purism or isolationism – it is a clear affirmation of a commitment to the principles and values enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and in the Red Cross Code of Conduct.” [65]

Internal change within US Army CA will almost certainly be called for in the after-action reviews of Iraq.  Although it is unclear what the results will be, altering the organization, equipment (MTOE) and structure of CA will be recommended by some.  There is also a need for a larger number of junior enlisted CA soldiers.  “We just don’t have enough people to get things done” commented one officer. [66] Such changes may address some of the lessons learned outlined in this paper.

Just like humanitarian organizations, some CA battalions do well while others struggle.  These units can be personality driven to degree higher than expected.  This plays out in the field with some CA units facilitating humanitarian work while others might inadvertently compete in an attempt to do “some good” by implementing their own project.  Commenting on the next step for development of CA after the Iraq operation, one officer commented, “the best idea might be to scrap the whole thing, and contract it out.” [67]

In conclusion, there are several questions worth further analysis.  At the geo-political level, the main question remains how can the military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq be translated into durable peace?  To move the humanitarian-military relationship again forward, three significant questions deserve close examination.

First, what are the best uses of resources?  Collective thought should be devoted to determining results which can be translated into best practices.  This analysis should be comprehensive and take quality of outcome into account as well as quantity of output by both humanitarians and the military as well as other actors in relief and post-war reconstruction.  If the existing military units can not achieve its main mission, why devote so many resources to PRT’s?  There still seems to be room for the military to carry out civic action projects to gain good will at home while “winning hearts and minds” in theater, but the budgets given to Coalition forces seems to be out of proportion with these goals.  As mentioned, military forces are more expensive to field and it is this “overhead” that could be used to go directly to help those in need.

Second, an important consideration for the continuation of this discourse is whether people on the ground (notably local inhabitants, beneficiaries and other host country nationals) care about the distinctions between humanitarians and the military?  While there might be important legal considerations for distinctions between organizations, the line is not always clear in the field.  In fact, they often see them as one and the same especially in Afghanistan.  Those of the terrorist ilk, in particular, do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.  The way in which the last UN expatriate was killed in Afghanistan and the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad serves to illustrate this.  Yet, the discussion of the relationship between Coalition military operations and humanitarians working in the same areas rests firmly in a cosmopolitan discourse where nuanced differences over rights and responsibilities matter.  Barry and Jefferys seem correct in placing the primacy on the beneficiaries – “the civil-military debate needs to be realigned to center first and foremost on the people in need in a humanitarian response.” [68]

Finally, is the association between development and security becoming more complete? Do the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq represent a fulfillment of the new hegemonic paradigm?  In some ways, it is still too early to tell, but unless such massive interventions continue, it seems unlikely.  Liberia is one case in point where the current hegemon is still risk adverse and weary of its own power.  Therefore the lessons of the past decade are not now without relevance.


[1] See, e.g., Kaldor, Mary New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

[2] See, e.g., Chapter 2 of Fred Halliday’s Two Hours that Shook the World. London: Saqi Books, 2002.

[3] By the military, I mean specifically those belonging to Western democracies and mostly refer to the US Army and others, namely the British Army, in this paper.  US Army Civil Affairs units are discussed most closely in this article as the main point of contact for humanitarians in the field – but other forces are active in their area including the US Marines.  By humanitarians, I refer primarily to staff of non-governmental organizations (or private voluntary organizations) and some other organizations like UN agencies which implement programs in post-conflict settings.  For the purposes of this paper, the term humanitarian and “relief workers” can be used interchangeably.  I would separate donors, politicos and others attached to different international organizations because they are not strictly bound to humanitarian principles.  Private companies, acting as contractors for managing large bilateral rehabilitation programs, have received much business in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  While these are seen as a way to reduce the cost of government and efficiently implement reconstruction grants, they may lack the principled and community-based approaches necessary for viable development.  While a debate for further research, the increased use of contractors may represent a step toward the now debunked “old style” development.

[4] See, e.g., Jervis, Robert “The Compulsive Empire,” Foreign Policy, Vol 137, July-August 2003, pp. 83-87.

[5] Minear, Larry, “Humanitarian Action in an Age of Terrorism: Background Paper International Expert Conference,” accessed 15 July 2003 http://hwproject.tufts.edu/publications/abstracts/haat.html May 2002, pp. 3-6.

[6] Op Cit.

[7] Pugh, Michael, “Civil-Military Relations in Peace Support Operations: hegemony or emancipation?”, London: ODI, February 2001, p. 2.

[8] See, e.g., Morris, Tim “Civil-military relations in Afghanistan” Forced Migration Review #13, accessed 9 August 2003 http://www.fmreview.org/1frames.htm  p. 14.  This is also based on this author’s observations in Afghanistan.

[9] Personal observation.  In Kunduz, for example, the Coalition was “uninvited” to area NGO meetings.  In Kabul, the CJCMOTF held its own meetings which few NGOs attended while ISAF CIMIC attended UN weekly coordination meetings.

[10] The PRTs were at first called “provisional reconstruction teams.”

[11] ISAF, of course, has its own civil affairs (CIMIC) units which carry out assistance projects and other activities within their area of responsibility in and around Kabul.  Only on 13 October 2003 has ISAF finally been approved to operate country-wide.

[12] Speech made at a ribbon cutting at the Kabul Medical Institute, accessed 17 July 2003, http://usembassy.state.gov/posts/af1/wwwhsp021023.html October 23, 2002.

[13] CNN, “Donald Rumsfeld Addresses Reporters,” accessed 17 July 2003 http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0304/26/se.02.html, 26 April 2003

[14] Zeller, Shawn, “Activist attacks U.S. military relief effort in Afghanistan,” accessed 17 July 2002 http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0503/051303sz1.htm  13 May 2003

[15] Garamone, Jim “The Alamo in Afghanistan,” American Forces Press Service, accessed 5 August 2003, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2003/n07312003_200307313.html. and Low, Christian, “Nation Building: US Civil Affairs troops are working in post-war Afghanistan right now.  They’ll soon see action in Iraq.” Army Times, 6 June 2003.  Civil Affairs teams, it is noted, “will act as middle men–and women–to help get contractors in and construction projects done for local villages.”

[16] This from a 14 August 2003 interview with Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid, BBC televised interview

[17] It is true that Iraq is in many ways a tribal society.  Scott Ritter provides a brief overview in Chapter 3 of his Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.  See also Dunnigan, James, “Winning the Peace in Iraq,” accessed 15 August 2003 http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/20030307.asp  4 March 2003.

[18] McConnell, Kathryn, Washington File, “Goal of Army Civil Affairs Unit is Minimal Uprooting of Iraqis,” accessed 15 August 2003, http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq. See also US Army Field Manual 41-10 Civil Affairs (2000), which details the different tasks which Civil Affairs may undertake, including “dislocated civilian planning” in Appendix B in different levels of conflict intensity.

[19] See, e.g., Nash, Douglas “Civil Affairs in the Gulf War: Administration of an occupied town,” Special Warfare, October 1994 pp.18-27

[20] Actually, modern Civil Affairs units trace their lineage to the closing phases of the Second World War with massive civilian displacement and reconstruction was needed.  At that time, entire CA divisions were formed and carried out many of the same missions they are tasks with in Afghanistan and Iraq.  For a short historical overview see, e.g., Gordon, Stuart, “Understanding the priorities for civil-military co-operation” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, accessed 15 August 2003, http://www.jha.ac/articles/a068.htm, 13 July 2001.

[21] A list of their meetings is available on the CPA website.

[22] Before the recent war, an estimated 60% of Iraqi’s relied on food provided through the UN and its oil-for-food program.  To operate in Iraq while it was under sanctions, US-based humanitarian organizations had to obtain licensed permission (OFAC) from the US State Department.  Some organizations were active, especially in Kurdish areas, but the coordination structures and level of experience among staff is less than found in many other countries.

[23] Fitz-Gerald, A., and Neal, D. “A Strategic Management Framework for Improved Aid Delivery” Unpublished paper. 2003, p. 7

[24] Op. Cit., p. 8

[25] Beauregard notes that six principle factors have hampered civil-military cooperation and coordination: varying cultures and ideologies, organizational structures, communication breakdowns, independence of NGOs, impartiality, and use of force.  My list is slightly more concise but concurs with his thesis.  Beauregard, Andre “Civil Military Relations: Lessons from Somalia, the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda” Ploughshares Monitor, December 1998, accessed 10 Jul 03 http://www.ploughshares. ca/content/MONITOR/mond98g.html.

[26] The post-Gulf War I Operation Provide Comfort to assist Kurds where the military arrived more or less first and provided much of the direct assistance seems to be an exception rather than the rule.  See e.g. Davidson, L., Hayes, M., and Landon, J. “Humanitarian and Peace Operations: NGOs and the Military in the Interagency Process” Washington: NDU Press Book, accessed 3 July 2003, http://www.dodccrp.org/ngoIndex, December 1996.

[27] Ibid. Gordon.

[28] Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief. “ACBAR policy brief: NGOs concerns and recommendations on civil-military relations,” accessed 25 July 2003 www.reliefweb.int, 7 Dec 2002

[29] One particular exchange is highlighted in by Larry Minear (Ibid. p. 11) in which a CA officer asked an operational NGO for assistance with a project and the organization’s manager reaffirmed his view on their respective roles.

[30] It continues, “This is essential to ensure that (1) it is founded on the knowledge and experience of the assistance community in Afghanistan, (2) it integrates effectively with existing civilian-led assistance coordination efforts, and (3) it is driven primarily by the aim of achieving long-term positive impact for Afghan communities.”  Ibid.

[31] Unattributable interview with a Civil Affairs officer 1 August 2003 in Baghdad.

[32] USAID’s Administrator, Andrew Natsios, recently used an Interaction meeting to chide the heads of member organizations for operating too far outside US foreign policy objectives.

[33] Duffield, Mark, “NGO Relief in War Zones: Toward an Analysis of the New Aid Paradigm,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1999, pp. 527-542.

[34] These have even been white as observed by this author in Sierra Leone, among other places, in March 2003. Editor’s “Letter Critiques US Military Dress in Afghanistan” accessed 12 August 2003, http://www.humanitariantimes.org /article.php?sid=101 ,12 May 2002.

[35] This is a generalization, but names like International Medical Corps and Save the Children serve to illustrate the point.

[36] Siegel, Adam, “Civil-Military Marriage Counseling: Can this Union Be Saved?” Special Warfare, December 2002, p. 30

[37] Author’s personal observation in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

[38] Although this may have been corrected, this was true of the enlisted basic civil affairs course in 2001.

[39] Ibid. Beauregard

[40] This was the case in Iraq in August 2003 and earlier in Afghanistan.  Interestingly, the Coalition provided mobile cellular phones at no cost to many humanitarians in Baghdad.

[41] The UN official Antonio Donini distinguishes between three types of coordination; from strong “by command,” loser “by consensus” and “by default.”  See his “The Policies of Mercy: UN Coordination in Afghanistan, Mozambique, and Rwanda” Occasional Paper #22, Providence, R.I.: Watson Institute, 1996.

[42] See, e.g., Joint Publication 3-07, Joint Doctrine for Military Operations Other Than War, June 1995, p. IV-6

[43] Recommendation made in August 2000 US Institute of Peace Workshop entitled “Taking it to the Next Level: Civilian-Military Cooperation in Complex Emergencies” accessed 26 August 2003 www.usip.org/virtualdiplomacy/activities/ vdiplo-share/cmcice.html

[44] Unattributable telephone interview with humanitarian manager 6 July 2003.

[45] Ibid. Pugh p. 2.

[46] US Ambassador Robert Finn Speech made at ribbon cutting at Kabul Medical Institute, accessed 15 July 03 http://usembassy.state.gov/posts/af1/wwwhsp021023.html 23 October 2002

[47] Ibid. Siegel.  See also, the Stimson Center report, www.stimson.org, which costs the yearly price of a US soldier in Afghanistan at US$215,000 while humanitarians usually cost a tenth of this.

[48] Ibid. Zeller.

[49] Kennedy, Harold “Pentagon Broadens Duties for its Civil Affairs Teams” National Defense, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/article.cfm?Id=1034, February 2003

[50] See e.g. Gordon, Stuart, “Understanding the priorities for civil-military co-operation” The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, http://www.jha.ac/articles/a068.htm, posted 13 July 2001

[51] According to several sources, during the first year of Coalition operations in Afghanistan October 2001 to October 2002, over $10 billion went to military operations while $1.16 billion was spent on humanitarian relief and $0.37 billion for reconstruction.  The dollar amount per person in Afghanistan has been a fraction of other recent crisis including East Timor and Rwanda.  See, e.g., “Not a Dress Rehearsal,” The Economist, 16 August 2003, pp. 41-43.

[52] Ibid. Minear p. 7

[53] Accessed at 22 August 2003 http://www.thecunycenter.org/publications/greaterefficiency.pdf, p. 119

[54] Ibid. Gordon.

[55] Several articles found regarding Civil Affairs at the Center for Army Lessons Learned (available at http://call.army.mil/Products) illustrate this point.

[56] This was the sentiment of several personnel spoken to in Baghdad.

[57] Ibid. McConnell.

[58] Unattributable interview, 1 August 03 Baghdad

[59] Telephone Interview 26 July 03

[60] This code is available at www.peopleinaid.org.uk

[61] Ibid. Fitz-Gerald p. 7

[62] Ibid. p. 118

[63] As noted by David Lewis of the LSE: “There are many blurred lines in this new world – corporates and academics, many aware of funding opportunities and the legitimacy conferred by NGO status are starting to work as NGOs.” Ensuring the Independence of NGOs in New Funding Environments.  Accessed 3 Aug 03, http://www.bond.org.uk/futures/independence. 13 Dec 1999.

[64] Many organizations have forwarded guidelines for the way in which humanitarians coordinate with the military but there is no single accepted policy.  Perhaps the most widely known is that of the Red Cross which states that, “we will never knowingly – or through negligence – allow ourselves, or our employees, to be used to gather information of a political, military or economically sensitive nature for governments or other bodies that may serve purposes other than those which are strictly humanitarian, nor will we act as instruments of foreign policy of donor governments.”  Available at http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/conduct/code.asp.   The UN drafted the so-called “Oslo Guidelines” in 1994 to establish some basis for interaction between UN and government militaries, see “Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defense Assets in Disaster Relief” Project DPR 213/3 MCDA, UNDHA-Geneva, www.reliefweb.int, May 1994.  Some bilateral governments have established their own recommendations including the Australian aid agency ACFOA in 2002, available at   http://www.reliefweb.int/w/lib.nsf/libHome?ReadForm&Query=libByKeyword_7&cat=Civil+and+Military+Cooperation. OXFAM, among others, drafted its own position paper outlining its stance regarding military forces carrying out what would normally be humanitarian tasks in Iraq.  See “Iraq: Humanitarian-Military Relations,” Oxfam Briefing Paper 41, available at www.oxfam.org.uk/policy/papers/41iraq/41iraq.html.

[65] Barry, Jane and Jefferys, Anna “A bridge too far: aid agencies and the military in humanitarian response” Humanitarian Practice Network, Overseas Development Institute, Jan 2002, p. 15

[66] Unattributable interview, 1 August 2003, Baghdad.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Op. Cit., Barry p. 15

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