Stakeholder Engagement in a Combat Environment

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In June 2011, my Civil Affairs Team was sent to the Kajaki District, located in the Helmand Province of Southern Afghanistan along the Helmand River. The small base where we lived was located close to the Kajaki Dam and the District Governor’s (DG) compound. This hydroelectric dam represented a major source of stability since it was owned by GIRoA and provided power to Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The hydroelectric dam was one of the largest physical structures in the Helmand Province and was identified by USAID as a major project for upgrading the turbine capacity. However, before upgrading the dam, there were some problems to be solved.

Problem 1: Kajaki was a highly kinetic area with a historically strong Taliban presence. Afghans were used to Taliban rule and hearing anti-American propaganda. This created distrust with locals, and made relationship building efforts difficult for the CA team and the DG- especially with the local leaders (elders). The team identified this as a key grievance and knew this was an obstacle we had to help him overcome.

Problem 2: The Dam was owned by GIRoA, but several groups- Afghan, American and British- all had interest in its success which meant there were an abundance stakeholders. This also meant coordinating activities/ programs sponsored by these stakeholders- many of which would not be successful without local buy-in. 

Solutions

Solution 1: Later that year, I was relocated to the population center in an area named Kajaki Sofla to establish a Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC). At the CMOC, we engaged key stakeholders and discuss ways they could work better with GIRoA and ANSF, and ultimately help ensure a more stable future for the area. Once we formed those relationships, we were able to help bridge the gap between local leaders and the DG.

Solution 2: The team formed the interim District Stability Team (DST) which meant we were constantly traveling and working to coordinate visits from representatives from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT- British led), USAID, Dept of State, DoD (civilians), Army Corps of Engineers, Marine Corps G-9/C-9 and higher level GIRoA representatives. Based on the input of those stakeholders, we developed a short-term plan, that focused on governance and described long-term goals. We distributed the plan to stakeholders to coordinate activities and efforts.

Outcomes

Unfortunately, the Dam was never upgraded during my time there. However, violent (kinetic) incidents were significantly reduced as the relationships between Marines and Afghans strengthened. When I left, local leaders were working with GIRoA to discuss plans for long term projects and had developed strong relationships. With help from the PRT and GIRoA counterparts, the DG was able to sponsor:

  • Wheat Seed Distribution Program to local residents
  • Kajaki Sofla Health Clinic Project where we purchased medical supplies for local clinic and midwife (identified resiliency)
  • Kajaki Olya Irrigation and Water Distribution Project done with all local (unpaid) labor using machinery support from Marine Corps Engineers (water availability was identified as resiliency)
  • Emerging Business Program where we helped connect businesses and local service providers with Marines, GIRoA and ANSF

As I transition back to my role at A-G Associates, I can’t help but think about the work I did with my Afghan counterparts and hope for projects where the outcomes truly impacted regular, everyday people.

To discuss this topic more, please contact Chris Gonzalez at cgonzalez@a-gassociates.com

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