Posted By: Erica
In some conflicts, PRT involvement in humanitarian aid is essential because the area is too dangerous for civilian aid workers. Especially in the immediate wake of combat operations, only the military may have access to a civilian community. This is where things get tricky in war. While it is always the right thing for warring parties to support aid for civilians they harm, this aid does not always have to be directly given by the military. In fact, in some cases, military involvement may do more harm than good. It has the potential to blur the line between civilian aid workers and combatants, putting humanitarians at greater risk. It also may not be as welcomed by the community. As one United Nations officer (and former British military colonel) here told me: “Imagine you’re a civilian and one day the military comes in with their guns and blow up part of your village and the next day they come back, still fully armed, to hand you food and water.”
On a more practical note, military units likely will not have the training or resources to take on the many complicated and medium- to long-term humanitarian aid projects that are needed in post-conflict zones like Afghanistan. US units are only deployed for a year and many NATO military units are here for only 6 months — barely enough time to get settled much less learn the ins and outs of Afghan communities and the spiderweb of governmental and non-governmental programs available to work with them.
I received a harsh reminder of this a few days ago when I got a call about three recently orphaned children and the PRT that was trying to help them out — a story which I’ll share in the next posting.