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American Forces Press Service

Coordination Cell to Provide Focus, Expertise for Afghanistan Mission

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2009 – The new Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell being stood up at the Pentagon is working to ensure expertise developed during deployments to Afghanistan gets channeled directly back into supporting warfighters on the ground.

About 30 officers who recently returned from deployments in Afghanistan make up the core of the cell, which is expected to grow to 50 or 60 members in the coming months. Their sole focus will be on issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a senior military official told reporters earlier this week.

The staff was selected based on members’ expertise in areas ranging from intelligence to policy, plans and operations to logistics and communications, and works side by side within the newly renamed National Joint Operations and Intelligence Center.

“What’s different at the PACC is that we have people from every functionality throughout the military in one place and in one flat organization,” said a cell member who led reporters through a workspace dominated by low-walled cubicles designed to promote easy, close coordination.

“So when an issue related to Afghanistan or Pakistan comes up, we’re all right here, able to deal with it a lot faster,” he said. “We can sit down and look at it, and everybody brings their expertise so we can address the problem.”

To ensure this expertise doesn’t get lost through the standard assignments process, PACC members will alternate exclusively between deployments to Afghanistan and duty at the coordination cell.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command, said maintaining a dedicated team with a long-term focus on Afghanistan keeps those with the latest battlefield experience and expertise in the fight after they redeploy.

“Even when they’re back in the states, they’re staying in this, and then they rotate back out there,” he told the Center for a New American Society during its June 11 conference here.

“We’re a group of people who will be constantly focused” on Afghanistan and Pakistan, said an official at the cell. “We’re looking for continuity. We’re looking for focus. We’re looking for expertise. And we don’t want to do it one year at a time.”

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal came up with the PACC concept, based on a similar model that’s proven successful in Iraq, while he was director of the Joint Staff.

Now, as the top military commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal will benefit directly from the PACC’s talent pool, committed to breaking through obstacles to get him and his forces what they need -- as quickly as possible.

“We can’t wait a weekend to get something they need forward,” said an official at the cell. “This is about speed and precision. We have to move at the speed of war.”

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week the new cell’s focused support for McChrystal’s effort will have a big impact on advancing the administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

“Through the PACC, which will have liaison officers from other relevant [U.S. government] departments and agencies, real-time information on all aspects of U.S. operations and programs in the region will be shared, integrated and de-conflicted,” she said in written testimony submitted at the June 24 hearing.

Flournoy called the cell an important step toward developing more efficient and effective coordination -- within the military, and among U.S. agencies and coalition partners.

“We know that to succeed, we have to break down the stovepipes and artificial barriers that have, in the past, sometimes led to uncoordinated and ineffective action,” she told the House panel. “So we’re making sure that we are sharing expertise and cross-checking information all the time, at every level. That way, when we identify problems, we can quickly sort them out and move ahead.”

Three weeks after the PACC began standing up within the bowels of the Pentagon, cell members say they’re already seeing evidence that it’s making a difference.

Afghanistan experts are no longer tucked behind different doors requiring special classifications and authorities to enter. Now they’re able to lean across their desks to confer on issues face to face.

Staffing decisions are being cut dramatically. “What might take two to three weeks, we can solve in an hour-long conversation when we’re put in the same room,” an official said.

“We can be the catalyst. We can be the accelerant,” he said. “The PACC might not be able to solve all the problems, but we can find all the people who can.”

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