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Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook

Handbook 11-03
December 2010

CALL Handbook 11-03: Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Handbook

Chapter 2 - Concept

The provincial reconstruction team (PRT) concept envisions an integrated civil-military organization expanding the reach of the U.S. government and the wider international community assistance efforts from the environs of the capitol to the provincial level and to the local community. A PRT is generally responsible for covering one province but may have responsibility for two or more provinces or a large segment of a single province.

The PRT seeks to improve the governing capacity of the host nation. PRTs perform a vital role in occupying the vacuum caused by a weak government presence and hence deter agents of instability. The PRT focuses on three elements of stabilization and reconstruction:

  • Assists the establishment and improvement of local government - including its connection to the central government and local populace - by advising and empowering stakeholders, legitimate governing bodies, and tribal leadership.
  • Increases provincial stability by working closely with the international military presence, and assists in developing nascent host-nation security and rule of law capacity.
  • Facilitates reconstruction that begins to:
    • Provide basic services.
    • Provide an economic system that supports the people.
    • Gain popular buy-in for change and support of the representative government.
    • Ensure popular expectations for international assistance are met or abated.

The PRT's role is to ensure international efforts are in line with the host nation's development intentions and, in doing so, assess and, if possible, mitigate the constraints to development. As the security environment improves, the PRT is intended to phase out as stabilization and reconstruction programs shift to longer-term development programs. The PRT ceases to exist when normal development operations can be carried out without its assistance. This evolution in execution of the PRT mission requires a change in focus and an increased number of civilians with core competencies to address the development aspects of stabilization and reconstruction.


Operations are dynamic and may not progress in a linear manner. Different parts of a country may require different combinations of offensive, defensive, and stability operations to transition from violent conflict toward stability and ultimately to peace. Full-spectrum operations involve simultaneous combinations of offense, defense, and stability operations.

The components of full-spectrum operations are not considered phases. Commanders consider the concurrent conduct of the components of full-spectrum operations in every phase of an operation. As the operational focus shifts from predominantly offensive and defensive to predominantly stability tasks, operational gaps can exist that prevent the development of an indigenous capability and capacity that supports the country's transition to peace and stability. Areas of the country can get "stuck" in instability, and the danger exists that they may "slip back" into open hostilities if security forces are removed. Ideally, stability operations in these areas lay the groundwork for long-term transformational development efforts designed to ensure the area does not slip back into instability or violent conflict (see Figure 2-1).

The inability of most actors, other than the military, to operate in unstable areas can contribute to operational gaps that lead to an area getting stuck in instability. In order for the military to transfer responsibility for an area (i.e., exercise its exit strategy), it must deliver some level of stability. Moving these areas further along is more appropriately conducted by civilians. While such expertise does reside in diplomatic and development agencies, many of these agencies are unable to operate in these areas using their traditional delivery mechanisms because of the instability. Exceptions would be some nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that traditionally operate in unstable security environments.

PRTs were devised as a mechanism that could solve this problem. Because of the combined capabilities of the diplomacy, military, and development components, PRTs are able to stabilize these areas. When the capabilities brought by the military component of the PRT are no longer needed, the military component can withdraw, and the diplomatic and development components can revert to more traditional means to pursue their aims. This process is gradual. PRTs in more unstable areas may require the capabilities of the military component for longer periods of time. In stable areas, where security is sustainable by the local government and civilian agencies are capable of accomplishing their tasks without military assistance, PRTs can and should begin to draw down their military component.

Graphic showing elements of PRT focus - misison focus, essentail ask, elelments of external influence
Figure 2-1

The PRT is an interim structure designed to help improve stability by building up the capacity of the local government to govern; enhance economic viability; and deliver public services such as security, law and order, justice, health care, and education. Once the PRT stability objectives have been fulfilled, its mission is complete, and the PRT structure can be dismantled.

PRTs are extremely expensive in terms of personnel, maintenance, and activity costs. Therefore, it is incumbent on the embassy country team, military chain of command, troop-contributing nations, participating agencies, and PRT leadership teams to keep PRTs focused on their ultimate goal and avoid all activities that do not directly contribute to accomplishing their mission.


Once the PRT is established, the leadership must gain access to local power centers and assess the environment to determine the issues the PRT should address, as well as the challenges and obstacles impacting on these issues. A PRT develops plans to achieve desired effects within the environment. The civil-military team, using the core competencies provided by Department of State, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, and other agencies, should complete both assessment and strategy developments. The PRT develops an implementation plan guided by the provincial stability strategy, based on a realistic time frame, for the anticipated tenure of the PRT and the dynamics of the area of responsibility (AOR).

Successive PRT leaders continue to adjust the implementation plan based on the changing nature of the AOR. The PRT's plan should take into account other development strategies at work in the AOR. Those strategies might include work by other U.S. government-affiliated groups, international organizations, and efforts of the host government. The plan should also attempt to leverage, rather than counter, reconstruction and development efforts in adjacent provinces or regions.

The optimal situation is to have a plan, owned and at least in part drafted by the PRT's local interlocutors, that supports a local strategy for the province. The civil-military team reviews the assessment, strategy, and implementation plan at regular intervals. This process of active review ensures that the civil-military team achieves a common operating picture of the AOR and a common vision on how to affect the environment, which in turn provides for unity of effort within the PRT and with other PRTs. The PRT determines its resource needs based on the assessment and the subsequent plan it develops. PRT leaders should identify issues that are beyond their capacity to successfully affect and request assistance, as necessary, from the embassy country team, higher military headquarters, or both. PRT leaders should review how their plan will support or enhance national programs.


The primary activities of the PRT are to conceive, plan, coordinate, and execute reconstruction and initial development projects and programs. Though PRTs are not development institutions per se, PRTs should adhere to the following principles to the extent possible.

Focus on stability

The missions and objectives of the PRT are based on the environment in which the PRT is operating. However, stability must be a key aspect of any PRT mission statement. Though context and constraints of the environment remain dynamic, only by achieving a specific level of stability will the PRT be able to "exit" and more traditional actors take its place.

Fill the gaps

PRTs were created because of the lack of local capacity within government and traditional governing bodies. As local governance structures, traditional authorities, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), the private sector, and other entities gain capabilities and effectiveness, the responsibilities of the PRT will shift and potentially shrink to mentoring, advising, and training. The PRT will do everything that is not being done by these other entities to advance stability, short of being the government. It is extremely important to link all PRT actions to governing bodies and local institutions as much as possible. Balance is the key; it may be preferable to have a local solution that is less optimal than a PRT solution.

Coordinate and integrate

The PRT should seek to create conditions that allow these other entities to continue to increase their capacity, effectiveness, and presence. To do this effectively and efficiently, the PRT should coordinate and integrate with the goals, plans, strategies, and activities of all stakeholders at all levels of government, civil society, private sector, traditional governance structures, IGOs, and NGOs. At times, this process may conflict with the desire to achieve quick results and successes. As host-nation governing bodies gain capacity and effectiveness, the PRT should cede responsibility for what has to be done.

Focus on effects, not outputs

As with any diplomatic, defense, or development institution, there is a danger that PRTs may fall prey to pressure to deliver immediate but inappropriate proxy indicators of progress, including number of projects completed or quantity of funds expended. Perhaps what is not so clear is that some indicators that are considered effects within the development community are really only outputs for a PRT. For example, the development community may consider an increase in literacy or a decrease in child mortality to be an effect.

Unity of effort

Unity of effort requires coordination and cooperation among government departments and agencies, with NGOs and IGOs, among nations in any alliance or coalition, and with the host nation. Unity of effort in an operation occurs vertically and horizontally for all involved chains of command. Its source is the nation's will, and it flows to individuals at the point of activity. Without unity of effort, the probability of success for any endeavor is diminished and the chance resources are wasted.

Within the PRT there are often various agencies with differing mandates that are generally comfortable with their way of doing business. There is considerable potential for friction and competing agendas. If not directly addressed and managed by the PRT leadership and its higher management authority, the results may hinder the process, delay completion of objectives, or contribute to total failure of the mission.

The integration and alignment of civilian and military efforts are crucial to successful stability and reconstruction operations. PRTs must focus on supporting the host nation's local governments and the populace across the stabilization and reconstruction sectors. This support requires balancing an emphasis on nonmilitary programs with the measured use of force.

Political, social, and economic programs are most commonly and appropriately associated with civilian organizations and expertise. However, effective implementation of these programs is more important than who performs the tasks. Civilian organizations bring expertise that complements that of military forces. At the same time, civilian capabilities cannot be employed effectively without the security that military forces provide.

Effective PRT leaders understand the interdependent relationship of all participants - military and civilian. PRT leaders must orchestrate their efforts to achieve unity of effort and coherent results. If adequate civilian capacity is not available, military forces may be required to fill the gap. Reconstruction programs for political, social, and economic well-being are essential to achieving stability and developing the local capacity that commands popular support. To effectively work together, PRT planners should consider the following:

  • Know the roles and capabilities of the United States, NGOs, IGOs, and the host-nation government.
  • Include other participants, particularly host-nation partners, in planning at every level.
  • Support civilian efforts, including those of NGOs and IGOs.
  • Conduct, facilitate, or participate in political, social, informational, and economic programs.

Continuity of operations

Continuity of operations is the degree to which there is continuous conduct of functions, tasks, or duties necessary to accomplish a mission. It includes the functions and duties of the team leader as well as the supporting functions and duties performed by members of the team.

PRTs can require a significant amount of time to effect change within an area or province. The various agencies involved in providing team members must ensure there are not gaps in functional coverage or a wholesale turnover of personnel over long deployments. Either of these will result in the PRT losing valuable understanding of the environment and could affect relationships with the local government and the people as a whole. Try to avoid rotating leadership positions (team leader and deputy team leader) at the same time. Have their changeovers scheduled by their parent department or agency to ensure continuity of interface with local leaders.


The components of a PRT are adaptable to any situation, from immediate post conflict with no governance structure (PRTs will not act as a government structure) to an unstable but developed structure requiring assistance. This flexibility is essential for PRTs to be effective across the full spectrum of potential situations requiring interagency and multidisciplinary coordination and cooperation. Flexibility in the PRT framework facilitates scalability of management and response activities.

Guiding Ideals

  • Ownership. Build on the leadership, participation, and commitment of a country and its people.
  • Capacity building. Strengthen local institutions, transfer technical skills, and promote appropriate policies.
  • Sustainability. Design programs to ensure their impact endures.
  • Selectivity. Allocate resources based on need, host-nation goals, local commitment, and foreign policy interests.
  • Assessment. Conduct careful research, adapt best practices, and design for local conditions.
  • Results. Focus resources to achieve clearly defined, measurable, and strategically focused objectives.
  • Partnership. Collaborate closely with provincial and local governments; communities; donors; local representatives of NGOs; local representatives of IGOs; and any other economic, agricultural, or entities.
  • Flexibility. Adjust to changing conditions, take advantage of opportunities, and maximize efficiency.
  • Accountability. Design accountability and transparency into systems, and build effective checks and balances to guard against corruption.


Execution of the mission should be designed around reaching the objectives. Key steps are understanding designated tasks and the intent provided in higher-level direction. In general, most objectives will require efforts across multidisciplinary programs. For instance, achieving a desired effect may require: (1) political leverage on the government (local and/or central); (2) economic or development projects to mitigate the impact of a desired outcome; or (3) increased U.S. government security presence or support to host-nation forces to deter potential violence. Given the integrated capacity of a PRT, they are well-situated and should be fully resourced to achieve the following objectives:

  • Improve stability. Determine the causes and means of conflict, including resource competition, tribal/ethnic clashes, insurgency, criminal elements, and political instability; identify the triggers or opportunities to instigate conflict; determine ways to affect the causes and triggers; identify ways to mitigate or resolve the conflict; increase capacity of civil society and legitimate traditional processes to adjudicate and deter conflict.
  • Increase local institutional capacity. Build individual, organizational, and structural capacity to provide public safety and basic services such as sewage, water, electrical, trash-health. Where relevant, tie legitimate, informal governance (traditional) leaders to nascent formal government organizations and tie appropriate reconstruction and stability projects to legitimate governing bodies.
  • Facilitate reconstruction activities. Develop job creation programs for infrastructure activities; provide microlending as soon as practicable; tie road improvements to commercial as well as political integration; and create value-added facilities to improve agriculture and natural resource capabilities within the local absorptive capacity.
  • Execute a strong strategic communications program. Expand local information dissemination capacity, especially by local institutions (remember that actions speak louder than words); take advantage of face-to-face communication (where traditional and expected); encourage provincial leaders and authorities to visit the district population and traditional leaders; tie reconstruction activities to legitimate governing bodies.


As a PRT works to its objectives, those in general outlined above and those established based on the environment of the situation, it should keep the following imperatives in mind:

  • Focus on improving stability.
  • Operate as an integrated civilian-military organization.
  • Lead from behind, ensuring host-nation ownership. Promote host-nation primacy and legitimacy. However, at times, it may be necessary to illustrate that the United States is doing something for the people (remember and respect that the operational pace will be that of the host nation).
  • Actively engage with the governor, host-nation central government officials, the local communities and population through provincial councils, provincial development committees, and other established and traditional bodies.
  • Facilitate the visibility of the host-nation government's presence in the province by assisting official visits to remote districts and villages (e.g., transportation and communications).
  • Promise only what you can deliver; manage expectations (under promise and over deliver). Never promise unless the money or assets are in hand. Even interest in a topic or project can be interpreted as a "promise."
  • Plan sustainability at the outset.
  • Ensure that interventions at the provincial level support the host-nation's national processes and development plan or strategy.
  • Lay the foundations for long-term sustainable changes.
  • Be committed to consulting and/or working with international partners, such as IGOs and NGOs.
  • Be aware of and respect civil-military sensitivities - lives may depend on it.

End State

Usually the end state of a PRT occurs when the host-nation's provisions for security and public safety are sufficient to support traditional means of development and political stability is sustainable after the withdrawal of international forces. In Iraq, the end state is time-based; PRTs will operate until the summer of 2011. The PRT should design measures of effectiveness that delineate the perception of safety, the reduction of security incidences that impact daily life, the capacity of the government to provide basic services and rule of law, and the popular acceptance of legitimate formal and informal organizations and leaders by both the majority of the population and disaffected elements of the population. These measures will provide an accurate measure of progress in either a time- or conditions-based environment.

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