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USAID and American “Whole-of-Government” Efforts in Afghanistan, 2004-2005

USAID had to cooperate closely with the U.S. military and others in a “whole-of-government” effort to stabilize and develop Afghanistan in 2004-05.  That meant managing a $1 billion budget, working 16 hours days, and asking majors and lieutenant colonels to help plan and execute civilian projects.  For USAID mission director Patrick Fine, that also meant outfitting an “Afghan room” within the mission, raffling sheep, and fasting during Ramadan.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 aimed to dismantle al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power, but it quickly expanded to include civilian and developmental components.  This effort focused on helping stabilize the country and establish the legitimacy of the Afghan government. When Patrick Fine arrived on the scene in 2004, he found that a majority of Afghans welcomed and supported the U.S. development role.  But he found big problems as well, including insurgencies launched by the Taliban and other groups, and destabilization inspired by Pakistan.

In organizing unprecedented interagency collaboration, Fine was able to bridge the gap between the military and civilian perspectives on these difficult challenges. He also affirmed his respect for the local culture by fostering positive relationships founded on mutual respect and understanding.

Patrick Fine was a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland after graduating from the University of Missouri, and before earning a master’s at the University of Massachusetts.  He joined USAID in 1988 and began by working on education in Swaziland, Uganda, and South Africa. Fine later was the deputy USAID mission director in Senegal before serving as mission director in Afghanistan.

Patrick Fine’s interview was conducted by Mark Tauber on December 5, 2016.

Read Patrick Fine’s full oral history HERE.

Drafted by Mary Claire Simone.

“Everywhere I went during my posting there I was greeted with open arms by the Afghan people in the sense they were really appreciative of the U.S. presence.”

A “Real Sense of Hope:” I got there and at that time it was a very exciting post; we had just gone into Iraq so this was the first really post-conflict experience where the U.S. government was standing up a complete civilian operation since the Vietnam War. There was a real sense of righteousness of the effort.  This was a justified intervention, a real sense of mission to help the Afghanistan people . . . Everywhere I went during my posting there I was greeted with open arms by the Afghan people. They were really appreciative of the U.S. presence and the work we were doing. It was a very positive period to be there and it was a time of hope where there was real momentum. The Taliban had been defeated.  They were very unpopular throughout most of the country–not in the entire country, but in the vast majority in the country they were very unpopular. Their rule had been despotic and oppressive so there was a sense of liberation.

There was a provisional government that the Afghans had put in place through what they called a Loya Jirga or great council of all the traditional and tribal leaders. They selected [Hamid] Karzai toward the end of 2003. So you had this legitimate government that had popular backing and you still had a conflict situation, but it was at that time still quite permissive in the sense that there was an ongoing conflict all over the country. There was a real sense of hope that things were getting better and that the U.S. government and the international community more broadly was really there to assist the Afghan government and the Afghan people to rebuild their country to consolidate peace, to end the civil war that had been going on for 25 years. So it was just an extraordinary environment to go into and a wonderful opportunity as a representative of the U.S. government’s civil development work. But it was also a time of intense action in a very demanding environment.

“He assigned us some majors and lieutenant colonels and it worked so well that later on we did it in my engineering section.”

Teamwork With Afghans, and Within the U.S. Government: The 2003, 2004, and 2005 time period say progress in the country a real sense of things getting better in the economy, infrastructure, and in social services.  In government institutions. So it was a wonderful time to be there and USAID played a very significant role in that. It was intense. We were working literally 16-hour days. There was such a sense of camaraderie and solidarity within the mission.  It wasn’t a huge mission – 135 people managing more than a billion dollars. It was amazing the level of productivity that crossed so many sectors–the collaboration within the U.S. government and between the civilian and the military agencies, and then more broadly within the international community and with the Afghan government. We had good leadership with Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad and with General Barno so they set both a demanding and positive tone at the top.

. . . . This was an all-of-government effort. We had to figure out how to make it work with all the different agencies in a dynamic environment that still had active military operations underway. So you had be up on what was happening on an almost day-to-day basis in order to collaborate with the large military operation that dwarfed the civilian side of things. . . . We completely synchronized our work with what the military was doing both in terms of the combat units or ISAF, which is International Security Assistance Force, which was led by the U.S. and mostly staffed by the U.S. but included other elements from other [allies].  

. . . I was able to do some really interesting things in terms of the interagency. The commander of the military was a guy named General David Barno who had a very instinctive feel for civilian-military affairs and for community development. . . . So I went to General Barno and said, “Look you’ve got hundreds of planners here. How about assigning some to work in USAID? . . . You have to actually give them to me and I will rate them, I will become their commanding officer.” That had never been done to anybody’s knowledge and Barno was a creative thinking person.  He was an innovator. And he said, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” So he assigned us some majors and lieutenant colonels and it worked so well that later on we did it in my engineering section and then we set up a section to work with provincial teams and we got officers there. Later on I had lieutenants and captains and majors and lieutenant colonels. We had maybe fifteen or twenty in total starting with three guys in our program office to help with planning and monitoring. That made for a very good fit and it helped from a corporate culture point of view for the USAID people to understand the military more and relate to them, because they had these colleagues in uniform sitting with them in their office. It was also useful for the military guys who get a better understanding of the civilian component of the mission. Logistically, it was also valuable for the USAID mission because the military had a full country presence and we could plug into that to channel with information and ideas and resource requests in a more effective way. The military officers who worked for us were seconded, true, but they still knew who to talk to in the military chain of command to get things done. So it just made for a much more effective team…. [It was] an innovative nonconventional thing. His willingness to agree that the chain of command would be through me was, I think, maybe unprecedented at that time. It worked really well.

Local employees “appreciated that their leader, their director, who was not a Muslim but was fasting along with them.”

Remodeling, Sheep Raffling, and Fasting:  As time passed one of my priorities was to build up the professional capacity within the mission of local professionals.  We did that and then Afghanized, in a way, our ability to carry out the work and it was something that I was proud of.

. . . . By that time I was beginning to hire Afghan staff and I wanted to ground our work in Afghan cultural sensibilities. One of the first things I did when we moved into the new complex was there was one small room, and I got the senior Afghan staff together and I said . . . “What would we need if we really wanted to make this an Afghan room?” They said, “Well you know carpets, textiles for the walls and pillows to sit on.” I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” I told my executive officer, “Alright get these guys the money they need, go out and spend a couple thousand dollars, and outfit this room as an Afghan room. When we have meetings with Afghans, we will do it in this room. So we will have the meetings in an environment that is familiar to them instead of in an American environment.”

That was a small act that didn’t really cost anything in the scheme of things, yet that just created tremendous good will both with the Afghan employees. They saw this as an affirmation, and act of respect to their culture for Afghan visitors. When we would have tribal leaders come in or community leaders or government officials we would always have these meetings in what we called the Kandahar Room. Even today, just a couple months ago, I saw somebody and they were talking about the Kandahar Room. It was a small thing you can do that makes an impression on people that supports mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration–which makes your work on sensitive issues easier to accomplish together.

. . . . Another thing we did with our Afghan employees on Ramadan, you know, you slaughter a lamb. . . . So what I did was I got one big comfy looking ram and we did a raffle amongst the Afghan employees. . . . I paid for that myself, I just bought the thing.  It was a small thing but it was affirming their culture; it was showing concern and a gesture of friendship with the Afghan employees. Years later I would run into somebody and they’d remember that time there was that raffle for sheep. So there are things that make an impression.

. . . . I also fast during Ramadan and I do a full fast. I started that when I was in Senegal. . . . and then I went to Afghanistan so I was already in the mode of fasting during Ramadan but it was something that surprised the local employees and they appreciated that their leader, their director who was not a Muslim, but was fasting along with them.

“The Taliban claimed they would murder anybody who tried to vote, but in the end I think there were only seven cases of polling places actually being attacked.”

Development, Elections, and Pakistani Interference: We wanted sustainable development and so did they. From a whole-of-government approach, our job was to help enforce legitimacy of the Afghan government and to help it expand its reach across the entire country because you are in a stabilization operation. During that period we had positive moments and moments where efforts degraded over time in part because I think those missions, if they go too long, they begin to look like an occupation force.  It doesn’t look like you’re there to be their friends. Then in the Afghan case it’s spoiled or disrupted by Pakistan as well. Pakistan has a vested interest in keeping Afghanistan weak and in delegitimizing the government there for its own interests. So Pakistan’s interest is sort of in a weak unstable Afghanistan and they continue to do many things to bring about that outcome. So if you have a civilian stabilization operation, but you’ve got a neighboring country that has an insurgent destabilization operation, then you are never going to get that stability. I think if Pakistan hadn’t continued to be an active destabilizer and became an active supporter of an insurgent operation to keep Afghanistan weak and unstable I think that our mission would have accomplished a much stronger, much more secure, much more prosperous Afghanistan than you see today.

There was also very interesting work during that period around building the institutions of the Afghan government. In November of 2004 they had their first democratic election in more than a generation and maybe ever in their history. Hamid Karzai, who had been in a leading a transitional government elected as the president of an elected government. That was also a very exciting and edifying experience because the elections were well organized, they went off with very little disruption. The Taliban claimed they would murder anybody who tried to vote, but in the end I think there were only seven cases of polling places actually being attacked. There was an overwhelming outpouring of people to vote. So that was a real affirmation of the Afghan people’s desire to elect their leader and to have some say in their government, to have that democratic ability. . . .  It was really heartening.

Of course we did election monitoring and so were visiting polling places and to see the lines of people wrapping around the block. I went to one polling place in Kabul and you got this diversity of people from young to very old, men and women in all types of dress from traditional tribal dress to modern dress. . . . In the polling places it was interesting seeing many older Afghans, who had never voted before, and the excitement that went with it. So that was a very good day and encouraging day. It was a repudiation of the Taliban’s threats and bullying of the Afghan people and you got a credible government that for some time functioned, I think, reasonably well. . . .  But in that first year it was in an exciting time to be there and there was a sense of real potential and promise and hope and the international community as a whole, and the U.S. contribution, in particular, was very significant in supporting that sense of positive momentum in working to restore services or start services that hadn’t been delivered for decades.




     BS in Education and History, University of Missouri                                      1974-1979

     MA in International Education, University of Massachusetts                       1984-1986

Joined the Foreign Service                                                                                 1988

     Swaziland—Education and Training Officer                                                     1990-1992

     Kampala, Uganda—Education Officer                                                                1992-1997

     South Africa—Head of Education Program                                                       1997-2000

     Dakar, Senegal—Deputy Mission Director                                                        2000-2003

     Afghanistan—Mission Director                                                                            2004-2005