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Handbook 11-16
February 2011

Chapter 2 - Concept

The provincial reconstruction team (PRT) concept envisions an integrated civil-military organization that expands the reach of the U.S. government (USG) and the wider international community assistance efforts from the environs of the host-nation capital to the provinces and local communities. A PRT is generally responsible for covering one province; however, a PRT 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 deterring agents of instability. The PRT focuses on three elements of stabilization and reconstruction:

  • Assisting with the establishment and improvement of the local government, including its connection to the central government and local populace, by advising and empowering stakeholders, legitimate governing bodies, and tribal leadership.
  • Increasing provincial stability by working closely with the international military presence and assisting in developing host-nation security and rule-of-law capacity.
  • Facilitating reconstruction that begins to:
    • Provide basic services.
    • Provide an economic system that supports the people.
    • Gain popular buy-in for change and support of 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 to mitigate any development constraints. 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 the 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, as depicted in 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. 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 to solve this problem. Because of the combined capabilities of the diplomatic, 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.

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 the PRTs focused on their goals and avoid all activities that do not directly contribute to accomplishing the mission.

Graphic showing Spectrum of intervention


DDR: Disarmament Demobilization
MOD: Ministry of Defense
MOI: Ministry of the Interior

Figure 2-1. Spectrum of intervention.


Once the PRT is established, the leadership must gain access to local power centers to determine the issues that 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, Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, U.S. Agency for International Development, and other agencies should complete both assessment and strategy development. 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 might include work by other USG-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 effect 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 PRT's operating environment. 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 - For the PRT, outputs are only important in so much as they forward the ultimate effect of stability. 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, IGOs, and with the host-nation. Unity of effort in an operation occurs vertically and horizontally for all involved chains of command. Unity of effort's 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 limited resources are wasted.

    Within the PRT there are often various agencies with differing mandates that are generally comfortable with their ways 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 is 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 U.S., 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 PRT team members must ensure that there are no gaps in functional coverage or a wholesale turnover of personnel over long deployments. Either of these situations 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 the 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.
  • Flexibility - 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 or agricultural 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. The 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:

  • Political leverage on the government (local and/or central).
  • Economic or development projects to mitigate the impact of a desired outcome.
  • Increased USG security presence or support to host-nation forces to deter potential violence.

Given the integrated capacity of PRTs, 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, and trash-health (SWET-H). Where relevant, tie legitimate informal governance (traditional) leaders to nascent formal government organizations; 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 seek out district population and traditional leaders; tie reconstruction activities to legitimate governing bodies.


As a PRT works to its objectives, both the general objectives 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 military-civilian 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 U.S. 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, and 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., providing 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. 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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