Panel to Discuss How Natural Resources Drive Military Conflict

Three original members of a joint U.S. military-civilian natural resources counterinsurgency cell in Afghanistan will discuss “Conflict and Natural Resources: Integrated Civilian-Military Perspectives and Approaches” on Monday, Nov. 1, at 5:30 p.m. in Bowers Auditorium at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

The panel discussion will focus on how natural resources drive, or contribute to, conflict in specific locales, how the United States and its coalition partners can best use civilian and military assets to mitigate conflict, and case studies related to both eastern Afghanistan and Liberia.

The panelists are Harry Bader, a F&ES doctoral candidate who works for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Dante Paradiso, a Yale College graduate who just finished a tour as the senior civilian representative with Brigade Combat Team Task Force Bastogne; and Col. Randy George, former commander of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior and now a military fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The natural resources counterinsurgency cell, better known as the Afghan tree army, was modeled after the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps and was launched in May after a five-week training program for a core group of 13 local forest supervisors, mostly graduates of Nangarhar University in Jalalabad. Rather than using Hellfire missiles, the tree army aims to defeat insurgents with homemade Pulaski axes and Biltmore sticks, the tools of conventional forestry roughly a century ago.

Despite American support, the tree army is entirely an Afghan operation. The 13 supervisors are now passing on their knowledge to 50 newly hired foremen, who will in turn recruit 250 workers this fall in mountain villages around Nangarhar province. If the Afghan tree army succeeds during the initial rollout, then Zorghun Afghanistan (Green Afghanistan, as it is known locally) could go nationwide. The goal is to have tree armies in four northeastern provinces. The basic tactic is to recruit the same young men of military age who would otherwise be most heavily recruited by insurgents to provide forest and range management in watersheds.

Afghanistan suffers from massive deforestation, mainly in the lower-elevation evergreen oak forests, which subsistence farmers have stripped bare for fuel and fodder. This deforestation in the immediate vicinity of villages—at an elevation of 1,200 to 2,500 meters—is the cause of much of the soil erosion, flooding, mudslides, clogged irrigation systems, water quality degradation and drought that plague Afghan farmers. “Environmental stress translates into social unrest,” said Bader. “So it’s also in those areas where the tree army will do some of its work.”

The counterinsurgency cell published its own 30-page report at the end of July titled “The Afghanistan Timber Trade: An Evaluation of the Interaction Between the Insurgency, GIRoA and Criminality in the Task Force Bastogne Area of Operations.” It warned of potential long-term deterioration as a result of moderate overharvesting, use of misguided reforestation techniques and high-grading of the best trees, particularly deodar cedar.

Bader holds a law degree from Harvard and is a tenured professor at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) School of Natural Resources. He went to El Salvador during the civil war there in the mid-1980s on a USAID project looking at land reform as a means of reducing support for the guerilla movement. In the early 1990s, he worked in Bosnia for the United Nations, using spectral imaging and other techniques to locate mass graves beneath the forest canopy. He has also served as a consultant on marshland restoration in Iraq.

Paradiso, in his role with Brigade Combat Team Task Force Bastogne, shaped governance, development and counterinsurgency strategy in coordination with the brigade commander and provided management and oversight for more than 40 personnel under chief of mission authority, from three agencies, at 10 combat outposts and forward operating bases. He is a career Foreign Service Officer, most recently serving as Deputy Political-Economic Counselor at U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa from 2007 to 2009. In addition, he is a Massachusetts attorney and, prior to joining the State Department, practiced financial services law with Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston.

Col. George served as commander of the Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division (Task Force Mountain Warrior) in Afghanistan, working on national security strategy formulation and implementation. He participated in the initial invasion of Iraq and served two subsequent Operation Iraqi Freedom tours as a battalion commander and adviser to the Multinational Corps Commander.

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Dave DeFusco: david.defusco@yale.edu, 203-436-4842