PRTs are an important tool in counterinsurgencies. They consist of 40-60 soldiers with a small team of civilians, usually 3-5 advisors from the State Department. The PRTs work with combat units, local government, and private contractors to restore regional government and initiate reconstruction projects. There are currently 25 PRTs in Iraq and 25 in Afghanistan.
Small Wars Journal gives a good run down on PRTs and reconstruction.
The Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams (EPRT) are small units of 8 soldiers attached combat units to serve as laisons with the local government. After the combat unit clears a town, the EPRTs cooperate with the municipal government and tribal leaders. They work with the locals to find out what services need to be restored (such as water, electricity) and how the combat units can serve the community.
Provincial Recontruction Team (PRT) works at the Provincial level. They have a broader mission. They must help recruit and train local security forces, build up the provincial government, and jumpstart the political and economic reconstruction immediately after combat operations end.
In small wars, combat operations merely shape the battlefield. The decisively win, the government forces must restore law and order and expand its authority. This is why the PRTs are more important than an infantry platoon of the same size.
PRTs are a force multiplier, for both security and political operations. According to the RAND study on peacekeeping in 2003, the ideal ratio of peacekeepers to civilians is 20 to 1,000. There is a breakdown of security beneath this level that prevents stability and reconstruction.
The problem is that the US lacks the sheer manpower to reach this ratio outside the smallest nations (such as Kosovo). In Afghanistan, the ratio was under 0.5 to 1,000. PRTs step in to fill this gap.
The security forces do not have to be Americans, and it is better for local police and military forces to fill this role. PRTs can recruit tribal militias and deputize them into the local police. They help arbitrate disputes between tribes and local government leaders.
This is an unbounded operation. It lacks real parameters so there are no measurable variables or limits on the mission. There’s no clear starting or stopping point. Basically, PRTs face the entire problem with nation-building. PRTs are designed to be “flexible” which is a nice way of saying they do not have a real mission and the PRT commander must make things up as he goes.
This problem introduces friction. McNerney describe the limitations of PRTs, chielf that they have internal problems as a result of mixing civilians and soldiers together without a clear mission. The State Department provides too few civilians and those who go, do not work well with the soldiers or locals.
Despite these problems, a rapid expansion of the PRT program is a necessary component of the COIN strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My one suggestion is to abandon the idea of mixing civilians and soldiers. The PRTs work best as military units that are attached to larger military operations. They will have a more coherent command structure and are better attuned to feedback from the environment. EPRTs should be greatly expanded. All major brigades should have at least 1 EPRT to help them hold regions after combat operations.
Experience in these locations will also transfer over to the new AFRICOM, which will rely heavily on PRTs.