Evolution of a stabilisation adviser

Iain King was one of the first 'stabads' to be deployed to a Helmand district in 2008. Working alongside military colleagues, the stabilisation adviser delivers at the grassroots in Helmand. As Iain King heads out on his latest deployment, we look at how stabilisation advisers have become a 'permanent fixture' in the Helmand landscape.

Iain King is a rarity. A SU planner and member of the Civilian Stabilisation Group, he has been deployed to more Forward Operating Bases than any other stabilisation adviser. Deployed to Musa Qala back in 2008, he can lay claim to the title of one of the first 'stabads' in the field. Two years on and the stabilisation adviser is a permanent fixture in the dusty heat of Helmand province. Iain, meanwhile, is heading back to where it all began.

Iain King before a shuraIain has several abiding memories of his earlier experiences - a former opium store as an office, the warmth of Danish hospitality in Gereshk and taking tea on the side of the road before a shura in Nad-e-Ali. For him, "perception is key. You lead by example. It's about always considering the consequences of your actions."

The primary role of a stabilisation adviser is to act as a special adviser to the District Governor. Success is closely linked to the Governor's strength and effectiveness. Geography also plays its own unique role, "Some places, like Garmsir, have been blessed by geography which makes them easier to secure and stabilise; others, like Sangin, have it much harder".

Iain is sanguine about the qualities a stabilisation adviser needs, "There are really four P's to bear in mind: you have to adapt to people, to the physical environment, and the political environment; and you have to be prepared." For a stabilisation adviser adaptation is key. There is no set formula, no one-size-fits-all approach. It is more like a bespoke service adjusting to the very different challenges that appear in different locations.

Until December 2007, things were radically different. Experts in the PRT were the sole civilian actors in Helmand. Work in the districts was done on flying visits, quite literally –by Chinook. But there was an increased awareness that progress would be better served by deploying individuals on the ground in the districts. "Improving human relations was at the heart of this new approach," says Iain. The result was what he describes as "a better and more informed understanding of local politics and power dynamics".

The first stabad in Musa Qala was swiftly followed by the deployment of the first female stabad in neighbouring Sangin. Within weeks, other stabads were sent to Garmsir and Gereshk, followed by Babaji and Nad-e- Ali.

The stabilisation adviser is now an established feature in Helmand with one or two in each of the nine Forward Operating Bases. Since 2008, the number of other actors in the field has also proliferated, reflecting the importance of stabilisation to the mission in Afghanistan. In areas like Musa Qala, stabads are deployed alongside the US Marine Corps and US Civil Affairs teams. In Nad-e-Ali, they work with Military Stabilisation Support Teams. They are all linked into the PRT in Lashkar Gar.

Being a stabilisation adviser involves a certain appreciation of history. The past they say is a foreign land, but for King it is this 'acute awareness of the past' that provides a vital gateway to help Afghans move towards a positive future.

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