Haviland then proceeded to demolish his relationship with the military. Prior to his arrival, the top general in Kandahar had removed a chain-link fence between the military and civilian headquarters buildings on the Kandahar Airfield. But when the civilians moved into a new building 50 yards away, the regional security officer at the embassy in Kabul ordered that a new fence be erected. The gates were equipped with combination locks, and military officers on the general's command staff, who possessed higher-level security clearances than many of the civilians, assumed that they would get the code so they could easily interact with one another. But Haviland refused to divulge it. And he made his subordinates sign nondisclosure agreements subjecting them to sanctions if they shared the numbers. "Forget about everyone working together to fix Afghanistan. He wanted to be separate," one civilian who worked there told me. "It was not just embarrassing. It was idiotic."
In May 2010, I accompanied Chretien on a trip to Marja, the Taliban-controlled enclave that the Marines had invaded with much fanfare three months earlier, to observe how the civilians there were performing. There were five of them -- one from State, two from USAID, one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and, because it was in Helmand, one stabilization advisor from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Given the stakes in Marja, they should all have been stars. One of the USAID men, a young New Englander, was indeed a model of dynamism and creativity. But the other USAID staffer seemed lost in the heat and dust. Chretien and I observed him one morning as he woke late and then did his laundry and puttered around. While he wandered the base, we chatted with a stream of residents who had come to see Haji Zahir, the ex-con district governor. One of them was the district health director, whom we peppered with questions about the state of Marja's clinics. That evening, we told the lost USAID officer about our conversation and asked him for his thoughts about the health director. He sheepishly admitted that he had never met the man. In his three weeks in Marja, he had not yet left the base, even though the Marines were driving and walking around every day.
The USAID officer in Marja left within a few months. And he wasn't alone. Forty percent of U.S. government civilians who were assigned to Helmand from July 2009 to June 2010 did not last six months. The churn complicated efforts to increase the number of civilians in the field. By late 2010, USAID was hiring 20 new people a month to go to Afghanistan, but it was losing seventeen.
When he returned to Camp Leatherneck, Chretien sent a note to the embassy about the staffing problems in Helmand. "It seems our best and brightest have burned out long ago and we're getting the straphangers these days," he wrote. "Or as one wag put it, 'they're just along for the chow.' No need to go into details here -- let's just say that there's enough deadwood here that it's becoming a fire hazard."