The merits of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan have been the topic of heated debate. The lack of credible measures of effectiveness has not stood in the way for some stark conclusions about the civil military teams to be drawn. They have been hailed simultaneously as the ‘silver bullet’ representing a new era in peacebuilding, and ‘costly, wasteful and lacking in quality’. This contribution seeks to explain why PRTs represent a central pillar of ISAF’s strategy in Afghanistan by investigating the importance of PRTs in terms of strategic narratives, defined by Lawrence Freedman as ‘compelling story lines which can explain events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn’. The central hypothesis is that activities of PRTs are important to contributing nations for reasons beyond their immediate impact on the ground in Afghanistan. This hypothesis is explored by examining Norway and Denmark’s contribution in Afghanistan and how it is portrayed to their domestic audiences.
Quintessentially, it is argued that the PRT concept fulfils the role of how Norway and Denmark want to convey their engagement in Afghanistan. As such, PRTs enable, what Betz (2008) has called the West’s ‘diffuse and internally contradictory strategic narratives’ to operate in the same operational space. In other words, the PRT concept allows for multiple narratives of the same effort. Consequently, an attempt to ‘control the narrative’, or as it was described in the new transition strategy discussed at the Lisbon summit, ‘assemble a coherent narrative’, will be difficult.4 The flexibility of the PRT concept itself fuels the generation of individual nation’s strategic narratives.