Since the Vietnam War, the United States government has experimented with embedding development workers within military and intelligence teams to advance its work in counterinsurgency (COIN) missions with programs such as Civil Operations and Rural Development Support (CORDS) and Phoenix. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has always led the charge in providing civilian personnel in non-permissive environments (NPEs).

USAID workers embedded with Seal Team 6?
John Paul Vann (white shirt) and his CORDS staff at their Pleiku headquarters in 1968. (Public domain)

However, events such as Benghazi have kept civilian personnel away from NPEs, which have made COIN operations a mostly military and intelligence affair. To answer this need, the USAID’s Global Development Lab came up with the Rapid Expeditionary Development (RED) team concept. RED teams would be deployed with special operations forces or intelligence officers to hostile environments such as front lines in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

To find out the opinions of “critical stakeholders,” USAID has involved Frontier Design Group, a Washington-based strategy organization. Frontier produced a report where it involved stakeholders from the special operations forces (SOF), intelligence community (IC), and law enforcement. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the RED team concept.

The Frontier report explains RED teams as:

Unlike existing USAID officers working in permissive and semi-permissive environments, RED team members would be specifically recruited and trained to deliver novel techniques, practices, and tools optimized to secure communities vulnerable to violent extremist radicalization and exploitation. RED team development officers would be deployed as two-person teams and placed with ‘non-traditional’ USAID partners executing a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations in extreme conditions.”

To be able to perform in these hostile environments and alongside some of the best-trained men and women in the world, RED teams must undergo a different type of training than current USAID workers. Frontier, with the help of members of the IC, SOF and USAID, proposed training to be conducted by retired SOF and IC members. That’s because it would offer credibility as well as potential access to training courses offered by the Special Warfare Center and School or an Armed Forces Experimental Training Activity.

Essential skills as suggested by Frontier would be:

  • Emergency First Aid
  • Weapons Handling and Use
  • Small Team Organization and Tactics
  • SERE (or some functionally appropriate version)
  • Personnel Recovery
  • Communication
  • Off-road/Unimproved Road Drivers Training

The physical requirements necessary would be: