US soldiers in combat could use an assist from a civilian workforce while trying to rebuild war-torn nations, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
Speaking at a town hall in Racine, Wisconsin, Obama called for sending a "civilian expeditionary force" to Afghanistan and Iraq to help overburdened military troops build infrastructure. His remarks were first reported by The Associated Press.
"So what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m trying to say is, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t put all the burden on the military.Ã‚Â Make sure that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve got a civilian expeditionary force," said the president, adding that the civilian force would build schools, bridges and roads in regions cleared by the military as safe.
Obama last December renounced the possibility committing the US to a lengthy "nation-building" project. "I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests," he said in a speech at New York's West Point Academy.
Department of Defense Directive 1404.10, dated January 23, 2009, set up a "Civilian Expeditionary Workforce" that would "be organized, trained, cleared, equipped, and ready to deploy in support of combat operations by the military; contingencies; emergency operations; humanitarian missions; disaster relief; restoration of order; drug interdiction; and stability operations."
Its intent would be "to maximize the use of the civilian workforce to allow military personnel to be fully utilized for operational requirements," according to a Defense Department statement reported by the American Forces Press Service.
Obama openly embraced this idea on the campaign trail during his presidential run.
He alluded to it during a speech about national service in Colorado on July 2, 2008.
"We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded," Obama said.
On his campaign Web site, he called for, among other things, "a Veterans Corps to assist veterans at hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters; and a Homeland Security Corps to help communities plan, prepare for and respond to emergencies."
While Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised this as positive utilization of "soft power," others viewed a powerful civilian national security apparatus as a potential cause for concern.
The video is Obama's speech on July 2, 2008. Relevant comments begin at 16:40.