By John Donnelly December 3, 2007 WASHINGTON - The US military, deeply immersed in reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, has almost overnight become a major player in the traditionally civilian work of helping poor countries develop. It now spends more than 21 percent of all US overseas aid, nearly a fourfold percentage increase in just three years. more stories like this The growth in military involvement in projects such as digging wells in western Kenya and building schools in Afghanistan, which are designed to win hearts and minds, has been so fast that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned last week that his department is doing work that should be done by the State Department. Gates told an audience in Kansas last week that he had no problem with the Pentagon getting more taxpayer dollars to help civilians rebuild war zones or broken states. But he said the number of State Department officials dedicated to rebuilding efforts has shrunk to dangerously low levels and needs to be bolstered. The entire US corps of foreign service officers - about 6,600 people is smaller than the personnel in one aircraft-carrier strike group, Gates said. The shift toward more military involvement in humanitarian efforts, analysts believe, results from two major factors: simultaneous US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created vast "no-go" areas too unstable and violent for civilian relief agencies; and big increases in the Pentagon's budget since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks gives the military more leeway for humanitarian operations than the cash-strapped State Department and US Agency for International Development. But the Pentagon also has quietly approved internal policy changes that embrace nation-building tasks in fragile states and conflict areas, duties that were once scorned by President Bush and his top team of military advisers before the Sept. 11 attacks as going beyond the scope of US national security interests. In November 2005, an internal Pentagon document, Directive 3000.05, called for reconstruction projects to become a core part of combat operations, extending the military's reach into areas of governance, rebuilding infrastructure, and restoring areas of commerce. The rationale behind such an expansion, defense officials say, is that in the war on terrorism the military will often set up base in dangerous locations and should be able to offer a range of services to both military and the local community. "State and USAID have been more or less starved for resources, so when the administration wants to get something done, they turn to the Pentagon because they know they can do it," said Joseph S. Nye Jr., distinguished service professor at Harvard University and cochairman of the Commission on Smart Power, a report released last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Nye said that reliance on the Defense Department for development projects creates image problems for the United States overseas because "it gives an overly military face to our policy." Gates appears to be concerned about that also. In his speech at Kansas State University, he said, "We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. . . . I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our armed forces about how important these civilian capabilities are." In fact, he said, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen, once said that "he'd hand a part of his budget to the State Department in a heartbeat, assuming it was spent in the right place." The Pentagon is already giving millions of dollars to the State Department for certain jobs. Using a little-known directive, Section 1207 in the National Defense Authorization Act, the Defense Department sent $102 million to the State Department in the last two years for projects such as funding civilian police forces in Somalia and improving health care in conflict-torn areas reclaimed by the military in Colombia. Nevertheless, many analysts have observed a rising tension between the Pentagon and the State Department about the military's expanded role in civilian or humanitarian relief efforts. They point to the recently created Africa Command, which will coordinate all US military operations in Africa and also involve representatives from other US agencies who will advise the military on a range of issues. Kathleen H. Hicks, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was director of the Defense Department's policy planning department until August 2006, said the State Department has "a real sense that DOD is making a grab here. At the DOD, that's not how they see this. Their feeling is, 'Let's just go do the job.' " Hicks noted the clash of cultures between the military and civilian branches hasn't helped. The Pentagon "has a can-do attitude, and the desire to fill voids and create action is very strong," she said. "On the State side, it's more cautious, getting the right tool to do the right job." In 2002, the military's share of US official development assistance totaled 5.6 percent; by 2005, it had quadrupled to 21.7 percent, or $5.5 billion, according to a study by the Center for Global Development, a research think-tank in Washington. More than $4 billion of that money was allocated for projects in Iraq. Other Defense expenditures just in 2005 included $447 million for counter-drug activities mainly in South America; $844 million for civilian reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq; $117 million in tsunami relief; and $12 million in HIV and AIDS initiatives with African militaries. Kaysie Brown, coauthor of the Center for Global Development study on the Pentagon and global development, said that nongovernmental organizations' concerns of the military expansion include that they could be targets of attacks in areas where the US military operates and that local people might wrongly believe they are connected to the military. She said that the creation of the US Africa Command, or Africom, will be a test ground for how the military and civilians work together. "The concern is that when the DOD finds religion, it really finds religion, and could overshadow the other development efforts," Brown said. "The question is when there's an inter-agency effort in an area where there's lots of instability, who holds the ultimate authority?" Africom, which was launched in February, is still a few years away from being fully operational in Africa. For now, planners are looking at setting up regional bases around Africa, with a coordinating headquarters outside the continent. It expects to number between 800 and 1,200 staff, defense officials said.While Defense officials say the initial focus will be to work with African militaries on building up noncombat evacuations, emergency food deliveries, and crisis management, analysts say the long-term military role in Africa and other parts of the developing world remains undefined. "As the Defense Department builds up its efforts, how and in what way can we also build up civilian side of the equation?" Brown said. "It's really tricky."