Afghan Army, Coalition Celebrate Bridge Opening
By Sgt. Cain S. Claxton, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 31, 2006 The provincial governor and the commander of the coalition's military task force joined local citizens here May 29 in celebrating the opening of a new bridge across the Helmand River.
Combined Joint Task Force 76 Commander Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley discusses security and infrastructure during a bridge opening ceremony in the Cahar Chineh district of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province on May 29. Photo by Sgt. Cain S. Claxton, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
About 250 Afghans from nearby villages were in attendance as provincial Gov. Abdul Hakim Monib and Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76, officially opened the 120-foot steel bridge. Gen. Rahmutullah Raufi, commander of the Afghan National Army 205th Corps, and other Afghan national security force officials also attended.
The Helmand River has been a natural barrier cutting off much of northern and western Uruzgan from Kandahar and other avenues of regional commerce and development. Before the bridge was completed May 26, transit across the river was limited mostly to a few ferry services. Future road improvements and possible other bridge projects will make travel into and throughout the Afghanistan interior more manageable for Afghans.
Construction of the actual bridge took only two days, but it took nearly 200 villagers more than a month to build a pair of 30-foot abutments from the river's edge so the bridge could span the swollen river.
The bridge construction presented a challenge to logistics planners, according to a coalition engineer. "We had no real road access here, no equipment," said the coalition engineer. "We had to hire 212 Afghan workers and four tractors to comb the countryside for rocks, cart them here and unload them."
Once the abutments were finished, Afghan soldiers and coalition engineers quickly built the bridge, joining together hundreds of heavy steel parts.
The coalition trained the Afghan army engineers how to build the bridge in Tarin Khowt, Uruzgan's capital, in late April and early May. From there, CH-47 Chinook helicopters lifted the bridge pieces over steep mountain passes to the construction site. It took 25 trips over 10 days to transport all the bridge components.
"The training was phenomenal," the coalition engineer said about preparations with the 205th Corps, which has its headquarters in Kandahar. "(ANA engineers) pick up things so fast. They are good workers. I am really pleased with their performance."
The ANA engineers have built the Tarin Khowt-Kandahar highway, several schools, mosques and health facilities as well as mosques in Kandahar and other southern Afghan provinces.
"For 30 years there was fighting in Afghanistan," said Amirullah, the ANA engineer company commander. "There remained no schools, no hospitals. Now we are doing great things for my country. I feel very good about what my men are doing."
Monib promised more improvements to infrastructure in the region here, but asked in return for the village elders to promote peaceful cooperation with the coalition and Afghan government.
The region here has historical ties to the Taliban and has served as a sanctuary for Taliban hardliners for years. On May 19, Taliban extremists attacked a joint Afghan and American military convoy just four kilometers from the bridge site.
"Because of the building of this bridge, hopefully the people of Cahar Chineh will help bring peace to Uruzgan," Monib said. "I invite the Taliban to come and join us for the peace process ... for a better Afghanistan. Fighting is not the way to make Afghanistan better."
"We hope that you will take the words of the governor to heart and that you will all work together for peace and security in Uruzgan province," Freakley said. "We look forward to working more road projects and other necessities -- clinics and police stations ... whatever the governor wants, as we have security in this area."
(Army Sgt. Cain S. Claxton is assigned to Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan.)