U.S. Honoring Pledge to Help Rebuild Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2003 The United States is honoring its pledge to rebuild Afghanistan, senior defense officials said in a background briefing today.
"The glass is half full," said a senior defense official. Much work remains to be done in the country, but there has been a good start, he said.
Afghanistan was devastated by 23 years of war, five of them under Taliban oppression and four in a drought. The country was a failed state. The education system had been dismantled, the infant mortality rate was around 20 percent and the infrastructure -- roads, bridges, water, electricity -- was destroyed.
But progress has been made. Politically, the Loya Jirga met and chose the first democratically elected leadership in 30 years. The Afghan government's influence is growing, and later this year a constitutional Loya Jirga will meet in advance of elections in 2004.
Economically, the United States has led donor states with more than $500 million spent. This includes 52,000 metric tons of food, rehabilitating 600 schools and spending $180 million on reconstructing the "Ring Road" in the country. The U.S. portion of the road will run from Kabul to Kandahar to Herat.
Army civil affairs soldiers have been working with local populations on smaller projects. The projects both improve the country's infrastructure and employ some 30,000 Afghans as laborers.
One major project, done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, addresses infant mortality. Money has been spent to rehabilitate the Rabia Bahlki hospital in Kabul. It will be a training hospital in obstetrics and gynecology.
"We're in a train-the-trainers mode right now," a second defense official said. The hospital will teach doctors, nurses and midwives to deliver babies safely.
Later, clinics will be opened in the countryside, where the majority of Afghans live.
Security plays a prime role in rebuilding the country. French and American trainers have taught six battalions of the Afghan national army. The battalions reportedly have conducted themselves well in operations around the country.
In addition, U.S. and coalition forces are still needed against remnant Taliban and al Qaeda operatives.
The United States has established three Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Gardez, Bamiyan and Kunduz. Plans call for the establishment of five more. The teams will enhance security, coordinate reconstruction and help strengthen the influence of the central government. Between 50 and 60 soldiers make up the teams, and the senior official said other countries are interested in providing the same service.
The official said 2003 should mark the transition from relief to reconstruction, and he hopes that significant private-sector projects will begin in the new security environment.