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Rumsfeld Praises Civil Affairs' Work in Afghanistan

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2002 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today praised U.S. and coalition civil affairs teams in Afghanistan that are helping to rebuild that war-stricken country.

Rumsfeld recounted to Pentagon reporters "remarkable contributions" being made by Army civil affairs teams and coalition partners in rebuilding Afghanistan. New schools, hospitals, roads and other projects in Afghanistan "create conditions so that the country does not again become a terrorist training camp," he explained. He showed before-and-after photos of completed work.

U.S. taxpayers have provided $500 million since October 2001 for relief and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan -- and more is on the way, Rumsfeld said. Another $1.45 billion, he pointed out, has been authorized for this purpose over the next four years.

He cataloged coalition contributions, such as demining teams from Norway, Britain, Poland and Jordan that have helped clear land mines from hundreds of thousands of square meters of terrain.

Jordan built a hospital in Mazar-e Sharif that has now treated more than 100,000 patients, Rumsfeld pointed out. Spain and South Korea have also built hospitals, he added, and Japan has pledged $500 million to help rehabilitate Afghanistan. He said other countries are also making important contributions to help Afghanistan get back on its feet.

Rumsfeld said the improving security situation in Afghanistan is helping to make the country more livable -- a fact underscored by the return of large numbers of former refugees. They decided Afghanistan today is "better than what existed before and better than where they'd been living," he said.

However, more needs to be done, the secretary noted.

"We need to step up to the challenge of bolstering the new central government by delivering assistance to the (Hamid) Karzai team that has been promised and which he desperately needs," Rumsfeld explained.

Terrorists are like parasites, he said, noting they "seek out weak and struggling countries to serve as hosts for their attacks on innocent men, women and children."

Rumsfeld has said al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban enablers would love to return to Afghanistan. To ensure they gain no foothold, he said, America and its allies "have to help the Afghan people build the infrastructure that will allow them to achieve true self-government and self-reliance."

Afghans, the secretary noted, "need schools to educate the young, so they can grow up to be good citizens. They need roads and bridges to facilitate commerce between the different regions and to make the country hospitable to foreign investment. They need irrigation, so their farmers can earn a living and feed the Afghan people." And, they need clean water and hospitals to prevent the outbreak of disease, he added.

That's why Army civil affairs teams are working in some 10 regions of the country, digging wells, rebuilding schools, bridges and hospitals, he pointed out. The Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, he said, has completed 58 of 118 scheduled projects in Afghanistan.

"They've rebuilt four regional hospitals and clinics in Kabul, Mazar, Herat and Kunduz," Rumsfeld remarked. They've also put up 38 schools in 10 regions and 75 wells to provide decent drinking water. "And, they've completed reconstruction of the Bagram bridge and the road connecting Bagram to Kabul."

More projects are in the works, he continued, including 10 more medical facilities, 20 more schools, four agricultural projects, two roads, two bridges, and 144 additional wells.

Among the "before and after" pictures of completed civil affairs projects shown to reporters was a rebuilt high school in Kabul that features renovated floors, windows and restored electricity. Rumsfeld and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also showed a refurbished co-ed school in Mazar, a rebuilt girls' high school, and a Bagram airfield building remade into a hospital capable of treating 40 new patients each day.

Another project mentioned by Rumsfeld involved desalting operations in Herat, where civil affairs recruited Afghan teams to clean out 19 irrigation canals for the local farming community. The reconstructed Bagram Bridge, Rumsfeld noted, is now a crucial commercial link between Bagram and Kabul.

Pace told reporters he'd been impressed by what he saw in Kabul 10 days ago. He described a city with "streets crowded with pedestrians, folks on bicycles, traffic jams, numbers of vendors selling their wares."

The general said businesses were reopening, shopkeepers were repairing their windows. All these activities indicate the Afghans "are beginning to invest in their own futures," he pointed out.

"It's still a very dangerous place," Pace cautioned, "but the signs are very good."

Rumsfeld and Pace also showed pictures of an Afghan Little League game.

"What a difference a year makes," Rumsfeld remarked. "The Afghan youngsters are back in school. They're learning to play baseball instead of cowering in fear and hiding from the Taliban's religious beliefs."

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