Security Spurs Development in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 29, 2007 Development follows security, and Afghanistan is proof of that statement, the chief Army Corps of Engineers officer in Afghanistan said today.
Col. William Bulen, the chief of the Afghanistan district for the corps, said his organization has spent about $2 billion on contracts in the country since 2002.
“Just in fiscal year 2007, we'll be awarding over $1.8 billion in construction projects,” he said to Pentagon reporters via teleconference.
The district handles contracts for foreign countries, the U.S. Agency for International Development, coalition forces, and projects for the provincial reconstruction teams.
Bulen said he believes the coalition is making progress in the communities as the Afghan people open up to coalition and Afghan government.
“When you first go into a community, they're kind of hesitant about what you're there for,” he said. “You meet them, get to know them; you bring them into the projects.”
Almost 90 percent of the people hired to construct the corps projects are Afghans. “Then you see the community start taking ownership of the project,” he said. “They kind of protect it and so forth. If you don't have community buy-in to the projects, then it's very difficult to get them constructed, particularly out in the remote areas.”
The colonel said that when he first arrived in Afghanistan in August 2006, one of the comments he heard from Afghans in the southern part of the country was that they didn’t see much difference between the United States and the Soviets.
“I was kind of set back by that,” Bulen said.
“Then, after I started touring the country and being out, particularly in some of these remote areas, I realized where that comment came from,” he continued.
He said that in many parts of the country there are villages where life has not changed in 300 years.
“The only reason I know it's in the 21st century is I might see a high-low truck or a motorcycle, or I'll see a satellite dish and hear a generator,” he said. “It's very difficult to get even our coalition forces back there, but also to get the commerce. And when you don't see a ‘jingle truck’ -- which is the way they move stuff around -- when you can't get a jingle truck back into a community, it's kind of difficult to start having development in that community.”
The corps will launch a major push to build roads throughout the country. The engineers already have built more than 11,000 kilometers of roads in the country. The corps will let more than $700 million in contracts for roads this year.
The organization will award contracts in four major areas: supporting the Afghan national security force; military construction work; border management and counternarcotics; and strategic reconstruction.
And the engineers of the district are working with an eye to the Afghan human capital of the future, Bulen said.
“We also want to do everything possible to help build engineering capacity for the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “We teach them, we mentor them through every aspect of the construction process. Mentoring, I think, is our living legacy, our drive and our passion when dealing with these contractors and the Afghan people.”
Problems remain in Afghanistan, the colonel said. The country remains one of the poorest in the world. A weak country encourages terrorist infiltration.
“It is only through committed development that Afghanistan can proceed, gain strength and serve the needs of its people,” he said.