Army Engineers’ Roadwork Connects Rural Afghans
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2008 U.S. Army engineers are busy building roads and security outposts that are helping put previously isolated Afghans onto the path of peace and prosperity, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Afghanistan said today.
Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 36th Engineer Brigade have constructed nearly 200 miles of secondary roads across daunting terrain since they arrived in eastern Afghanistan in March 2007, Brigade Commander Col. Richard Stevens told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
Those mostly gravel roads “traverse some of the most remote, mountainous and, if I may say, rugged terrain in the world,” Stevens said.
The engineers’ road- and trail-building projects have connected about 120,000 Afghans living in 34 previously isolated villages, the colonel said.
New roads and trails constructed by the military engineers “not only allow coalition forces to reach areas that were previously inaccessible, they also provide the Afghan people better security, better access to their government, and increased opportunity for commerce,” Stevens explained.
Stevens’ soldiers also have constructed seven new security bases and outposts in support of the “clear, hold and build” strategy employed against insurgents.
The new bases and outposts “allow the security forces to extend their presence and live among the people,” Stevens explained, which is a key tenet of anti-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
Stevens’ brigade also has a countermine element that has inspected more than 40,000 miles of Afghan roadways and trails while conducting 1,200 missions in search of enemy-emplaced improvised explosive devices.
“Their efforts to find and clear IEDs make the roads safer for coalition and Afghan security forces, as well as the civilian population,” Stevens said.
Most enemy-emplaced mines discovered in his area of operations are crude, homemade devices of the contact-detonation variety, Stevens said. More technically advanced bombs using radio signals for detonation are rare, he noted, likely because of the effectiveness of the coalition’s anti-mine countermeasures.
The 36th Brigade works closely with Afghan authorities during its endeavors, Stevens said, to include partnering with the Afghan military during road building, bridging and demining operations or while conducting construction-skills training classes for the Afghan public.
Teaching basic construction skills to local Afghans provides a livelihood and enhances employability, Stevens said. About 150 Afghans in his area have learned carpentry and other construction skills, and about 30 workshop graduates have found employment with his brigade as contractors, he said.
Unemployed Afghans are more “susceptible to the Taliban’s influence,” Stevens said.
In addition, Commander’s Emergency Response Program funds have been used to build local schools and to fund other community-improvement projects, Stevens said.
“All of these initiatives are done with the assistance of and in close coordination with our Afghan partners,” he said.