Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, briefed the Pentagon press corps today via satellite from Afghanistan. Following are highlights of his remarks on reconstruction efforts there.
Reconstruction is moving forward in Afghanistan, with cooperation among the Corps, the Afghan government, the U.S. State Department and other countries’ diplomatic corps and security forces.
While progress is not as apparent when measured on a day-to-day basis, it is dramatic to the periodic visitor, who sees street traffic, busy market places and other indicators that the Afghan people are moving about and getting back on their feet.
The 31 million citizens of Afghanistan face great challenges, but they are resilient and have hope.
To put some statistics about Afghanistan in perspective for his American audience, Lt. Gen. Strock compared the country with the state of Texas, with a population of 22 million.
Texas has 500,000 kilometers of highways compared with Afghanistan’s 34,000 kilometers, only 16 percent of which are paved.
Fifty-eight percent of Afghans live in rural areas, limiting their access to health care, education and the market place.
The Taliban destroyed a lot of infrastructure and intentionally prevented Afghans from improving their situation. Afghanistan is the fifth poorest country in the world. Only seven percent of Afghans have reliable electric power. Their life expectancy is 43 years. They have the third-highest illiteracy rate in the world.
Reconstruction in Afghanistan is going the right direction, and there are sufficient resources. There is a well-established network of groups and staff to both understand what Afghanistan requires, and satisfy these needs.
The Corps works closely with the Afghan ministries, which help to set priorities; other nations’ diplomatic corps; the U.S. Agency for International Development, especially on infrastructure; and with the provincial reconstruction teams which work with local Afghan leadership to identify needs at the local and regional levels.
The Corps is targeting reconstruction in specific areas of the country where there are security challenges.
The presence of the NATO force in Afghanistan and the commitment many other nations have made will encourage even more streams of resources.
Successes in Afghanistan include:
A solid plan to increase transportation systems.
Most of the ring road is completed. This is the primary road linking all major cities of Afghanistan around the circumference of the country.
Secondary and tertiary roads connecting the provincial centers are also a point of focus, and will be followed by village area roads.
A functioning transportation system will help provide Afghans access to health care, education and economic opportunity, plus open the country for access to the new government as it develops.
A practical program for electric power.
Afghanistan has no national grid for electric power, so one innovative and practical way power is being provided is through pinpoint electrical sources, such as micro-hydroelectric power. The water-driven generators can run from 7.5 to 150 kilowatts.
Capacity-building efforts that employ and teach Afghans.
While many Afghans are unskilled and illiterate, they are willing to learn.
The capacity building occurs at many levels – government institutions, academia, the private sector – all working to help build private industry by employing Afghans and simultaneously teaching them important job and trade skills.
An Afghan National Army that is on its feet and working.
As the army moves into a province and begins to establish security, other elements of the government flow forward and the new government gets traction and takes hold.
While there is an up-tick in violence as the army pushes into the countryside and into areas where the enemy has had relatively free rein, this has not slowed the pace of reconstruction.