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Commander Reports Steady Progress in Eastern Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2005 – Winter conditions might be a problem for enemies of democracy in Afghanistan -- but not for coalition forces committed to killing or capturing them and promoting economic growth and prosperity, the commander of Combined Task Force Thunder told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, today.

Army Col. Gary Cheek cited steady progress since the task force assumed responsibility for the 16 provinces on Afghanistan's eastern border June 30. Most notable, he said, was the successful election and inauguration of Afghanistan's first president, Hamid Karzai.

"We look forward to continued successes in partnership with the Afghan government and its people, and are very excited about the future," Cheek said.

Cheek said the coalition will continue its combat operations throughout the winter months, particularly efforts to weed out threats to democracy. "We will be relentless in our pursuit of insurgents and terrorists, in full partnership with the Afghan government, the Afghan National Army, the Afghan police forces, and the Afghan people," he said. "We are committed to denying the insurgents any sanctuary, killing and capturing his leaders, destroying his weapons and munitions caches, and stopping his infiltration into Afghanistan."

Since early 2003, Regional Command East has recovered more than 600 weapons caches, including 152 since August, Cheek reported. As of Dec. 6, the command's explosive ordnance teams destroyed 300,000 pieces of ordnance.

But, Cheek stressed, the command's focus is not limited to combat operations. "In fact, while we will continuously conduct combat operations, our main effort will be the reconstruction of Afghanistan and building its capacity for economic growth and prosperity," he said.

While continuing small-scale projects, the command is committed to initiating what Cheek called "capacity-building projects" -- creating road networks, revitalizing downtown areas, establishing irrigation and water systems, and bolstering economic infrastructure.

"We are working with each of our provincial governors to develop five-year reconstruction plans that will set a course for reconstruction in each province," he said. "We will also continue to equip and train Afghan police forces to improve the security posture across the region."

Since June, Cheek said, eight provincial reconstruction teams within Regional Command East have spent more than $24.8 million on reconstruction projects. These projects have focused on education, water and sanitation, healthcare and governance, he said.

They included full renovation of the Ghazni Public Health Directorate Civil Hospital, which serves an estimated 1.5 million people, and the nearly completed Matun electric grid project in Khost province, Cheek said. By late February, the Matun project will provide electricity to some 85,000 residents.

Other successes included purchasing 110 police vehicles and 7,260 police uniforms, facilitating the first meeting of the Ghazni Women's Council, and progress in promoting winter wheat and other crops in lieu of poppies.

"The amount of progress I have seen in Regional Command East alone leaves me very confident of the future of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," Cheek said. "The Afghan people should be very proud of their accomplishments and rightfully optimistic."

In other news from Afghanistan, A U.S. servicemember was killed three others were wounded by an improvised explosive device today in Kunar province. The coalition troops were on a routine patrol when the IED exploded, officials said. The injured were flown by helicopter to a medical facility at Bagram Airfield, where they were reported to be in stable condition.

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