U.S. Walking Lightly, but Effectively in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2004 The American footprint in Afghanistan is light, but that doesn't mean its impression isn't felt throughout the country.
The main effort in the country against al Qaeda terrorists and the former Taliban rulers centers on provincial reconstruction teams. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited the team here to survey the progress in this most nontraditional war.
The current mission of the PRT in "J-Bad," as the soldiers and Marines assigned here call it, is to support the voter registration drive and prepare for presidential elections in October.
The PRT is multi-agency unit working to rebuild provinces shattered by more than 20 years of war, tribal fighting and Taliban oppression. At its heart are civil affairs specialists. In Jalalabad, these are reservists from Western New York and Ohio. These 10 specialists coordinate actions affecting more than 2.5 million Afghans in the regions around this city of about 600,000. Its area of responsibility runs to the border with Pakistan.
With the civil affairs soldiers is a force-protection element of Marines, and a staff of cooks, mechanics, supply specialists and other support personnel.
Other U.S. agencies play important roles with the teams. The Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Department of Agriculture work in them. Afghan government agencies such as the interior and agriculture ministries also work with the teams.
Not in the PRT, but affiliated with it, are U.S. Special Forces personnel. These bearded soldiers have moved into the area to provide protection for the people of the city as the election draws nearer. Army Maj. Patrick, the commander of the Special Forces unit in the area who did not want his last name revealed, said his men go to areas that others can't. Taliban and al Qaeda have been targeting election officials and other nongovernmental agencies for attack. The Special Forces personnel are the fist in the glove in meeting the threat those terrorists pose.
Also around the team, but not part of it, are members of the Afghan National Army. Companies of Afghan soldiers provide force protection for the civil affairs specialists as they go through the countryside assessing projects and speaking with leaders in various cities and towns.
Army Maj. Louis Sand, PRT deputy commander, said the team continues to work on reconstruction projects around the region. These range from building hospitals and medical clinics to providing generators.
The team helps find the funds and manpower to build and maintain roads, get sanitation trucks for areas and refurbish the irrigation systems.
Many projects concentrate on enhancing security and rendering the area safe. The team bought explosive ordnance disposal vehicles for the local governments, for example.
And it doesn't take huge amounts of money, either, officials said. "Money goes a long way in an area this poor," Sand said. For example, building an entire school costs roughly $30,000. Putting in an addition to a local university is roughly the same cost.
Other projects cost nothing except transportation to the area.
Fifteen other PRTs are spread throughout Afghanistan, all doing the same type of work. Each completed project, each voter who registers, each child who receives health care or an education is another step on the road to a stable, peaceful, tolerant and democratic Afghanistan, said officials traveling with Rumsfeld.