BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, July 5, 2006 – The U.S. Agency for International Development has started a $16 million road project that extends from the center of Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley and will eventually connect the valley to southern markets in Charikar and Kabul.
A construction crew from Turkish engineering firm Entes and local Afghans work on the embankment as a front-end loader smoothes a new surface for the Panjshir Valley road. The 47-kilometer U.S. Agency for International Development road project is scheduled for completion in December. Photo by Tech. Sgt. John Cumper, USAF (Click photo for screen-resolution image). Construction on the 47-kilometer paved road began in June and is scheduled for completion by the end of this year.
To supplement the USAID project, the coalition is using Commander's Emergency Reconstruction Program funding to extend the road approximately 20 additional kilometers down the main valley floor at a cost of $2.8 million. While the physical remoteness of the Panjshir Valley has created a secure, tight-knit society, its ancient seclusion also has served as an economic hindrance -- that is, until now, U.S. officials said.
Turkish engineering company Entes has been contracted to complete the road, and more than 300 Afghans were hired to help build it. Historically, the natural barriers that isolate the people of the Panjshir Valley from neighboring communities also offer inhabitants a tactical sanctuary. More than 25 years ago, the Panjshir mujahideen used the northeastern Afghan territory as an environmental fortress to stave off the Soviets. More recently, residents used the terrain to help prevent the infiltration of Taliban extremists.
"Economically, local Afghans are emphatically optimistic about the commercial links this road will provide," said Fletcher Burton, director of the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team. "Politically, it helps demonstrate the coalition's commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan. Socially, it helps expose the Panjshir people to other cultures." Burton said the road project is the single biggest agent of change right now in Panjshir, which became its own province in April 2004. "The construction crew is laying about a half-kilometer of blacktop per day," he said. "And they'll need to make that kind of progress to meet our December deadline."
Local optimism for the road project was apparent when all shopkeepers in the valley volunteered to tear down their storefronts to allow for the 6-meter-wide road. "USAID doesn't compensate shopkeepers for rebuilding their storefronts," Burton said. "They understood the road needed to be 6 meters wide, so they happily cleared the way for progress because they understand the benefits. The new road replaces a centuries-old donkey path."
Dianna Wuagneux, USAID development advisor to the coalition, said two important factors contribute to the success of the Panjshir Valley road project. "Security in Panjshir is very good, which allows the construction crew to make rapid progress," she said. "Also, local Afghans in the area support USAID and coalition efforts, and cooperation from their leaders is very important in helping bring infrastructure to the people."