By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2006 – Steady progress is being made to provide new roads, electric power and water distribution systems to the Afghan people, the U.S. Army's top engineer said today. The Taliban destroyed much of Afghanistan's feeble infrastructure while they were in power, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander and chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said from Afghanistan during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters.
That's why Afghanistan isn't a reconstruction mission, Strock said.
"This is a construction mission," the three-star general said. "And, when you look at the resources available in this country, it's going to take a while to mobilize them. And, it's going to take time."
Yet today, about 921 kilometers of Afghan roads are under construction or have been completed, representing a $170 million investment, said Strock, who's in Afghanistan to check up on road building and other engineering projects.
The fifth-poorest country in the world, Afghanistan is a large, mountainous country that's in need of a good road system to boost its economic development, Strock said. That's why U.S. Army engineers are partnering with other agencies, he noted, to build a circuitous road network that will connect Afghanistan's chief cities.
"We're very close to completing the national ring road, which is the primary road which links all the major cities of the country around the circumference of the country," Strock explained. Secondary roads are also being built, he said, to connect provincial centers and the villages beyond.
Establishing a modern road system in Afghanistan will provide a conduit between the central government and its people, Strock said. And, he added, new roads will also connect Afghanistan's people to "health care, economic opportunity, education" and other economic generation factors.
"So, the roads are really one of the most important areas we're working on now," Strock said.
A recent increase in insurgent-led violence in some rural areas of Afghanistan hasn't slowed reconstruction efforts, Strock said. Provincial reconstruction teams continue to implement Afghan-recommended projects across the country, he noted, especially in areas that have experienced security challenges.
Strock's engineers also are engaged in providing electric power and water distribution systems for Afghanistan's citizens. Since Afghanistan has no national power grid, he explained, the engineers have been building rudimentary water-powered electricity generators around rural areas of the country.
"The only practical way to get power to the people is through local pinpoint electrical sources," Strock said. "This is the kind of system they need. It requires no resources to operate except the natural flowing water."
This simpler method of generating electricity dovetails with local agricultural and irrigation programs, Strock said, and provides Afghans "a resource that they have not had available to them."
Strock acknowledged many Afghans might not know about ongoing reconstruction projects conducted on their behalf, because of the size of the country and poor communications.
"If you're not in the immediate vicinity of one of our projects, you may not know anything about it," Strock said. The country's rugged terrain, he explained, makes it "very difficult for people to really understand what's going on around them."
Part of the challenge, Strock noted, is getting the word out to the Afghan people about the many reconstruction projects being undertaken that will eventually improve their lives.
Real progress is being made in Afghanistan, Strock said.
"I think we have sufficient resources, and we're now in the process of gaining that irreversible momentum we seek," the general said.