By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 22, 2007 - The U.S. provincial reconstruction team in one of Afghanistan's easternmost provinces is making great strides in working with provincial and district leaders to build local infrastructure and capability, the team's commander said today. The PRT in Nangahar province, which shares a long border with Pakistan, has been on the ground for four months and already has completed 11 reconstruction projects worth about $800,000 and established key relationships with local leaders, Air Force Lt. Col. Gordon Phillips, the PRT commander, told Pentagon reporters via satellite from Afghanistan.
Phillips said the PRT has seen "significant progress" in its time on the ground. "During our missions, we assess community needs and, in cooperation with the government, we build schools, government centers, roads, medical capability and other basic infrastructure projects using Afghan contractors and labor," he said. "We also provide economic development opportunities, many designed to aid women and disabled Afghans."
A sign of progress in the province is the recent completion of the provincial developmental plan, Phillips said. This was a month-long process to identify reconstruction projects from the community and district level, which resulted in 80 developmental projects in 18 sectors being identified. The process involved direct interaction between the tribes, the districts and interest groups, including women and disabled people. The resulting plan was sent to Kabul to become part of the Afghan national development strategy, he said.
"The key goal is strengthening the Nangahar economy and government and providing the Afghans with essential services and security," Phillips said.
The PRT has 33 ongoing reconstruction projects worth more than $17 million and is working with Afghans to build roads linking all 22 districts in the province with the main route through the region, Phillips said. He noted that his team members have not been hindered at all by security problems, as they work closely with the local people, U.S. forces in the area, and Afghan security forces.
"This is a critical economically rich area of the province along the Kabul River," Phillips said. "These efforts will create jobs and create sustainable capacity."
Shawn Waddoups, the State Department representative on the PRT, said the most important part of his job is establishing relationships with provincial leaders. The team meets with the 22 district sub-governors, members of the provincial council, national parliamentarians who represent Nangahar in Kabul, traditional community leaders, the United Nations, and key international and non-governmental organizations.
"We always emphasize that lasting stability here in Nangahar and throughout Afghanistan will be based on Afghan-developed solutions," Waddoups said. "These leaders are proving that they can be successful at coming up with these solutions."
Waddoups and Phillips both noted that citizens are increasingly coming to coalition or Afghan security forces with tips about insurgents and bomb makers. They also said they meet regularly with the Pakistani military to coordinate border security efforts.
Opium is still grown in Nangahar province, Phillips said, but the PRT is stepping up efforts to offer alternatives to local farmers and incentives for growing legal crops. Waddoups said farmers are seeing they have options now, and the team is working to connect Nangahar to the international trade market to boost the value of fruits and vegetables grown there.
"People are gaining hope, the kind of hope which is giving them confidence to invest in their future," Waddoups said. "That's what's going to build lasting stability."