By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 5, 2007 - In Afghanistan's "strategic province" of Khowst, enhanced cooperation between coalition and Afghan forces, increased funding from Congress, and improved governance are "mutually reinforcing each other," the commander of the Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team said today. Khowst, home to some 1 million Afghans, is strategic due to its long political and military history, Navy Cmdr. Kevin Adams told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. The province, located roughly 100 miles southeast of the Afghan capital of Kabul, shares an eastern border with Pakistan and holds former links to al Qaeda.
In 1998, then-President Clinton bombed an al Qaeda training facility in Khowst, marking the first U.S. attack against the terrorist network, Adams said. Less than 10 miles from the commander's headquarters, terrorist Mohammad Atta and several others underwent training in the province. Later they would hijack commercial airlines in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"So for us, Khowst is one of the places where 9/11 started," Adams said.
Speaking about cooperation between Afghan and coalition security forces, the commander said "the welcome mat has stayed out for the international community."
"(The welcome mat) is out for a partnership between the coalition and the Afghan government," he said. "And most important, it's out for a partnership between the Afghan people and the Afghan government to make a strong nation."
Khowst's citizens and tribal leaders are turning against Taliban forces, Adams said, and officials estimate that citizens there are reporting more than 60 percent of improvised explosive devices they discover.
In the past several months, $17 million in supplemental funding from Congress has allowed reconstruction teams in Khowst to pave some 50 miles of road and install 300 drinking-water wells. Other projects completed during that time include 29 newly built schools, six district centers and 30 irrigation dams throughout the province, Adams said.
The commander called the province's government officials "the No. 1 ingredient."
"It's honest and earnest leaders, like Governor (Arsala) Jamal and all the directors and the security leaders in Khowst, which are truly not working for themselves, but they're out there working for the people every day," he said.
Jamal, who joined Adams during the briefing, continues to function as Khowst's governor despite being targeted in four separate suicide-bombing attacks.
"We, in the last seven, eight months have been able to change the perception about Khowst," the governor said. "If this current attention continues and the level of funding continues, I will be able to assure everybody -- all international partners, our people, our government -- that Khowst will become a symbol of peace and become a symbol of success."