By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 17, 2007 - A few-hundred-mile stretch of road through rugged, mountainous terrain is key to rebuilding Afghanistan's economy and improving security in the country's eastern region along the Pakistan border, a senior officer in the region said today. When finished, 400 kilometers of new road will connect farmers, merchants and government programs throughout the rural region, said Army Col. Chip Preysler, commander of 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which operates in the region.
"They're enablers for the rest of the infrastructure and economic development. You've got to have the roads to connect the people, to get the markets going, as well as to increase the security," Preysler told Pentagon reporters in a teleconference from Forward Operating Base Fenty in Jalalabad.
"We're allowing the people to get connected to the government; we're allowing the government security forces to expand their security bubble and reach out to all these places that have never been accessible to their forces, and we're seeing huge dividends where the insurgents are no longer able to operate freely in those areas," he said.
Preysler's forces have been on the ground in the region since June. In the past four months, his troops have concentrated on improving economic development in the area by financing and building roads, as well as helping build capacity in the Afghan national security forces, including the army, police and border police.
Preysler said he has seen progress in the capabilities of the Afghan forces and that they are playing a larger role in planning and conducting operations. Two provincial and five district coordination centers are now in place to provide coordination between Afghan and U.S. forces. Another provincial coordination center is planned, he said.
U.S. forces in the area have grown from a battalion- to a brigade-sized force and are fighting for parts of the country that have not yet been under coalition control. Fighting in rugged mountain passes along the region's 280-mile border with Pakistan at altitudes of up to 14,000 feet has proven a difficult, tough fight, he said. His troops have partnered with the Afghan border police to increase their numbers and help stop insurgents, drugs and other smuggling operations from coming into the country.
Because of the size and terrain, the border in his area is difficult to secure, Preysler said. But, by working with the Afghan border police, who are familiar with the terrain, key locations or "choke points" were chosen, and forces are concentrating efforts and setting up checkpoints. Preysler's troops also are training new recruits into the border police increase the size of that force. Once its forces are grown, the Afghan border police will assume the entirety of the mission.
"That's the overall strategy, ... to look at the positions where insurgents habitually have come across and put border checkpoints there that can be appropriately manned by the Afghan border police, with our support and our training, of course," Preysler said. "We just have to continue to build and grow this Afghan border police force, which right now is in a rebuilding year. I've put a lot of force from Task Force Bayonet behind this problem, and I think we're getting after it."