By Navy Lt. Neil Myers
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 28, 2008 - The Konar River runs for 150 kilometers and serves as a natural border between eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Although the villages along the eastern and western banks of the river are part of Konar, the river reinforces cultural and political alliances between Afghans on the eastern shore and tribesmen across the border in Pakistan. The people on the eastern side have had very little connection to the provincial government. To resolve this problem, the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team has embarked on a bridge-building strategy to connect the Afghan government to the five provincial districts east of the Konar River. Until recently, Afghans in the Khas Konar, Sarkani, Naray, Marawara and Dangam districts looked to Pakistan for cultural affiliation, services and trade.
Two bridges, in Nawabad and Asmar, now connect the eastern side of the river with the west and serve as the only means of vehicle access to the provincial center. The PRT is building five new bridges in the Guryak, Khas Konar, Marawara, Bar Sholtan and Saw Bridge districts to accommodate two-way commercial truck traffic and connect residents from the isolated areas along Pakistan's border with the rest of Konar.
Navy Lt. Matthew Myers, Konar PRT engineer, said local Afghan companies are doing all of the construction work.
"These projects demonstrate that Afghan engineers are capable of building large-scale and technically challenging projects," Myers said.
Myers also reported that residents on both sides of the river enthusiastically support the bridges.
"Due to the popularity of the bridges, there have been no attacks on the projects," Myers said. "Each bridge has an estimated lifetime of 60 years, so the benefits will last for generations of Afghans."
Navy Cmdr. Daniel Dwyer, Konar PRT commander, said the bridges will show local people their government knows and cares about them. "The bridges will further legitimize the Afghan government to the people in these areas," he said, "showing that the Afghan government is capable of bringing large-scale infrastructure projects to an area neglected by 30 years of war."
Construction is on time and on budget for completion between October and March, Dwyer added.
Sayeed Wahidi, Konar's provincial governor, said he sees the five bridges as transformational.
"These bridges will give [the Afghan national security forces] access to the most problematic areas of Konar," he said. "They will disrupt the insurgency along the border districts and will connect the Afghan citizens to markets, health care and the provincial government."
(Navy Lt. Neil Myers serves with the Konar Provincial Reconstruction Team.)