By Air Force Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 8, 2008 - The men and women of the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan's Farah province work with local residents to make life better in one of the country's most austere regions. Farah is no stranger to the destructive ravages of war. After 28 years of strife that included a long Soviet occupation, civil war and harsh Taliban rule, the people are tired and weary – yet anxious to rebuild.
Moving peace and stability forward in Farah is no easy task, given the harsh surroundings and inhospitable conditions of western Afghanistan's farthest reaches. But, under the watchful eye of Navy Cmdr. Shoshana Chatfield, the Farah PRT is making impressive strides and drastically improving people's lives.
The PRT works along three main lines of operation, Chatfield said.
"We're helping maintain security, helping increase the capacity of local government, and helping with reconstruction and development," she explained.
Most importantly, she added, the Farah PRT connects the people with their government.
"Helping strengthen the systems, services and the offices that exist within the provincial government are what's essential to our mission," Chatfield said.
Farah Gov. Azadi Roohul Amin outlined what he believes to be the most tangible benefits for the province's people. "I want to focus on water projects, roads and electricity for Farah province," he said.
Amin has worked hard to reach the position of governor. He was educated in Afghanistan until 1980, when his family fled to Pakistan. During his time as a refugee in Pakistan, Amin said, he contemplated things that might help his country recover from years of war. The governor said his visions of improved infrastructure in Farah are essential to the long-term peace and stability in the region.
"The completion of these projects will improve conditions in the health, education, security and business sectors," he said.
The Farah PRT directly supports the governor's objectives and lends a hand at every opportunity.
"In some cases it's not reconstruction, but rather construction," Chatfield said. "Many things are being built from nothing."
Chatfield and her civil military operations staff recently traveled to the village of Khormeleq with Amin to meet with elders and discuss work on a PRT road-improvement project and a water dam.
"The governor was eager to hear their concerns and will shape these projects to meet their needs," Chatfield said.
Education is seen as the most far-reaching strategic priority by the provincial government. The director of education, known only as Atiqullah, is charged with this element of Farah's recovery.
"Education in Afghanistan will become grafted with the education all over the world," he said. "We will see much progress here, and that will require our educational system to match other countries of the progressive world."
One of many unique programs undertaken by the Farah PRT is the construction of a $1.2 million Center for Excellence in the village of Nan Gab. According to Army Lt. Col. James Campbell, civil military operations center leader, the school essentially is a university for higher learning.
"This institution will be localized to Farah," Campbell explained. "We want to give students an opportunity to stay here, which not only helps strengthen western Afghanistan now, but far into the future."
It has collateral benefits as well, he said. "A school this large will also generate some localized economic activity."
Campbell and his team don't stop at road and school construction.
"We currently have about 30 various projects we're actively coordinating with," he said, adding that he works closely with other development partners such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"We all work toward a better Farah and a sound investment for the generations to come." Campbell said. "What we're doing is trying to reverse nearly 30 years of atrophy in education and infrastructure here."
Security and soldiering is the responsibility of the PRT security forces. Army Spc. Abram Wright of the Pennsylvania National Guard's C Company, 3rd Battalion, 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the security forces support the mission by providing a safe environment for the PRT's work.
"These PRT missions really help the people out and let us get a lot of face time with the villagers, which builds better relations," Wright said. "We really like being out here. Just by looking around and being visible, we're showing the people we want to keep them safe and be their friends."
Army Capt. Jeffrey Simmons works daily to build trust and productive relationships with villages across the vast Farah province. As a humanitarian assistance administrator, he administers a work-for-food program.
"Instead of creating a welfare program, we're encouraging community participation in projects that need to be done and that they identify," Simmons said.
In a recent visit to the village of Masow, Simmons' team partnered with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to deliver promised stoves and staples to more than 60 workers.
"These people cleaned up debris in the Shaqamamood canal to get ready for the coming snowmelt runoff," he explained. "They did an excellent job with this tough project, which will pay dividends later. It gives them hope and opportunity by taking an active ownership of their village."
Chatfield's passion and enthusiasm for her team's job is contagious.
"I truly believe in the mission of the PRT," she said. "It's pretty clear that guns alone aren't going to create peace and stability in Afghanistan. The infrastructure of this country has to be strengthened, and we can help."
Despite the harsh living conditions, the Farah team is exceptionally motivated and upbeat.
"There's a lot of personal payback in what we do, but some of it is a little bittersweet, because we invest a lot of ourselves in the relationship here," Chatfield said. "And, it won't all be finished while we're here this year, and maybe not next year, so we have to carry that unfinished business around with us when we leave. But we'll also carry the pride of accomplishment."
(Air Force Lt. Col. Leslie Pratt serves with American Forces Network Afghanistan.)