By Air Force Capt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 5, 2008 - After overseeing and funding about $8 million in construction in the previous two years in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, the U.S. military had almost $40 million in projects ongoing in the province as fiscal 2008 came to a close Sept. 30. "I am proud of the accomplishments of my team in Nangarhar, especially the [provincial reconstruction team]," Army Col. John Spiszer, commander of the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team said. "They have accomplished a level of development and support to governance not seen anywhere else in Afghanistan. Their efforts in Nangarhar are leading the way, and they are ready for the next stage in the areas of security, development and governance."
The Nangarhar PRT is building 20 schools, 12 major roads, five irrigation systems, two bridges and five major structures. This includes refortification of the canal system built by the Soviets in the 1980s that feeds the entire province, including outlying districts that otherwise would be barren and a multi-district well plan.
"Roads and power are the future," Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Donovan, the PRT's commander, said. "Without them, this country cannot move to the next level of self-sustainment. These two things will carry the next generation to a prosperous tomorrow."
The Army established the PRT in 2003. Today, it is made up of active-duty soldiers and airmen, National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, and civilians from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Agriculture. Team members serve tours of about a year.
The 3,000-square-mile province, about twice the size of Rhode Island, has 22 officially recognized districts. Local tribes recognize a 23rd district, which also requires the team's attention.
"This job has been extremely challenging this past year, but has also allowed me to utilized skills that I learned in the civilian sector that I never would have been able to put into practice doing a traditional military civil engineering mission," said Air Force Capt. Michael Siebert, Nangarhar PRT civil engineer.
"I have been able to mentor and develop Afghan engineers. They now possess a skill set that will help them develop better communities across their country," he said.
The civil affairs mission in Nangarhar is like no other and garnered the attention of the White House and international media. In 2007, Nangarhar was one of Afghanistan's worst provinces in regard to the poppy production that fuels the international drug trade. But three months ago, the province was declared poppy free.
Though an array of factors led to the turnaround, PRT officials said, the aggressive development and reconstruction of the province and the leadership of Gov. Agha Gul Sherzai can't be overlooked. Nangarhar's poppy eradication resulted in fiscal incentives from Afghan and State Department programs.
"In my 14 years in civil affairs, both here and in Iraq, this has been the most ambitious reconstruction mission thus far," Army Maj. Robert Minton, a PRT civil affairs officer, said. "The level of development here is creating an epicenter for trade and commerce that will take this region beyond merely a level of sustainment."
(Air Force Capt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt serves in the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team 3-1 Public Affairs Office.)