By Army 1st Lt. Christopher Stachura
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 13, 2009 - The responsibility of making Afghan roads safe for civilian and military traffic is a daily reality for soldiers of the route-clearance team attached to 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, known as Task Force Catamount. A subordinate unit of Task Force Spartan, Task Force Catamount has undertaken several projects in Afghanistan's Wardak province designed to stimulate and facilitate economic growth.
"Our route-clearance activities allow freedom of movement along main traffic routes and separate the insurgency from the population," said Army Capt. Andrew Harris, assistant operations officer. "Their operations strengthen commerce and bolster local economies by allowing local residents to travel safely to bazaars and conduct business."
Two main traffic ways run through the province's mountainous terrain. Highway 1 extends north to south from the Afghan capital of Kabul to beyond Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The Jalrez Highway stretches west to east from the border of Iran to Kabul. It travels through the Jalrez Valley, linking several villages together.
Farming drives the local economy, but the villages of Markazi Behsood and Hesa Awal Behsood feature significant production and trade of items such as rugs, carpets, jewelry and shawls. Agriculture is the main source of income for 43 percent of the population in Wardak province, and about 80 percent of the rural population owns or manages agricultural land or garden plots.
The terrain in Wardak is a challenge for route-clearance operations. Only about 30 percent of roads are accessible year-round and more than half are passable only periodically, depending on the season.
Other difficulties include seasonal mud slides, flash floods, and the fact that less than 12 percent of Wardak is made up of flat land. Still, the transportation infrastructure is fairly well developed. All district centers are connected by dirt roads to the provincial capital of Maydan Shar, and about 80 percent of villages are accessible by roads.
"Our mission is essential, because it provides coalition forces, as well as the local ... population, assured mobility throughout Wardak," Army 1st Lt. Alvin Cavalier, the route-clearance team's platoon leader, said. "We've encountered considerable success thus far, effectively neutralizing several improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnances. Continually building on our success permits us to apply increasing pressure on the enemies of Afghanistan."
Army Capt. Joseph Reagan, Task Force Catamount's intelligence officer, said "They set the conditions to safely operate along main and ancillary routes in the province. Their success permits accelerated economic growth and continued humanitarian aid delivery to the population."
(Army 1st Lt. Christopher Stachura serves with 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment.)