By Army Spc. Jaime' D. De Leon
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 10, 2009 - NATO forces working to secure and develop rural areas of this eastern Afghanistan province are finding support from the provincial governor, who is urging local leaders to embrace the opportunities of working with the International Security Assistance Force. Gov. Attiqullah Lodin spoke with the sub-governor and local elders about plans to bring a stronger government presence to the Kherwar district during a July 27 meeting.
"This time is the time of opportunities," Lodin said. "Let's take these opportunities now and build a future for our children. I am telling you now, let's work together, shoulder to shoulder."
Part of Lodin's plan for Kherwar involves upgrading the infrastructure. Kherwar currently has dirt roads and a district center made of metal containers and mud huts.
"Kherwar is far from Logar and government," Lodin said. "If you're driving on dirt, it takes three to four hours to get to Logar. When we get the roads paved, it will take 20 minutes."
His plans for development do not end with building roads.
"We can build hospitals for our wives and our children," and more schools, Lodin said.
But roads and buildings can't change everything. Fighting between ISAF troops and local insurgents, as well as local residents with each other, remains a problem.
"If people are having problems, have them come to me," Lodin said. "Let's solve problems with talking, not guns and fighting."
Lodin said he doesn't want to give up on his countrymen who are fighting, but rather wants to join them all together in the effort to improve Afghanistan.
"Tell the people who are fighting to throw down their weapons and come join us," he said. "I promise I will not harm them."
Lodin also made a point of letting the people of Kherwar know that ISAF is part of the solution, not the problem. In a crowd of men who are old enough to remember the 1979 Russian invasion, Lodin made a clear distinction between the former Soviet superpower and the current foreign forces.
"The Russians were here to colonize and make us part of their kingdom," Lodin said. "ISAF is here as our guest, to help us. They left their brothers and sisters and children far away." He reiterated that the soldiers came to help, not hurt, the people Kherwar.
With so many plans in the works, the soldiers of 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, who occupy Combat Outpost Cherokee in Kherwar, has no plans to leave any time soon. With Kherwar's security improving, the unit will maintain a presence to ensure the progress made at the meeting does not backslide.
When ISAF troops moved into the Kherwar district, some local people were afraid to work with them, fearing enemy retaliation. The soldiers worried about starting missions because they knew they didn't yet have the people's trust.
"We believed that Kherwar was the ultimate boogey man," said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen, commander of Task Force Iron Titan. "But things are starting to change here, now that we have started to focus more on the area."
Army Col. David B. Haight, Task Force Spartan commander, said progress is taking place. "We're executing projects," he said. "We've conducted security operations to increase security in Kherwar."
The colonel noted that more than four dozen elders attended the July 27 meeting.
"This leadership was willing to come in here and talk to this group [of elders] in this area with a sense of security," he said. "That couldn't have happened 90 days ago."
With Afghanistan's scheduled Aug. 21 elections around the corner, reassurances of ISAF troops and the local government help to bolster the people of Afghanistan, the governor said.
"I feel very proud, coming down here to meet the brave people of Kherwar," Lodin said. "The first time I came to Kherwar [as governor], people came to me with their problems. I'm glad they came to me; I want to help. The people of Kherwar have the right to voice their complaints, and I am here to back them up."
(Army Spc. Jaime' D. De Leon serves in the Task Force Spartan public affairs office.)