By Air Force Capt. John T. Stamm
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 21, 2009 - U.S. and Afghan officials joined local residents in the Anaba district of Afghanistan's Panjshir province Oct. 8 to officially open a spur connecting the historic Daraband pass to the main road in the Panjshir River valley. The Daraband pass is the strategic connection between the Shomali Plain and the Panjshir Valley, and it's where the Northern Alliance and U.S. troops began their campaign to roust the Taliban shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Members of the provincial reconstruction team joined Panjshir Gov. Hajji Bahlol, Anaba district governor Hajji Sadiqi and more than 100 local residents in a ceremony at the Daraband High School to open the 3.75-mile compacted gravel spur, dubbed Khermensan Road. After the opening prayer, local school children sang a traditional song called "Torona" about the brave people of Panjshir and their resistance to the Soviet occupation and Taliban rule.
Army Lt. Col. Eric Hommel, commander of the provincial reconstruction team, was the first speaker.
"I ask for your continued assistance as we proceed forward," Hommel said. "We are moving from a time where the [provincial reconstruction team], working with the government, provides for the people to a time where the people must take ownership for their future."
James DeHart, the team's director, spoke next and trumpeted the progress cooperation has brought about.
"The reason the [team] has been able to build roads, schools, and clinics is because the people of Panjshir have provided for their own security and for the security of the [team]," DeHart said. "We share a vision with the people of Panjshir for peace, stability, and economic development. Together, we stand against terrorism, narcotics, and corruption."
Bahlol, the keynote speaker, thanked the provincial reconstruction team and the American people for providing the resources for projects such as the road. He also urged residents to take care of the road, schools and all the projects belonging to them.
The governor spoke of a man with no shoes who, in the dead of winter, would carry ammunition and food to fellow residents of Panjshir who were fighting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
"It is this spirit," he said, "that provides the security that makes development possible."
In a show of solidarity, Bahlol then presented Hommel with an Afghan carpet made in the valley. Hommel accepted on behalf of his predecessor, Army Lt. Col. Mark E. Stratton, who died along with three other members of his team in a suicide bomber attack in Kapisa province.
"Colonel Stratton's team initiated this project. It is he who deserves this gift," Hommel said. "I will ensure his family receives this so they can see the lasting impression his team made on this valley."
(Air Force Capt. John T. Stamm serves in the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team public affairs office.)