By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
June 17, 2010 - Engineers with NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan are working with their Afghan partners to build infrastructure to support the growth of the Afghan national security forces, a senior officer involved in that effort said yesterday.
During a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable, Army Col. Mike Wehr, director of the Combined Joint Engineer Office for the training commands, said Afghanistan cannot sustain itself without the proper infrastructure in facilities and governance.
Wehr's office ensures adequate facilities are available, develops engineer leadership at the ministerial level and builds sustainable capacity and capability to enhance the Afghan government's ability to hold and build stability and security, he explained.
It's imperative, Wehr said, to keep the growth of leadership at pace with or ahead of the growth of forces at the troop level. Without competent management at the ministerial level, he added, no amount of on-the-job education will create a sustainable Afghan engineer corps.
"We're constantly deciding how to best execute construction," he said. "If we do an immediate build that gets the requirement done, it may satisfy the construction of a building. But what we're really after is the building of an enduring capability within Afghanistan, specifically for the engineers."
Teaming with the Afghans is very important to the process, the colonel said. Creation of a facilities shura, or conference, has helped to expand teamwork between the Joint Engineer Office and the Afghan government. In the shura, he said, issues broader than basic construction or land questions are addressed.
The Joint Engineer Office is actively working through some key challenges, including projecting facility requirements two years ahead of current operations, building temporary facilities in the meantime for counterinsurgency operations, allowing continued ministerial development and use of engineering leadership and knowledge that has not been used in generations.
"We've made a significant amount of progress in the past six months since I've been here," he said. "There's a distinct challenge ... as we accelerate the fielding of forces. Whether it's the police or the army, there are significant challenges in keeping up with facilities."
Wehr said his engineers continue to work on construction projects to keep the burgeoning Afghan security forces housed, and making sure they don't come to rely on U.S. or NATO assistance to build facilities before their troops begin to leave the country. His team knows they have to ensure they're creating sustainable growth in Afghan engineering, the colonel said.
"Our mission is to ensure adequate facilities," he said. That ranges from tents and other temporary structures to pre-engineered buildings to more enduring brick-and-mortar facilities.
"It doesn't do us a lot of good if were just constructing for them," he added. "We want them to do it with us, and in fact understand how to maintain it."