War on Terrorism

Friday, March 25, 2011

Afghan District Prepares for Transition

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2011 – The Mehtar Lam district in Afghanistan’s Laghman province is ready for its role in the first security-transition wave set for July, the provincial reconstruction team leader and Laghman’s governor said yesterday.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced March 22 that Mehtar Lam will be among the first seven areas to transition to Afghan forces security responsibility beginning in July.

Air Force Lt. Col. John “Red” Walker, commander of the Mehtar Lam Provincial Reconstruction Team in Regional Command East, and Laghman Gov. Mohammad Iqbal Azizi briefed Pentagon reporters yesterday from Bagram Airfield. Azizi said conditions are improving across his country as Afghans exercise democracy and the nation’s health services, governance and security are on the rise.

“We are highly optimistic about developments and achievements in Afghanistan,” he said. “But there are some challenges, of course.” Azizi cautioned that the international community may expect his country to achieve improvements more quickly than is realistic.

“We cannot compensate for three decades of war in 10 years,” the governor said.

As Mehtar Lam prepares to start the security transition process in July, Azizi said, the district’s security level will allow development there to progress.

“With the passage of each day, security is improving,” the governor said. “Insurgents are highly marginalized in my province, and the society is highly immune from Taliban's radicalization.”

The provincial government and its international partners have a strategic approach to work with the Afghan populace, Azizi said. “We very constructively engage Afghan people and communities in development projects,” he added, “but at the same time in security.”

Azizi credited provincial reconstruction teams with helping to establish effective district- and provincial-level government and public services in Afghanistan over the past five to nine years.

“There was no capacity in Afghan administration,” Azizi said. “So the [reconstruction team] very constructively and positively contributed to capacity building, governance, project management and also the technical assistance to Afghan government [and] local government in the provinces.”

As Afghanistan builds its local government capacity, he said, the teams’ activities will transfer to district and provincial government organizations.

“We appreciate the very impressive and outstanding performance of [reconstruction teams] in the provinces,” he said. “And of course, when the capacity is built, there should be a transition.”

The Mehtar Lam team Walker commands includes more than 110 people, including service members and representatives from the U.S. State and Agriculture departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Walker said.

During an e-mail interview after the briefing, Walker said the Mehtar Lam team has completed several large-scale projects in the past year, largely focused on freedom of movement and education throughout the province.

Working with Azizi’s administration, Walker’s team has completed a Center of Education and Excellence in Mehtar Lam, an Information Culture and Youth Center, and several key road improvement projects, the commander said.

“Our engineering and civil affairs teams also have completed many smaller projects focused on meeting local needs, which will connect the people to the government,” Walker added. “These projects include services like [water-powered electrical generators], protection walls, building repairs and supplying equipment and footbridges.”

The team’s State Department representative supports governance initiatives and serves as a liaison regional political advisors and coalition forces, Walker said, and also supports embassy programs involving counternarcotics, rule of law and Afghan army and police training.

Walker said the team’s State Department rule of law advisor coordinates with judges, prosecutors, and police investigators to improve criminal prosecution effectiveness; organizes classes to raise public awareness of rule of law and human rights; and works with prison officials to monitor and improve prison conditions and rehabilitation opportunities for detainees.

The team’s Agriculture Department representative manages a similar range of tasks, Walker said, mentoring the provincial agriculture, irrigation and livestock directorate, supporting agricultural reconstruction and assisting with water management.

“Water management within Laghman province overwhelmingly deals with irrigation,” Walker said. “Any time a water project is proposed, a fraction of the additional water gained or held back is used for drinking, and most of that by livestock and other animals. But the vast majority is used for irrigation of crops and orchard trees, then for livestock, and lastly, for human consumption.

“All of the [provincial reconstruction team’s] actions and all of our processes are nested ‘shohna ba shohna’ [shoulder to shoulder],” Walker said. “We are really integrated very well with the governor and his staff.”

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