War on Terrorism

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Face of Defense: Officer Makes Difference in Afghanistan

By Natela Cutter
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2012 – When Army Lt. Col. Rob Rabb joined the Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands program, he never dreamed that he would become a speech writer or that his letters would land on the desk of Afghan President Hamid Karzai for signature.

“You can imagine my surprise when I realized that my proposal for a project was diverted from the minister, for whom I thought I was writing it, to the president of Afghanistan,” Rabb said at Camp Julien here, the home of the Counter-Insurgency Training Academy, attended by coalition forces and Afghan National Army soldiers.

As a mechanical engineer, Rabb brings a special skill set to the AfPak Hands program by working in a cluster of business ministries called the agriculture, reconstruction and development cluster.

“We have embedded partners [in the Afghan ministries], and our job is to go over there and not get stuck in their battle rhythm, but really to work at the higher level to integrate the ministries, have them work better internally and externally,” Rabb explained, referring to effective communication between the Afghan government and external partners such as international aid agencies, nongovernment agencies and coalition forces.

“For example, there is a plan for a large scale hydroelectric project that will require quadrupling the capacity of the facility,” he said, adding that the power generated would be run down to one of the major cities.

“This is a huge effort,” Rabb said, noting that electricity in many places in Afghanistan is generated by diesel fuel. The project is important because the cost of running the diesel generators would be unsustainable once coalition forces leave Afghanistan, Rabb said.

With his engineering skills and his ability to speak conversational Dari, coupled with the knowledge of Afghan customs and traditions, Rabb is able to advise the Afghan ministers on how to plan and prioritize to successfully construct the hydroelectric plant in a remote area with a strong insurgent foothold.

“For instance,” he said, “recently I have been asked to look at the national priority program energy plan for the next three years,. … I am looking at that program with their engineers to lay out their priorities, their funding, and their plans.”

Rabb said he tries to relay information back to the international community, helping the Afghans to seek additional funding based on their priorities.

A typical working day for Rabb consists of departing the International Security Assistance Force headquarters early in the morning, driving down “Ministry Row,” where most of the important governmental buildings are located, and beginning his day with a series of meetings. He moves from office to office, drinking tea and chatting with people in Dari, conducting business Afghan style until about 4 p.m.

“I normally come back to ISAF and continue my working day, which consists of reading and responding to emails until late in the evening,” he said.

One of the projects that Rabb is particularly proud of is the ministerial travel program, which involves getting the deputy Afghan ministers out to the provinces and districts to talk with local government and tribal leaders.

“Getting the ministers out there where they can talk to the local people and connect the local government to the higher government in Kabul, I think, is important,” said Rabb, explaining that communicating to the wider public is challenging because of Afghanistan’s lack of media and the scarcity of resources for people to purchase electronics to remain informed.

“[The travel] gives some credibility to the Afghan government, because right now in lots of places it is very disconnected with the local villages,” Rabb said. “What we are really looking at is connecting with the local leadership who have tribal affiliations and talking about resources and ways to help them. And the Afghan government has resources.

“We do have far-reaching abilities and can influence a few things,” he added. “We do have strategic effects.”

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