July 24th, 2006 06:00 EST
Insurgents Attempt To Delay Afghan Road Progress
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Despite the best efforts of insurgents who destroyed $200,000 (USD) worth of heavy construction equipment earmarked for reconstruction projects, the future for residents here remains bright.
Suspected members of the Taliban hijacked the driver of an eighteen-wheeler on July 10. He was transporting a bulldozer and front end loader for use on road construction projects throughout the Panjshir Valley.
The driver was forced to divert the truckload of equipment off the Herat-Kandahar Road into the desert near the city of Chakau where the cargo was destroyed. Although he feared for his life, the driver escaped unharmed.
“I was stopped by several Taliban members who forced me to drive off the road until I couldn’t travel any farther,” he said. “Then they fired multiple rockets at the equipment and both machines were completely burned.”
The dozer and loader were part of a $470K equipment package funded by the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, or CERP, for the Panjshir government’s use. Eagle AA Corporation of Kandahar was hired to procure and ship the equipment.After being notified of the equipment destruction, Panjshir Governor Haji Bahlol reflected on his military past and commented what a senseless act this was.
"When I was a commander with the Mujahideen, we destroyed many military vehicles but we never destroyed construction equipment,” he said. “There is no purpose to that.”
The equipment was primarily for the provincial government to build and maintain small roads and paths to link villages to the main roads being constructed. The Taliban destroyed equipment that would have let Afghans build and maintain their own infrastructure.
“I was in the Abdara Valley on Thursday and saw villagers crushing rock with a pick and hauling it by wheel barrel to build a road; their lives would be a lot easier with that bulldozer,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Neal Kringel, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team commander.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is funding 47 kilometers of road extending from the center of the province south to connect the valley to Charikar and Kabul. This segment of the road cost $16 million and construction began in June 2005. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of December.
Governor Bahlol said the new roads tie in closely to his goals for an improved outlook for Panjshir residents. Education and agriculture are his number one and two priorities respectively and the much improved road helps make each possible.
“Education and agriculture are keys to helping people improve their livelihood,” said Governor Bahlol. “The paved road makes it easier for students to get to school and it will open new markets for our agricultural goods.”
The director of the Panjshir PRT called the road project the single largest agent of change in Panjshir.
“Economically, local Afghans are emphatically optimistic about the commercial links this road will provide,” said Mr. Fletcher Burton. “Politically, it helps demonstrate the Coalition’s commitment to reconstruction in Afghanistan. Socially, it helps expose the Panjshir people to other cultures.”
This disruption of progress by the insurgents will not stop the reconstruction efforts, development and economic growth of the province or improved livelihood of its residents.
“The Coalition and our Afghan partners build and the Taliban destroys,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, Combined Joint Task Force 76 commander. “But, we will prevail because the Coalition remains vigilant and committed to its mission of helping the government of Afghanistan rebuild and defeat the insurgency.”
CUTLINE:Suspected members of the Taliban hijacked the driver of an eighteen-wheeler near the city of Chakau on July 10. The driver was transporting a bulldozer and front end loader for use on road construction projects throughout the Panjshir Valley. The insurgents destroyed the equipment valued at $200K by firing rocket propelled grenades at it causing it to burn. The equipment was primarily for the provincial government to build and maintain small roads and paths to link villages to the main roads being constructed. The Taliban destroyed equipment that would have let Afghans build and maintain their own infrastructure. (Photo courtesy of Eagle AA Corporation).