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Coalition advisers help Afghans assess potential future uses of facilities

By By Capt. Susan Harrington, Resolute Support Public Affairs

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KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, July 28, 2015 - As the number of international forces who are here as part of the NATO mission draws down, so does the need for bases and facilities throughout the country, meaning a number of these assets will be made available for the government of Afghanistan, as well as private companies and investors.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan currently has about 13,000 troops from about 40 countries. At its height the mission had about 130,000 troops.

To ensure facilities are used to boost the economic capacity of Afghanistan, a group of advisers from Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, and the U.S. Department of Commerce are working collaboratively with Afghan provincial and national leaders to assist in developing an effective transition plan.

“The military or the government does not need all of these assets, so we, as the part of the Commerce Department, in conjunction with CSTC-A, have been asked to do commercial assessments of key bases in Afghanistan to determine their commercial viability to attract both local and international investors,” said Walter Koenig, the commercial service officer for the Afghanistan Investment and Reconstruction Task Force.

The assets on each base vary from location to location and can be used by a variety of different entities, from agriculture to mechanical companies to military-specific training facilities.

“The benefits are the private sector gets the much needed infrastructure at a very low initial cost, all of these assets are able to be retained and used to enable further investment,” said Koenig.

The transition of such large facilities has three pillars: military, commercial and political, both on the coalition and Afghan sides. Representatives from each pillar in Afghanistan are collaborating with coalition military and Commerce Department representatives.

“I view it as a team effort in order to make this happen,” said Koenig. “We’re involved very much in the commercial leg and CSTC-A’s involved with the military side, and we’re both assisting with the political, so it’s a very collaborative and team-oriented process. From the Department of Commerce standpoint, we’re willing to invest personnel time and resources to facilitate, to advise and to promote the opportunities, particularly in the international environment.”

On the military side, CSTC-A engineers are working with their Afghan partners to determine what assets are available and might be of use to the military or potential commercial companies.

“Our role as the military is to re-shape and re-size Kandahar Airfield in its entirety to meet the needs so the lads can actually sell it as a going asset,” said Australian Maj. Damian Maher, the Kandahar Airfield de-scope engineer. “We’re flattening unstable buildings. We’re re-designing the camp so we can hand it off to the Government of Afghanistan as a better product. We’re going to hand over more than 1,000 buildings to (the Afghan government) that have air conditioning, are climate controlled, positive pressure buildings that they can used for economic development.”

The advisers, in conjunction with provincial government leaders are looking at the airfield here as well as those at Mazar-e Sharif and Herat to assess their commercial viability. The initial survey was completed at Kandahar Airfield in May, and in June the Resolute Support and Department of Commerce advisers hosted a tour of various facilities here for provincial scholars to make assessments of the base.

In addition to the coalition advisers, the group consisted of approximately 10 local scholars, who will make up the Kandahar Airfield Commission. The commission, which is still in its startup stage, will oversee the development within the base and manage which companies will be able to use the facilities.

During the tour, they visited two cold storage warehouses, a waste water treatment facility and large storage warehouses, among other locations that could be of use to the local government.

“This is good because we can see what capacity is available here and the type of equipment,” said Mohammed Nasim Sohail, who is part of the faculty at Kandahar University. “We can look at how we can integrate them into different organizations and how we can prepare a very good development plan to run this base, so I’m grateful we are here today.”

These scholars, who are part of the transition commission, plan to put together a plan for the use of the various facilities on the base and present the plan to the provincial governor. There are a variety of commercial entity opportunities, particularly in an agricultural center such as Kandahar. The use of the cold storage facilities, for example, has the potential to even out year-round market prices for fresh produce and further stabilize the economy.

“This has to be an Afghan led effort, Koenig said. “We’re here to facilitate, to help and to promote, but this has got to be and will be ultimately Afghan led, Afghan managed and Afghan implemented. A generic office building will support a number of businesses, but each base a set of positive commercial attributes and they’re not all the same. Kandahar is very interesting because it is an agricultural zone, it is a potential logistics hub, it is a potential food processing hub, a potential light manufacturing hub, there’s a lot of different businesses that could find themselves in here very comfortably.”

Maher, the engineer, said, “We’re not telling (the Afghans) ‘this is what it’s for,’ we’re saying, ‘this is what we’ve got, this is our tablet of assets, what you do with it is up to you. What we’re doing is providing you the foundation.’”

If done correctly, and with the necessary foresight and overhead management, these facilities could provide the foundation Afghanistan needs to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s vision of becoming a major economic hub for central Asia in the next 20 years.