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News | Sept. 18, 2008

Gates visits Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Adora Medina , 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates greets the Konar provincial governor at Jalalabad Airfield, Sept. 17, 2008.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates greets the Konar provincial governor at Jalalabad Airfield, Sept. 17, 2008.

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Sept. 18, 2008) – Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates met with Konar’s Provincial Governor, Sayed Fazullah Wahidi, to discuss ongoing and future plans for the Konar province, during a visit to Afghanistan Wednesday..

The Konar province encompasses 14 districts and shares a 200 kilometer border with Pakistan. Navy Cmdr. Daniel Dwyer, the Konar PRT commander, pointed out that the majority of kinetic activity the province experiences, is mainly due to its’ proximity to the Pakistan border. Dwyer and Wahidi, explained their approach of economic counterinsurgency to Secretary Gates.

“We feel it’s more important to give jobs to the local fighting age male to prevent them from picking up a rifle and fighting against us,” Dwyer said. “We’ve been very successful with that right now.”

The execution of projects such as the Konar construction center, a three-month course that teaches carpentry, plumbing and construction, has enabled the people to maintain long-term jobs and put these skills to work within their respective communities. Prior to the execution of this project, the primary labor originated from Pakistan.

Another major topic of discussion was the production of roads and bridges and the essential role it plays in the economic structure of Afghanistan.

“With $83 million, we’re primarily focusing on roads and bridges,” Dwyer explained. “We’re building that core infrastructure for Konar so their surplus crops can find ways to market.”

The roads provide easier access, for merchant travel, through the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan and have cut the improvised explosive device threat significantly in those areas.

“Where the road has come, we’ve gotten some economic progress,” Col. John Spiszer, Task Force Duke, commander, said. “We’re able to bring the government to the people and we’re starting to see a difference.”

Bridges have also contributed to economic growth by providing a route to Afghanistan for the many secluded villages cut off by a river along the Pakistan border.

Wahidi emphasized the importance of these entryways explaining how medical care, crops and agriculture were all being lost to Pakistan, and how the education of nearly 80 percent of the children in the Konar province was acquired in the bordering country. However, the simple construction of bridges changed all of that, giving the people the support and easy access to their capital.

“With the support of the coalition, our people are successful, we are very much thankful of them,” Wahidi said.

Wahidi explained how coalition forces are working with his province and that the people in his province are happy with the work coalition forces have put into the development of Afghanistan.