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US persuades Afghans to put down weapons, pick up shovels

By Spc. Edward Garibay , 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Afghans in the Maywand District, Afghanistan carry tools to a Cash For Work worksite. Afghans are supplied with tools, that they sign out every morning, to complete their tasks for the day. Photo by Spc. Edward Garibay.

COMBAT OUTPOST RATH, Afghanistan (Jan. 28, 2011) — A new U.S. Army program called Cash For Work gives Afghans a reason to refuse Taliban employment and promotes relations between the U.S. and locals.

One of the many units running the program is Company H (Hawk Co.), 3rd Squadron, 2nd Striker Cavalry Regiment and they provide steady work for Afghans in the Maiwand District.

“It’s almost like an after-school program,” said Spc. Matthew Molloy, Hawk Co. infantryman and a Marietta, Ga., native. “It keeps people from getting involved with the wrong crowd.”

Molloy said Cash For Work has become extremely popular. Despite threats from Taliban, people travel from distant villages to come and participate.

“I want to build my country and my government,” said an Afghan Cash For Work foreman. “I want to provide for my family and bring food home to them.”
Workers are given 300 Afghani [(about seven U.S. dollars] a day to pick up trash, tear down ruins and build Afghan National Police check points, among other things.

Normally, contractors are put in charge of projects, and they give jobs to local Afghans of their choosing, said 1st Lt. Alexander Frank, Hawk Co. 3rd platoon leader. Cash For Work allows Hawk Co. to deal with the Afghans directly, so they don’t get taken advantage of.

“Now anyone who wants to work can come work,” said Frank, a Washington D.C., native. “They start trusting us and see that we’re here to help them.”

Frank said trust is a big thing when it comes to keeping both the Afghan people and the soldiers safe. The U.S. forces provide security for the workers and the surrounding community, and in return the locals point out improvised explosive devices and suspicious activities.

Another benefit of the Cash For Work program is anyone who wants to participate must have his or her biometrics taken. Their fingerprints and retina scan are put into a database to help identify them later.

Having them on file serves as a deterrent for anyone possibly thinking of aiding Taliban, said Frank.

In the future, Hawk Co. plans to set up more projects to further aid the community such as cleaning water supply systems and building flood-prevention measures.