Deterring insurgency with solar lights
December 30, 2011
PAKTIYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Dec. 30, 2011) -- In a village not far from the Pakistan border, safety at the local bazaar was a concern. With no electricity, and shoppers leery of strangers lurking in the shadows and suspicious out of towners loitering in the area, bazaar workers would have to close up shop before the sunset, which could potentially be as early as 4 p.m. in the winter months.
As a result, a former police commander and his son made it possible for the bazaar workers in Kotgay village, Jaji district, to keep their shops open late into the night with lights powered by solar panels.
Amir Mohommed was a district Afghan Border Police commander for four years before hanging up his hat and becoming a local leader. He often acts as a liaison between elders among different villages. Amir and his son, Hamyun, are influential people in the northern Jaji valley area.
A key factor in the Mohommeds' decision to bring lights to the bazaar is that Kotgay is a historically unsafe area because the villages are on a main supply route coming from Pakistan. Many villagers are intimidated into facilitating foreign fighters coming across the border.
"Ideally, what they're trying to do is help the villages in the area and improve security," said a coalition Special Operations Forces, or SOF, warrant officer with the team that assisted the Mohommeds. "Historically, that area has been bad for facilitating foreign fighters coming across the border, which is only four kilometers away."
The Mohommed's contacted the coalition SOF team and partnered Afghan National Army, or ANA, forces to discuss installing solar panel lights in the Kotgay village bazaar. They explained what they wanted, showed supporting documents and how much it would cost. The father and son team proposed 17 solar panels, batteries and other necessities to be installed.
The coalition SOF team and ANA assisted them by issuing Commander's Emergency Response Program funds, which is intended to support small infrastructure projects.
"Amir Mohommed and his son went to Kabul and picked up all the solar panels, the power inverters and the batteries," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "They brought it back, showed us specifically what they got, we took pictures of it, and they took it out to their village and put it up the next day. Basically, all in all, from the time we met it was less than a week until it was done."
Prior to the project, one of the main concerns in the bazaar was limited visibility. People in the area were not able to immediately recognize those around them or tell what people were doing, whether it was purchasing items or placing improvised explosive devices.
"The main benefit is that in the places that were dark, people were not able to see, but now they're able to tell between a friend and foe," Amir said. "Before, when it was pretty dark over there, somebody was easily able to place improvised explosive devices (IEDs) over there, and one of the kids actually spotted two IEDs in one day. Right now, nobody is able to do that because we have the light, and now people don't have the nerve to do it."
Along with security, keeping the shops open longer, often as late as 11 p.m., brings in more customers and helps the commerce within the village. More people are willing to travel longer distances to get to the bazaar.
"At nighttime, it lights all the bazaar, and it's a good project, so it is a benefit for our tribe and our bazaar," Hamyun said. "The people, they are coming to the bazaar from farther places."
The younger generation within the village also benefit from the lights. When they're not in school, children often help their parents run bazaar shops. Children also are able to sit down and complete their homework during slower shopping times because of the additional lights.
"Kids are benefiting from it because they're able to read at night," Hamyun said.
To install the solar panels, the villagers and bazaar workers volunteered their time. Some panels were laid on rooftops or propped against walls, while others had specially made plywood stands to keep them upright on the ground.
After the solar panels and lights were installed, a number of district leaders showed up to an unveiling ceremony in the bazaar. The National Directorate of Security chief, Afghan Local Police commander, Afghan Uniform Police district chief of police and district shura members arrived to help reveal the completed project.
"The more help they get from us and the more help they get from the local government, the more secure they'll be in knowing the government is going to be there to help them out if they were to get attacked or intimidated, which is normally the case out there," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "Every little bit we can help is going to make the whole area better, security wise."
The villagers know that an abundance of small projects within their community will keep their economy running. By facilitating smaller projects, they hope the government will see what it is doing for the area, and start pushing for more projects internally.
"It brought the district shura members out to the village and let them see the project as well," said the coalition SOF warrant officer. "What that does is lets them see that if the ANA and [coalition] Special Operations Forces are doing these projects, and we're helping out these villages that are being proactive against the insurgency, then the rest of the government will see the same thing and try to start falling in line and do the same thing."
"In all the villages, find small projects and it'll create jobs for people," Hamyun said. "It'll keep people busy and make our country a better place."