By Pfc. Micah E. ClareMay 30, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan (Army News Service, May 30, 2007) - Less than 10 miles from training camps that produced many of the 9/11 hijackers, a team of coalition servicemembers are working together to make sure the area once home to Osama Bin Laden's terrorist organization becomes an environment that will deny such people a support base ever again.
But for this joint service team, spearheading the fight against terrorism in Eastern Afghanistan's Khowst province doesn't involve executing tactical military operations, but in providing reconstruction assistance.
The Khowst Provincial Reconstruction Team, based in Forward Operating Base Chapman near Khowst City, serves as the main effort in rebuilding Khowst province by distributing humanitarian aid, mentoring local government officials, planning for construction projects and providing security for important events, said Navy Cmdr. Dave Adams, commander of the Khowst PRT.
"We're a reconstruction organization with a military arm," Cmdr. Adams said.
PRTs were established in Afghanistan when it was realized in 2003 that units needed to focus on winning the security fight, and a separate military organization was required to head up the badly needed reconstruction efforts.
The Navy and Air Force answered the call and stepped up to assist, explained Cmdr. Adams, a submarine officer of 21 years who volunteered for this command.
A team of military advisors, United States Agency for International Development and Department of State officials, joined together as a PRT; a board of directors working to synchronize their efforts and resources.
The Khowst PRT has brought assistance to the province in the past few years by sending its Army Civil Affairs teams to live in local communities to send back updates on area needs. Many construction projects such as irrigation systems, diversion dams, wells, schools, and roads have been set into motion by the PRT in this way, Cmdr. Adams said.
"These projects serve not only to improve the quality of life for the residents, but also to put shovels in the people's hands, providing them with jobs," he said.
A big part in bringing these quality of life improvements to Khowst is the necessity for security, he said.
This is where the PRT security force comes in, typically provided by the Army National Guard.
"Good security is vital for the PRT's mission to be successful," said 2nd Lt. Cory Marr, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry Regiment, Arizona National Guard, who provides security and maneuver support to the Khowst PRT.
The security is beginning to take care of itself, he said.
The overall security in Khowst has improved greatly, which is the result of locals seeing the many improvements that have come in the past year, the fruit of their efforts in securing a safe environment. This has allowed the PRT to extend its reach, he explained.
"There's no place we're afraid to go," 2nd Lt. Marr said. "We work with the Afghan National Security Forces and get plenty of intelligence from the locals. For instance, we stop at police checkpoints as we enter an area, and they update us on the local situation. We always have a good understanding of the areas we're going into."
"In some of the more remote places we go, the locals have become extremely helpful to us," said Spc. Doug Schletz, an infantryman in 2nd Plt. "They used to look at us like we were aliens, but recently they've seen what we're here to do for them, like seeing us helping the ANSF provide security for many of their events."
This increased security is so successful, international reconstruction agencies and foreign investors that have, in the past, shied away from helping Afghanistan due to safety concerns are being drawn back, Cmdr. Adams said.
Recently, a delegation from the United Arab Emirates arrived in Khowst City to visit projects they have invested in, such as the city university and main mosque.
Cmdr. Adams was able to confidently assure the delegates that any future projects built by their country would be safe in Khowst.
"Security here is stronger than ever," he said to UAE representatives during a meeting at the provincial governor's compound in Khowst. "The Taliban no longer have a foothold here. The ANSF can protect anything built here by the U.S. or the UAE."
This is a big step forward in winning the fight in Afghanistan, the commander said.
"We're helping the Afghans create something for themselves the Taliban couldn't: a safe environment, a growing economy and an increasing standard of living," he said.
"This is a terrific mission we can all be proud of," he said. "By helping the Afghans permanently cast off the tyranny the enemy brought to them and to us, we're providing hope to them and their children, and for us and our children."
(Pfc. Micah E. Clare serves with 4th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)