KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Members of the Iowa National Guard's 734th Agri-Business Development Team have wasted no time in establishing a relationship with key government and agricultural officials in Kunar province.
Since the Iowa ADT's first members arrived last month, ADT leaders have held meetings with provincial Gov. Fazlullah Wahidi and his agricultural minister, conducted assessments of ongoing agricultural projects in Kunar and even sat in on a briefing for International Security Assistance Force commander, Gen. David Petraeus, on the ADT's activities in the province.
"I thought it was very important to meet with Gov. Wahidi and his staff as soon as we could," said U.S. Army Col. Craig Bargrfrede of Ankeny, Iowa, and commander of the Iowa ADT. "One of our key goals here is to improve the government's ability to provide agricultural services to its citizens. We can't do that without a strong relationship with the provincial leadership team," he said.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Neil Stockfleth, who leads the Iowa ADT's agriculture section, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Lewis, the ADT's executive officer, began building relationships at a lower level early in their deployment. The pair traveled to the governor's compound for a meeting with provincial agricultural officials in the beginning of August. According to Stockfleth, the Afghans he met with were highly prepared and came to the meeting with a long list of projects on which the ADT and provincial government could work together on.
"I was very impressed with the meeting," Stockfleth said. "These guys had done their homework. They knew what current technology is; what's available, and they sure brought it up."
Stockfleth, of Sioux City, Iowa, noted that advanced agricultural technology projects might not be the most appropriate to begin with in Kunar province. For example, while some provincial agricultural officials expressed interest in improving local livestock bloodlines through artificial insemination, Stockfleth pointed out that improving basic livestock nutrition would yield more immediate dividends for most agricultural producers in the province.
"We'll work with them on the basics and then move along the continuum toward more advanced techniques," Stockfleth said.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, ISAF commander, recently visited the province and was briefed on the general ADT concept.
"Gen. Petraeus seemed very interested in this aspect of the counterinsurgency campaign," Lewis said.
The focus of COIN is protecting the population, which is why the Iowa ADT is working closely with civilian agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. State Department. The Iowa ADT is under the operational control Task Force Bastogne, and element of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and Regional Command-East. Kate Byrnes, the senior civilian representative to the task force, visited the Iowa ADT at Forward Operating Base Wright.
"Col. Bargfrede's team is made up of National Guard Soldiers and Airmen with extensive civilian agricultural experience," said Byrnes. "Building the capacity of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is truly an interagency effort, and he understands that."
The Iowa ADT arrived in the Kunar province mid-July. The ADT will be in place for the better part of the next year before being replaced by another National Guard ADT.