MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan (Dec. 6, 2011) -- Three separate villages in the Balkh province of northern Afghanistan will benefit from projects led by members of the Croatian armed forces.

A key element of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan is Civil-Military Co-operation projects, known as CIMICs, officials said.

Croatian Sgt. 1st Class Miroslav Laus serves as the village sergeant for four villages in close proximity to Camp Marmal. In his position, Laus visits an average of four villages per in order to collect information that will determine critical areas of need.

"My role is to speak with the people, especially the village malik, and collect information to determine what they need. It could be blankets, medical supplies, or something much more," said Laus, who is also a platoon sergeant with the Croatian army.

The village of Fiazabad, near Camp Marmal, faced a drinking water problem. The CIMIC team met this challenge by proposing to build a large water tank, designed to deliver clean drinking water to the homes of the residents. The agreement was signed by the Croatian contingent, a local construction company and the town malik Nov. 11. The Croatian government is funding about $5,000 to this project in hopes to make life better for the local population.

Maj. Drazen Komadina, a Croatian CIMIC officer from Regional Command North, believes these projects have an impact on different levels.

"There is a well with drinking water but they need a tank to deliver water to their houses," Komadina said. "A clean drinking water source to help the future of the local population is the primary benefit for their village. Building long-term trust between the people of Fiazabad, ISAF and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a secondary benefit."

Two additional CIMIC projects are aimed to improve the education of local children. The school at Gur-e Mar holds classes at all levels throughout the day, with a morning shift for boys and the afternoon for girls. However, the school was in need of chalkboards and there was no one in the village to build them.

"They did not have a carpenter, so we asked for help from the malik of another village, Ala Chapan. He ordered 10 blackboards from their local carpenter. The total cost will be around $900," said Komadina. The chalkboards were delivered to Gur-e Mar Nov. 24.

Children from the village of Homaro Faroq will soon attend classes in a new school building. While the official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Nov. 27, the CIMIC project had been in the works for seven months. The new schoolhouse, which cost $126,000, will be fully equipped with furniture in the five classrooms and the two rooms for teachers. In the past, students attended classes in tents.

Members of Homaro Faroq were initially skeptical about such a large project. According to Komadina, it took some time to develop trust.

"In the beginning, they didn't believe we would build a new school. They have been promised things before, and others haven't come through. But in time, they changed their minds. They see the results and they are happy. They trust us now as friends. We are helping their government with education and development," said Komadina.

While part of the ISAF mission is "to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency," these CIMIC projects remind us of the other part of the mission which is to "facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population."

Samir, a 14-year-old boy from Homaro Faroq, is one of the many students who look forward to learning at his new school.

"Before, we go to school in tents, and now we have a very nice school. I'm so happy to be coming to this new school. I am excited about learning many things like math, art, science, Dari, Pashtu and English."

As operations in Afghanistan continue, officials said it is important to remember that the fight against insurgency begins by building trust and partnerships with the local communities. The efforts of the CIMIC show, through the use of diplomacy and co-operation, these battles can be won.