ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. engineers plan to hit the gas on reconstruction in Afghanistan, with double the number of projects in the region planned for this fiscal year, said Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, head of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Afghan Engineer District has plans for about 600 reconstruction projects, officials said.

The engineering district conducts construction and engineering projects in Central Asia including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, officials said.

Projects will focus on transportation, water and power infrastructure, Strock said, calling reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan a “race against time.”

The acceleration of reconstruction projects will continue until 2008, by which time the Corps should have built enough infrastructure to allow engineers to move into remote provincial areas and villages, he said.

“Right now, you simply can’t get in some of the places that need the most help,” Strock said.

Strock’s comments came a day after NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan said reconstruction efforts so far have not been aggressive enough and that the coalition will have a problem next year if Afghans feel that the coalition is failing to deliver on its promises of giving them a better life.

“Increasing numbers [of Afghans] will say, ‘Listen, we want you to succeed, but we can’t wait forever. I’ve got children here who need security, who need to be fed, who we don’t want to have the risk of being caught up in fighting, and we’re happy to have fighting as long as we see progress. But if there’s fighting and no progress, then at some stage, we’d rather have the rotten future offered by the Taliban than the hopeful future that we all wish you to deliver, but I’m sorry, you’re taking a bit long in the delivery,’” British Gen. David Richards told reporters on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Strock said the coalition initially did not have the means for an aggressive reconstruction program but now reconstruction efforts are showing steady if not dramatic progress.

Strock noted that the Taliban intentionally destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure before U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan.

“This is not a reconstruction mission, it is a construction mission,” he said.

Strock also said the Afghans believed that things would change “overnight, dramatically” as soon as U.S. troops entered the country.

“So there certainly is a high expectation. I’ve heard quite often that ‘You can put a man on a moon but you can’t put electricity into my kitchen,’” he said.

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