Support our mission
 
An Afghanistan National Police brigadier flourishes a scrap of ribbon during ceremonies for the opening of a new medical clinic in the village of Khormaleq, in Farah province.
An Afghanistan National Police brigadier flourishes a scrap of ribbon during ceremonies for the opening of a new medical clinic in the village of Khormaleq, in Farah province. (Monte Morin / S&S)
An Afghanistan National Police brigadier flourishes a scrap of ribbon during ceremonies for the opening of a new medical clinic in the village of Khormaleq, in Farah province.
An Afghanistan National Police brigadier flourishes a scrap of ribbon during ceremonies for the opening of a new medical clinic in the village of Khormaleq, in Farah province. (Monte Morin / S&S)
U.S. Army civil affairs officer Capt. Michael Lee, 34, of Torrance, Calif., jots down notes while interviewing local residents during an assessment tour in Farah, Afghanistan, recently.
U.S. Army civil affairs officer Capt. Michael Lee, 34, of Torrance, Calif., jots down notes while interviewing local residents during an assessment tour in Farah, Afghanistan, recently. (Monte Morin / S&S)

FARAH, Afghanistan — It’s one of the poorest and most isolated of Afghanistan’s dusty provinces, and it shares a long, porous border with Iran — a boundary that is routinely crossed by arms smugglers and a rising tide of exiles, U.S. commanders say.

Among other dubious charms, Farah’s summertime heat edges toward a withering 130 degrees, while Taliban fighters subsidize the cultivation of heroin-producing poppies.

The provincial capital, which still bears the marks of Alexander the Great’s march through Persia more than 2,300 years ago, has progressed relatively little since those times. Only recently have cement blocks replaced mud as the building material of choice, and electrical power remains a dream for most of the capital’s 40,000 residents.

In short, there’s plenty in Farah province to keep a provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, busy.

“This area has extreme needs,” said Maj. Harry Lorenzi, 44, of Pittsburgh, leader of the Farah Civil Military Operations Center. “People here don’t have much. It’s probably one of the best areas in the country for a PRT.”

The Farah PRT, which falls under the command of the U.S. Navy, has three primary duties — initiating and overseeing reconstruction and development projects, enhancing security and promoting good governance of the half-million population of the province.

Since arriving here roughly three months ago, the PRT has overseen or initiated work on almost $5 million worth of projects — bridges, medical clinics, wells, schools, communications stations, roads and adult literacy classes.

The improvements are intended to boost the locals’ standard of living and, in the process, demonstrate how they have more to gain by supporting Afghanistan’s government than they do Taliban insurgents.

One of the PRT’s most ambitious projects yet is the planned development of a $1.2 million secondary education and religious training facility.

Such schools, or “centers of excellence” as they’re called, are intended to serve as an antidote to the fundamentalist madrassas that insurgents operate in the lawless border regions of Pakistan.

Afghan and U.S. officials charge that Taliban fighters lure young men and boys to these Pakistani schools with promises of work and religious education. Once there, officials say the young Afghans are “brainwashed” into becoming Taliban suicide bombers.

Whether the PRT-sponsored improvement is a clinic or a school, the trick for U.S. civil affairs personnel is convincing local Afghans that the facility is a product of their own government’s efforts, and not simply a gift of the United States. It’s not an easy task.

Few villagers in this West Virginia-sized province even know who their government representatives are. The governor is appointed by President Hamid Karzai, and local officials are in turn appointed by the provincial governor. These appointees rarely venture into the provincial hinterlands.

“It’s not quite as democratic as in the U.S.,” said civil affairs officer Capt. Michael Lee, 34, of Torrance, Calif. “It can be difficult. The people don’t really pick the government, so what ties do they really have to it?”

PRT teams in Farah and other parts of Afghanistan are attempting to strengthen those ties by requiring provincial assemblies to draw up five-year development plans — plans that will lay out the needs of local residents and propose projects accordingly. The plans will be submitted to the central government in the next several months, and will be used to guide future PRT projects.

At a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony at a newly opened medical clinic in the tiny village of Khormaleq, Lorenzi stressed the role of the local government.

“In the past, projects such as this wonderful clinic were thought up, planned and built by the PRT,” Lorenzi said. “In the future, and starting this year, the provincial council will be making the decisions.”

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up