Photo: USACE
U.S. Army Corps engineers discuss onsite with Afghan contractors in 2005. USACE presence will increase next year, according to the chief, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock.

The Army Corps of Engineers' rebuilding program in Afghanistan will double in size in the next year, says Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, the Corps' Chief as NATO forces battle the Taliban and seek to demonstrate infrastructure improvements to the Afghan people.

Strock, in an Oct. 18 press briefing from Kabul,said that the Corps' Afghanistan Engineer District has committed to about 600 projects over the next year, totaling approximately $1 billion in security and infrastructure work.

NATO's commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Richards, said Oct. 17 that after "a tough summer" NATO forces "have now established the psychological ascendancy over the Taliban in a military sense." But he said that NATO with the Afghan government now have "to exploit the window of opportunity..that we now have as a result of military success, to deliver the reconstruction development and the improvements in...governance...that the people of this country want to see."

Strock said, "I do know that we are in a race against time, and I can tell you that we're putting every effort forward to win that race."

Strock said that on a national level, working with NATO, the Corps is "targeting specific areas of the country where we have had some security challenges, and we're focusing reconstruction projects in those areas."

But he added that the Corps also is employing "a kind of a bottom-up approach" focusing on "solving local needed, immediate needs now and showing the local people that things are actually occurring."

Strock also said, "There is an uptick of violence right now, and...from my perception, I see that as we begin to push out into the countryside, we are pushing into areas where the enemy has had a relatively free rein. And they're pushing back, and that's a part of it."

But he said that during his current visit to the country, "I have not seen that impact on the pace of reconstruction. We are not slowing down. We are not stopping projects because of the security situation."

Strock also conceded that, "It is a tough environment to" with the Taliban's having destroyed much of the infrastructure. He added that "this is not a reconstruction mission. This is a construction mission. And when you look at the resources available in this country, it's going to take a while to mobilize them."

He also said that in contracting out the building work, the Corps tries to use local firms and now is getting about 13 bidders per contract, up from about three earlier.

Strock said that improving transportation is the Corps' prime infrastructure areas in Afghanistan. He told reporters that over the past several years 921 km of roads have been completed or under construction at a cost of $170 million. He says that through a multi-national effort, the ring road connecting major Afghan cities is nearly complete. He adds, "We're now branching out and doing secondary and tertiary roads to connect the provincial centers, and then move out into the village areas." In the power sector, Strock said that because there is no national electricity grid in the country, "the only practical way to get power to the people is through local, pinpoint electrical sources." He added that the Corps is installing "micro-hydroelectric power," in a $3.4-million program of 70 generators, each with capacity of 7.5 kilowatts to 150 kw, in six provinces.

Strock added, "In the case of that 7.5-kw generator, if we can get water to drop over about 10 feet from one of the irrigation canals, we can provide enough power through that generator to put two light bulbs and a television set in 100 homes in a smaller [Afghan] village."

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Sept. 22 announced it has awarded a $1.4-billion contract to a team of The Louis Berger Group Inc. and Black & Veatch Special Projects Corp. to rehabilitate and build energy, water and transportation infrastructure in Afghanistan.