Afghan District Prepares for Transition

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2011 — The Mehtar Lam dis­trict in Afghanistan’s Lagh­man province is ready for its role in the first secu­ri­ty-tran­si­tion wave set for July, the provin­cial recon­struc­tion team leader and Laghman’s gov­er­nor said yes­ter­day.
Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai announced March 22 that Mehtar Lam will be among the first sev­en areas to tran­si­tion to Afghan forces secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty begin­ning in July.

Air Force Lt. Col. John “Red” Walk­er, com­man­der of the Mehtar Lam Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team in Region­al Com­mand East, and Lagh­man Gov. Moham­mad Iqbal Azizi briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters yes­ter­day from Bagram Air­field. Azizi said con­di­tions are improv­ing across his coun­try as Afghans exer­cise democ­ra­cy and the nation’s health ser­vices, gov­er­nance and secu­ri­ty are on the rise.

“We are high­ly opti­mistic about devel­op­ments and achieve­ments in Afghanistan,” he said. “But there are some chal­lenges, of course.” Azizi cau­tioned that the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty may expect his coun­try to achieve improve­ments more quick­ly than is real­is­tic.

“We can­not com­pen­sate for three decades of war in 10 years,” the gov­er­nor said.

As Mehtar Lam pre­pares to start the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion process in July, Azizi said, the district’s secu­ri­ty lev­el will allow devel­op­ment there to progress.

“With the pas­sage of each day, secu­ri­ty is improv­ing,” the gov­er­nor said. “Insur­gents are high­ly mar­gin­al­ized in my province, and the soci­ety is high­ly immune from Taliban’s rad­i­cal­iza­tion.”

The provin­cial gov­ern­ment and its inter­na­tion­al part­ners have a strate­gic approach to work with the Afghan pop­u­lace, Azizi said. “We very con­struc­tive­ly engage Afghan peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties in devel­op­ment projects,” he added, “but at the same time in secu­ri­ty.”

Azizi cred­it­ed provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams with help­ing to estab­lish effec­tive dis­trict- and provin­cial-lev­el gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ser­vices in Afghanistan over the past five to nine years.

“There was no capac­i­ty in Afghan admin­is­tra­tion,” Azizi said. “So the [recon­struc­tion team] very con­struc­tive­ly and pos­i­tive­ly con­tributed to capac­i­ty build­ing, gov­er­nance, project man­age­ment and also the tech­ni­cal assis­tance to Afghan gov­ern­ment [and] local gov­ern­ment in the provinces.”

As Afghanistan builds its local gov­ern­ment capac­i­ty, he said, the teams’ activ­i­ties will trans­fer to dis­trict and provin­cial gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions.

“We appre­ci­ate the very impres­sive and out­stand­ing per­for­mance of [recon­struc­tion teams] in the provinces,” he said. “And of course, when the capac­i­ty is built, there should be a tran­si­tion.”

The Mehtar Lam team Walk­er com­mands includes more than 110 peo­ple, includ­ing ser­vice mem­bers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the U.S. State and Agri­cul­ture depart­ments and the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, Walk­er said.

Dur­ing an e‑mail inter­view after the brief­ing, Walk­er said the Mehtar Lam team has com­plet­ed sev­er­al large-scale projects in the past year, large­ly focused on free­dom of move­ment and edu­ca­tion through­out the province.

Work­ing with Azizi’s admin­is­tra­tion, Walker’s team has com­plet­ed a Cen­ter of Edu­ca­tion and Excel­lence in Mehtar Lam, an Infor­ma­tion Cul­ture and Youth Cen­ter, and sev­er­al key road improve­ment projects, the com­man­der said.

“Our engi­neer­ing and civ­il affairs teams also have com­plet­ed many small­er projects focused on meet­ing local needs, which will con­nect the peo­ple to the gov­ern­ment,” Walk­er added.

These projects include ser­vices like [water-pow­ered elec­tri­cal gen­er­a­tors], pro­tec­tion walls, build­ing repairs and sup­ply­ing equip­ment and foot­bridges.”

The team’s State Depart­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive sup­ports gov­er­nance ini­tia­tives and serves as a liai­son region­al polit­i­cal advi­sors and coali­tion forces, Walk­er said, and also sup­ports embassy pro­grams involv­ing coun­ternar­cotics, rule of law and Afghan army and police train­ing.

Walk­er said the team’s State Depart­ment rule of law advi­sor coor­di­nates with judges, pros­e­cu­tors, and police inves­ti­ga­tors to improve crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion effec­tive­ness; orga­nizes class­es to raise pub­lic aware­ness of rule of law and human rights; and works with prison offi­cials to mon­i­tor and improve prison con­di­tions and reha­bil­i­ta­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties for detainees.

The team’s Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive man­ages a sim­i­lar range of tasks, Walk­er said, men­tor­ing the provin­cial agri­cul­ture, irri­ga­tion and live­stock direc­torate, sup­port­ing agri­cul­tur­al recon­struc­tion and assist­ing with water man­age­ment.

“Water man­age­ment with­in Lagh­man province over­whelm­ing­ly deals with irri­ga­tion,” Walk­er said. “Any time a water project is pro­posed, a frac­tion of the addi­tion­al water gained or held back is used for drink­ing, and most of that by live­stock and oth­er ani­mals. But the vast major­i­ty is used for irri­ga­tion of crops and orchard trees, then for live­stock, and last­ly, for human con­sump­tion.

“All of the [provin­cial recon­struc­tion team’s] actions and all of our process­es are nest­ed ’shohna ba shohna’ [shoul­der to shoul­der],” Walk­er said. “We are real­ly inte­grat­ed very well with the gov­er­nor and his staff.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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