Afghan First’ Manufacturers Help to Revive Economy

WASHINGTON — Step by step, the revival of Afghan indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion is breath­ing new life into the country’s shat­tered econ­o­my.

One of the first big suc­cess­es of “Afghan First,” a NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan pro­gram that encour­ages Afghan busi­ness com­pe­ti­tion, is the reopen­ing of the Kab­ul Mil­li boot factory. 

Dur­ing a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table dis­cus­sion yes­ter­day, Air Force Col. Lar­ry Avery, direc­tor of the train­ing mission’s secu­ri­ty assis­tance office, said the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant had been closed for years, but the orig­i­nal own­er enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly invest­ed his own mon­ey to restart the busi­ness when coali­tion forces who pro­cure uni­forms and gear for the new Afghan army expressed interest. 

Avery recalled that the first boots off the pro­duc­tion line did not wear well in field tests. 

“They ripped in a cou­ple of places. The soles were com­ing off the boots, and so then we brought in some of our experts from the states,” he said. With help from the Army’s Nat­ick lab­o­ra­to­ries in Mass­a­chu­setts, new qual­i­ty con­trol stan­dards were intro­duced. In addi­tion, Avery said, “we helped them devel­op the spec­i­fi­ca­tions for the boots, and [then] the sec­ond set of boots were bet­ter.” A much-refined man­u­fac­tur­ing process now is deliv­er­ing excel­lent qual­i­ty footwear, Avery added. 

“I’m wear­ing a pair right now,” he said, “and I’ve been wear­ing them for four and a half months, and it’s a great boot. It’s a very com­fort­able boot.” At $65 a pair, the boots also are a good deal, Avery said. 

“We would prob­a­bly pay $75 to $100 for a boot like that in the U.S., and then we would have to import it here,” he said. 

Mean­while, addi­tion­al man­u­fac­tur­ers now are vying to become sec­ond and third sources to sup­ply boots to the Afghan army. That, Avery explained, is proof “Afghan First” is bring­ing back an Afghan entre­pre­neur­ial spir­it that was sup­pressed by the Sovi­et occu­pa­tion and by the Tal­iban regime. 

This year, Avery said, “Afghan First” spent $150 mil­lion on Afghan-made appar­el and gear. He said he expects that fig­ure to reach $500 mil­lion next year. Avery described some of the ini­tia­tives under way to incu­bate new businesses. 

“We had the first-ever Afghan gov­ern­ment-led ven­dor fair recent­ly to keep com­pa­nies informed on how they can apply for con­tracts,” he said. That effort includ­ed sem­i­nars on acqui­si­tion pro­ce­dures that guide the government’s pur­chase of goods and services. 

Anoth­er pro­gram set aside con­tract funds for women-owned busi­ness­es to sup­ply items such as back­packs, T‑shirts, under­wear and socks. After run­ning a com­pe­ti­tion for those con­tracts, Avery said, “we debriefed the com­pa­nies that did not win and are in the process right now of award­ing six con­tracts val­ued at $55 million.” 

Avery also cit­ed a bur­geon­ing con­tain­er indus­try in which busi­ness­es are con­vert­ing ship­ping con­tain­ers into offices and even liv­ing quarters. 

In addi­tion to ongo­ing secu­ri­ty chal­lenges, Avery said, fledg­ling Afghan busi­ness­es face anoth­er big chal­lenge: pover­ty puts the cost of high qual­i­ty goods out of reach for most civil­ians. Iron­i­cal­ly, he said, it’s pos­si­ble that the boot man­u­fac­tur­er in Afghanistan’s cap­i­tal of Kab­ul may have more suc­cess grow­ing its mar­ket beyond the army by export­ing its footwear rather than by sell­ing it to local civilians. 

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

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