Afghanistan/NATONATO Plan Ties Afghan Economy to Growth of Forces

WASHINGTON — The eco­nom­ic pow­er of mil­i­tary-fueled indus­try has been illus­trat­ed through­out his­to­ry, and it looks like the growth of the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces will be a boon to devel­op­ing indus­tries in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Col. John Fer­rari, deputy of pro­grams for NATO Train­ing Mis­sion-Afghanistan, Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand-Afghanistan, dis­cussed how NATO and coali­tion forces have worked to build Afghan forces while focus­ing on Afghan indus­try to sup­port mil­i­tary growth dur­ing a June 4 DoDLive Blog­gers Round­table.

Fer­rari said his pro­gram will have spent about $40 bil­lion by 2011 to recruit, train, equip and sus­tain the Afghan army, as well as the Afghan Nation­al Police. This year, Ferrari’s group has focused on an ini­tia­tive called “Afghan First,” which pro­motes the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Afghan man­u­fac­tur­ers, rather that pur­chas­ing import­ed equip­ment.

Their most-her­ald­ed suc­cess has been with Afghan boot man­u­fac­tur­er Kab­ul Mil­li, who not only received a con­tract to make the boots used by Afghan police and sol­diers, but also received assis­tance to improve man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques to make the boots more durable.

“In the past, we used to think we were buy­ing boots here in Afghanistan, but it turned out that they were man­u­fac­tured out­side of Afghanistan and import­ed,” Fer­rari said. “Now in our con­tract we spec­i­fy that we’re only going to buy boots that are man­u­fac­tured in Afghanistan.”

Ini­tial­ly, the man­u­fac­tur­er was the only such busi­ness in the coun­try. Since Kab­ul Mil­li won the con­tract and NATO said it would only buy Afghan-made boots, local com­pe­ti­tion has emerged, Fer­rari said.

“A few oth­er com­pa­nies heard we want­ed to buy local­ly man­u­fac­tured boots, and just two weeks ago I went out and vis­it­ed two new fac­to­ries ris­ing from the ground, where noth­ing exist­ed before, to make boots,” he said. “And so there’s an exam­ple of the econ­o­my and the pri­vate sec­tor react­ing to a known mar­ket demand.”

There have been sim­i­lar recent spikes in growth for oth­er indus­tries to sup­port mil­i­tary needs. Afghanistan-based cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers are mak­ing uni­forms, though no tex­tile fac­to­ries exist there yet, so fab­ric still is import­ed. Blan­kets, pon­cho lin­ers, and oth­er items issued to sol­diers will soon be made by Afghans, as well, Fer­rari said.

“We’re also about a week or two away from award­ing a mul­ti­ple-award con­tract for indi­vid­ual sol­dier equip­ment to women-only-owned busi­ness­es,” he said.

A new com­pa­ny has been cre­at­ed to build fur­ni­ture for Afghan secu­ri­ty forces in Polichar­ki, near Kab­ul. Anoth­er com­pa­ny is learn­ing to build facil­i­ties out of con­nex­es – the met­al ship­ping con­tain­ers one might see stacked on a barge.

“As we’re buy­ing fur­ni­ture for the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, we can go to them,” Fer­rari said. “And then, anoth­er place we’ve recent­ly been to is learn­ing how to make facil­i­ties … so instead of import­ing those con­nex­es, we will look at get­ting them up to the qual­i­ty that we need and they will be able to do that.”

Paper is anoth­er bur­geon­ing indus­try, Fer­rari said. Because of the near-con­stant state of tur­moil in Afghanistan for the past 30 years, there are vir­tu­al­ly no areas where trees can be har­vest­ed to make paper. Though paper still is import­ed, both civil­ian and gov­ern­ment print­ing com­pa­nies have popped up in recent years, he said.

“The min­istry of defense has its own print plant, and we have a con­tract with local Afghan com­pa­nies to do our mar­ket­ing or our recruit­ing and reten­tion,” the colonel said. “There’s a vibrant local indus­try and a state-owned indus­try that the MOD owns. But, I think it will be years before they’re actu­al­ly mak­ing their own paper here in Afghanistan.”

For now, he said, there won’t be any drop in demand. The U.S. gov­ern­ment spent $20 bil­lion from 2003 to 2009 build­ing the 200,000-man strong Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, and plans to spend the same amount in 2010 and 2011 to recruit, train, and retain anoth­er 100,000 troops.

“In addi­tion to gen­er­at­ing and sus­tain­ing the secu­ri­ty forces, we spend a lot of effort to make sure that what we’re doing here is sus­tain­able in the long term and that the Afghan peo­ple feel that they have an impact on their secu­ri­ty forces,” Fer­rari said. “And so we want to make sure that we devel­op man­u­fac­tur­ing capa­bil­i­ties, jobs and lit­er­a­cy train­ing.” Fer­rari said he hears a lot of ques­tions regard­ing NATO’s eco­nom­ic plans for post-war Afghanistan, and he com­pares its mis­sion to the post-World War II Mar­shall Plan to rebuild Europe.

“We’re invest­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars into the local econ­o­my to jump-start man­u­fac­tur­ing,” he said of the train­ing com­mand. “We’re tak­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of Afghans who had no for­mal edu­ca­tion, who are not lit­er­ate; we’re bring­ing them into the secu­ri­ty forces.”

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