PRT Zabul Strives to Improve Quality of Life in Arghandab District
U.S. Army Sgt. Cody Pollard, Charlie Company, 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, speaks through an interpreter to Arghandab District Police Chief Qadir Khan about security issues during a meeting near Forward Operating Base Lane, Zabul Province, Aug. 4. Members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul and Charlie Company met with the police chief to address security concerns. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon/released)
by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul PA
8/16/2010 - FORWARD OPERATING BASE LANE, Afghanistan -- Members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul are making steps to improve the quality of life for Afghans living in Arghandab District.
Team Masaid, a mobile reconstruction unit belonging to the Zabul PRT, has been working to provide assistance to the rural district.
"Our mission here is to legitimize the government, promote economic growth and help establish security in the district," said U.S. Army Capt. Cory Petro, Team Masaid leader and Berlin, Pa., native.
The team in Arghandab is continuously working to improve the leadership capacity of the officials in the district through facilitating shuras and aiding with reconstruction projects.
"We have been able to work with local villagers who volunteered to fill vacant government roles for the district," Captain Petro said. "They really seem to care about their people and care about doing a good job."
Team Masaid also has a few projects already in the works, including renovation of the Arghandab District Center, installation of solar lighting in nearby mosques and 15 wells that will be dug in nearby villages with coordination from district officials.
Three key issues that have been addressed by local elders are in the planning stages for Team Masaid: security for the main highway in Arghandab, expansion of a local bazaar and preventative measures for floods that threaten their crops.
Arghandab District lies approximately 40 kilometers north of Qalat City, the capital of Zabul Province. One highway, laden with improvised explosive devices, connects the district with the capital city.
A security council, comprised of more than 20 elders from eight villages, holds weekly meetings to discuss current security situations in the district. Arghandab Police Chief Qadir Khan, also a member of the security council, brought routes that the insurgents frequently use to travel and transport supplies to the attention of coalition forces.
"If we control the roads used by the insurgents, they will be forced to use the main highway, which will make travel much safer," Khan said.
The potential for a safer highway is a big concern for many villagers. The people buy and trade goods at the bazaar in Qalat, which is where they acquire most of their resources. By increasing travel on the main highway, the traffic will help prevent insurgent activity.
"[The insurgents] will have no choice but to travel like the rest of us," Khan said to the council. "They will not plant bombs if they know they will kill other insurgents."
The elders also assured Team Masaid that they would report any suspicious activities to coalition forces.
"I am very encouraged by this security council," said Petro. "The people in this area are very private, so to see them come together as a community and take care of each other is very promising."
Another security measure includes five security checkpoints that are planned for the highway from here to Qalat City. The checkpoints would be manned by the Afghan National Police or Afghan National Army, who would patrol the roads to deter roadside bombs and insurgent activity.
"The highway is a long-term plan," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Godwin Barley, civil affairs specialist for Team Masaid and Whitehall, Pa. native. "The security will not happen overnight, but we are taking steps to make this route safe for the Afghans again."
Five new bazaar shops in Deh Afghanan have already been approved for construction with plans for up to 12 more to be approved within the next month. Deh Afghanan is in a centralized site, collocated with an ANP station, the Arghandab District Center and a medical facility. The village sits on a road with a moderate amount of traffic and would benefit from the bazaar expansion.
The expansion would increase revenue for the district as well as ease accessibility to goods for nearby residents -- from fresh produce to sanitary products to electronics.
Villagers from all over Arghandab have expressed interest in selling goods in the bazaar if there was room for them to set up shop. There are currently four shops that occupy the bazaar. The bazaar owners have developed long-term plans for expansion that include a butcher shop and a hotel.
In the past, the Taliban has shut down bazaars in other villages, straining the economy. The Bagh bazaar, just 10 kilometers from Deh Afghanan, hosted more than 40 shops before it was forced to close. Now the bazaar is completely empty, leaving the villagers without a marketplace.
The people of Deh Afghanan are hopeful that this will not happen to their bazaar, and with good reason. The village is within view of Forward Operating Base Lane, which houses various units such as the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, an Afghan National Army unit and an Afghan Security Guard unit.
"The bazaar has a lot of potential," Barley said. "It will only be as successful as the Afghans are willing to make it. I see a lot of enthusiasm when they talk about the bazaar. I think it can and will thrive."
Farms and orchards along the Arghandab River provide the locals with fresh vegetables and fruits, and these food sources sustain each village for much of the year. Lately, however, there has been increased rain in the district, which has caused the river to swell and flood many crops that grow near the river.
Elders have voiced their fear that their crops will be washed away completely if some sort of protection is not constructed to keep the river from ruining their fields.
Team Masaid developed a solution for the flooding: a rock barrier, intertwined with metal wire to hold the rocks together, could be built along the edge of the fields to prevent the river from swelling and washing the crops away. The elders agreed to build barriers like this if the PRT could supply the wire.
"It is a simple solution, but I am sure it will work," Barley said.
Team Masaid is also working to provide critical reconstruction and development efforts in the districts of Mizan and Tarnak Wa Jaldak in western Zabul province.