News: US reconstruction team reflects on importance, success of mission in Kapisa province
Story by Sgt. Roland Hale
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Two days with Provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa is time enough for a crash-course in the coalition’s counter insurgency efforts in eastern Afghanistan.
The PRT, a U.S. military-led team charged with assessing and improving governance and development in Kapisa province, conducted two of its final missions Aug. 1 and 2, as it prepares to bring its six-month tour here to a close.
PRT Kapisa has been at work district-by-district since their arrival in the mountainous eastern province this February. Kapisa is Afghanistan’s smallest province, yet also one of its most populated and ethnically diverse. It is known here as the “gateway to Kabul,” and accordingly the PRT’s mission plays a key role in the coalition’s success in the region.
At first glance, the PRT looks nothing less than lethal.
Their in-house security element, the Texas Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, looks more like a special operations unit than a security service – clad head to toe in the striking multi-cam, carbon fiber and dark tan of the Army’s latest tactical equipment and wielding carbines laden with high-power scopes and other deadly effects. The PRT wears its life insurance policy on its sleeve, and it’s one well-intentioned reconstruction team the insurgents don’t often cross.
But the security team is merely a precautionary necessity inherent to any mission in Afghanistan.
Behind its battle-ready exterior is a multifaceted team of civil affairs soldiers, engineers, State Department representatives and USAID workers. The real firepower of the PRT lies in their ability to understand and address the needs of Kapisa’s populace at the lowest level, which range from road repair to improved well systems in remote districts.
And only moments into their Aug. 1 mission, the fruits of the PRT’s labor are evident. Armor and ammunition aside, the locals watch the PRT convoy pass with looks of apparent curiosity rather than fear. Rolling through the narrow, dusty streets of Kapisa, they are greeted by smiles and waves, especially from the local children.
The next two days of missions bring them to several project in Kapisa sites to check on some of their recent work, including a school that now provides education to about 1,000 local girls (a practice that had previously been banned under Taliban control) and a village that only months ago was nearly unreachable by road due to wash-outs until the PRT funded repairs.
Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Shafa commands the PRT. Reflecting on his team’s work in Kapisa, he warns against using the amount of money spent or the number of projects completed as a metric of success.
“Our goal here has been to be not a crutch, but rather a hand-rail for the Afghans to use as they learn to work within their own systems,” said Shafa.
With their mission coming to a close, Shafa said it is important to teach the Afghan people how to receive assistance by using their own channels.
“I see progress when I see Afghans coming up with creative ways to bring development projects to their own villages,” he said.
To this end, Shafa and his team stay behind the scenes for most of their work, as coordinators more than executors. They have completed several projects started by previous PRTs, as well as coordinated about a dozen major projects of their own, all of which have been contracted to local Afghan companies. Small business is the backbone of the Afghan economy, and the mere existence of the PRT's projects strengthens it.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Love is a veteran of seven overseas deployments. As a structural craftsman in civil engineering, Love has served as a welder, carpenter, mason, sheet metal worker and heavy equipment operator. Working for the PRT, he uses his experience to advise and spot-check the work of their hired contractors.
“Right now I’m going out and inspecting projects, dealing with contractors and funds,” he said. “I’m used to the flip-side of the coin, where I’m doing the work, but it’s good to know I can do something to help.”
“We try to provide meaningful projects, the ones that will have the biggest impact on the local area,” said Love. “Most of them are very eager to meet with us, to speak with us and see what areas we can develop a little bit more.”
Love said the most important work he has done with the PRT involves the province’s wells. Like most Afghan provinces, water is more than a basic necessity in Kapisa, it is the lifeblood of its biggest labor demographic, agriculture.
“One of the worst problems in Afghanistan we’ve seen is access to clean water,” said Love. “Afghans wash their cars and bathe in the water they have available, and a lot of the time that’s the same water they have to drink.”
“When we build a well, it provides irrigation for fields, which in turn is a source of income and a way to feed their families, and gives them clean water to drink,” he said.
“It feels good to make a difference here,” said Love.
With six months worth of difference making, the PRT will soon end its mission here. That said, their departure will not be the end of the local governance and development mission; PRT Kapisa is one of several such teams operating in the provinces under the control of ISAF’s eastern arm, Regional Command – East.
With an active French military contingent, Task Force La Fayette, still serving in Kapisa, help will not be far away. If the PRT has met its goal, however, the Afghans will be able to sustain themselves.
This work, US reconstruction team reflects on importance, success of mission in Kapisa province, by SGT Roland Hale, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.