Kandahar is located to the South of Kabul and benefits from an excellent transport link between Kabul. The Kandahar - Kabul road conveniently links the two cities by a 5 hours drive, and the city is also 4 hours away from the Pakistani border. The inhabitants are estimated at 500 000 and the region is known for its agricultural potential. The economic basis of Kandahar is made up of agriculture, such as pomegranates, apple, grapes and mango, which allows for agro-processing products. Also, cotton production plays a substantial part in the local region. However, Kanadahar is known locally and internationally for its handicraft, specifically the old tradition of embroidered shirts and scarves, which are already being exported abroad.
The Kandahar-Herat segment of the Ring Road was first constructed by the Soviets in the 1960s while, at the same time, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Kabul-Kandahar segment. It was during the height of the Cold War, when the former Soviet Union and the United States were vying for influence in Afghanistan.
Kandahar was the scene of the fiercest fighting in any Afghan city. Virtually every night of 1984-85 saw fighting in and around the city, and the inhabitants were subjected to almost daily bombing and strafing by Soviet helicopters from the nearby base, as well as arbitrary arrests and frequent ground combat between Afghan forces and the guerrillas. Terrence White of the Far Eastern Economic Review spent almost a month in Qandahar in the 1980s and reported that the guerrillas enjoyed remarkable freedom of movement in the city.
Although an estimated 30,000 Soviet troops were positioned at the airport about 12 kilometers southeast of the city, there were no Soviet foot patrols, and in early 1985 Afghan army forces usually did not leave their 30 or so posts in the city. Afghan resistance leaders interviewed in Pakistan reported that the 1984-85 fighting in Qandahar way the fiercest since the Soviet invasion in 1979. The Soviets relied increasingly on air attacks in an effort to drive the guerrillas out of the city. White reported that there was bombing every one of the 28 days he was in Kandahar.
Even APCs were at risk on the road between the airport and the city, and it was reported that the governor of the province, who had been in the habit of commuting to work in an APC, by mid 1985 was compelled to work out of the Soviet air base and to make his rare visits to Kandahar in a helicopter. Government officials were assassinated frequently and, according to a report in Le Monde, at least 40 civilians were killed by Soviet soldiers in January 1985 in a bazaar in Kandahar in reprisal for the assassination of an official of the PDPA. Guerrilla retaliation took the form of an ambush in February that reportedly killed 30 Soviet and Afghan soldiers.
Kandahar had a number of bases in the area, including terrorist training camps and served as the headquarters for the 2d Army Corps. The airport was reported to have been repaired with the aid of Osama bin Laden, and could possibly support large aircraft. A detachment of troops was also said to be stationed at the airport though the strength of such a force is unknown.
The training camps and other terrorist facilities in the area were reported to be located within the network of mountains and ravines to the east, though the validity of these reports is questionable. Both the Soviets and the resistance did construct a number of underground facilities in the area and it is believed that Taliban and bin Laden forces occupied them to protect against air strikes.
Bin Ladin, apparently at Atef's urging, finally decided to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [KSM] the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late 1998 or early 1999. KSM then accepted Bin Ladin's standing invitation to move to Kandahar and work directly with al Qaeda. In addition to supervising the planning and preparations for the 9/11 operation, KSM worked with and eventually led al Qaeda's media committee. Bin Ladin reportedly discussed the planes operation with KSM and Atef in a series of meetings in the spring of 1999 at the al Matar complex near Kandahar. Although Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM initially contemplated using established al Qaeda members to execute the planes operation, the late 1999 arrival in Kandahar of four aspiring jihadists from Germany suddenly presented a more attractive alternative.
Atef turned to Hambali when al Qaeda needed a scientist to take over its biological weapons program. Hambali obliged by introducing a U.S.-educated JI member, Yazid Sufaat, to Ayman al Zawahiri in Kandahar. In 2001, Sufaat would spend several months attempting to cultivate anthrax for al Qaeda in a laboratory he helped set up near the Kandahar airport.
Nashiri returned to Afghanistan, probably in 1997, primarily to check on relatives fighting there and also to learn about the Taliban. He again encountered Bin Ladin, still recruiting for "the coming battle with the United States." Nashiri pursued a more conventional military jihad, joining the Taliban forces in their fight against Ahmed Massoud's Northern Alliance and shuttling back and forth between the front and Kandahar, where he would see Bin Ladin and meet with other mujahideen.
KSM and Abu Zubaydah each played key roles in facilitating travel for al Qaeda operatives. In addition, al Qaeda had an office of passports and host country issues under its security committee. The office was located at the Kandahar airport and was managed by Atef. The committee altered papers, including passports, visas, and identification cards.
Kandahar is the city from which Mullah Omar led the Taliban movement and though not the official capital of Afghanistan was the major focus of power within the country.
One month after military operations began on 07 October 2001, the first major city -- Mazar-e-Sharif -- was liberated. A month later, the last major city -- Kandahar -- was liberated from the Taliban. The defeat of the Taliban in Kandahar on 07 December 2001 signaled the end of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, although throughout the country "isolated pockets" of Taliban forces still fought the Northern Alliance.
With the repressive Taleban regime ousted by the US-led coalition, commerce returned to Kandahar. The Afghan city has been a trading center since the days of Alexander the Great. After the Islamic extremist Taleban came to power, basic freedoms were ended. Women became prisoners in their homes and had to cover themselves with a burqa. Men were forced to grow long beards and pray five times a day. Music, television, and paintings and other images were outlawed.
All these restrictions made doing business in Afghanistan very difficult. As Fizul Haq, owner of a new car dealership in Kandahar, said, "No one was coming down here to buy because the religious police were harassing everyone -- even one of my salesmen was arrested for driving without a hat."
But now, Kandahar is coming back to life. In 2001, Taleban police strung up the body of a man who had been beaten to death for owning a satellite phone. In 2002, only blocks from the site of murder, the new mayor, Abdullah Popal, inaugurated Kandahar's first international direct-dial service. "We want to be a part of the world," said Mr. Popal. He went on to say, "We have had concerts in the stadium with national dances. Women are going to school. We are building two cinemas."
Under the Taleban, the stadium was used for executions, often of women accused of adultery. Girls were prohibited from attending schools and boys only went to religious institutions. Now, more than one-hundred fifty-thousand children in Kandahar attend new public schools. Private English-language schools are full.
In another sign of the post-Taleban times, by late 2002 Kandahar had about one-hundred video shops. The day the Americans came in and the mullahs escaped, the first video stores opened. The Taleban enforced a ban on human images. Shops offer dozens American titles and many others from India.
Operating out of the Afghan city of Kandahar, during 2004 the heroin trafficking organization of Haji Bashir Noorzai reportedly provided 2,000 kilograms of heroin every 8 weeks to bin Laden lieutenants in Pakistan. At the Pakistani price for heroin, this one conduit gives Osama bin Laden an annual income of $28 million a year. In total, the sale of heroin from Afghanistan yields $2.5 billion to drug traffickers and represents at least half of the economy.
Reconstruction for the country's principal road system is the key to Afghanistan's economic recovery. Rebuilding the transportation infrastructure will enable the movement of people, aid resources, and farm and trade goods-all essential to Afghanistan's development.
The Kabul-Kandahar segment was driven by a political deadline set by President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to demonstrate progress in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Most of the road from Kabul to Kandahar, was ground to dirt, to powder. There were some small segments where you could still see some pavement with potholes and ruts in the road. But most of the road literally had returned to dirt, so that the transportation between the major cities was incredibly arduous and incredibly expensive.
The Kandahar-Herat segment presents greater engineering challenges. The Kabul-Kandahar stretch is basically flat with some upland stretches near Ghazni, but was essentially time-driven because we had to complete 386 kilometers of immediately usable single layer of asphalt road with all required surveying, earthworks and paving in less than eight months to meet the December 2003 deadline, a remarkable achievement by all counts.
The Kandahar-Herat segment has more uplands with cut-and-fill engineering challenges. This area of southwestern Afghanistan is more isolated and there are long stretches of highway where embankments will have to be constructed to raise the existing roadway above the encroaching desert. The embankments will prevent sheet-flow of water over the highway during spring runoffs of melting snow from the mountains.
The Soviets had used precast concrete blocks eight meters long laid in two lateral panels to construct the Kandahar-Herat segment of the Ring Road in the 1960s and 1970s. Over time, freezing weather and flooding caused the concrete blocks to crack and buckle. As a result, machines called "rubblizers" are being used to crush the concrete slabs into small fragments to be used as a gravel bed for the new highway, which will be covered with asphalt 25 centimeters thick.
Construction of the highway segment linking Kandahar to Herat began in October 2004 and was expected to be completed by the end of 2006. It is a joint venture involving the United States, Saudi Arabia and Japan. The United States will spend an estimated $200 million to lay the pavement for 325 of the 556 kilometers between Kandahar and Herat. The 386-kilometer segment of the highway from the capital Kabul in the east to Kandahar was completed in December 2003 after eight months of work.
Saudi Arabia and Japan each contributed about $50 million to pave the remaining 231 kilometers of the Kandahar-Herat highway. The Louis Berger Group, a New Jersey-based construction firm, is the prime contractor for building what is called the Afghan "Ring Road."
In December 2003 the coalition observed the grand opening of the seventh PRT headquarters in Kandahar. Many local and Afghan dignitaries including Governor Pashtun of Kandahar, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and Lt. Gen. David Barno attended the ceremony. As of January 2004 the United States operated PRTs in Kandahar, Gardez and Herat.
The Kandahar PRT provided humanitarian aid and support for Operation Enduring Freedom. COs were responsible for ensuring the medical supplies were procured and then distributed in a timely manner.
As of April 2004 DoD alone had employed over 33,000 Afghans countrywide to work on these reconstruction projects. This "hire local" concept is especially important when PRTs open in less stable areas, such as Kandahar, where few NGOs currently operate. On September 12, 2002, Japan and Saudi Arabia joined the U.S. in announcing support for the rebuilding of the Kabul-Kandahar-Herat highway. The U.S. pledged $80 million and partners $50 million each. Ten water projects were completed during the first six months of 2002. These included 83 wells, benefiting approximately 260,000 Afghans, at a cost of $193,000. Focus for this effort was Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. An additional 16 new water projects had been approved in the provinces of Paktika, Khowst, Kandahar, and Kabul, with an estimated total cost of $246,000.
As of August 2005, the Kandahar PRT has been under the command of the Canadian Forces (CF). Approximately 350 personnel including military, diplomatic, law enforcement, and development experts operate out of Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City. The camp itself is home to a task force of 2,000 soldiers.
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