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Provincial reconstruction team builds up Zabul to benefit Afghans, future generations

by Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/10/2009 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team is on a nine-month tour assisting the Afghan government in bringing about stability through governance, reconstruction and development.

Although the Zabul PRT has been in country for several years has completed approximately 40 projects this year and is scheduled for more than 30 more.

In the end, approximately 350,000 Afghans and their future generations will reap the benefits of the Zabul PRT's labor.

The Zabul PRT, a diverse organization with joint, interagency and international components, is one of the principle counter-insurgency units in the region part of a larger U.S. effort to bring stability to the Zabul Province.

"This effort has resulted in approximately $140 million worth of developments in Zabul since we started the provincial reconstruction team here," said Lt. Col. Andy Veres, the PRT Zabul commander.

These projects include the first-ever electrical grid in the capital, paved roads, bridges over the Tarnak and Arghandab rivers, several modern schools with computer labs, sanitation services, government buildings and community centers in various district centers.

Aproximately $2 million has gone toward computers for education programs. Approximately $1 million will go into major medical projects that bring safe drinking water to families and treat child malnutrition.

This combined civilian-military team is also providing the mentorship that trains and enables government officials to serve their people more effectively, Colonel Veres said.

They have set up programs with local health care workers to build the Afghan medical capacity. They've worked with the women's affairs department to foster educational goals and implement the women's bazaar.

Currently, the team is working on building all-girls' schools in the province's two largest cities, Qalat and Shajoy. The team is also in the process of upgrading two clinics and rehabilitating the provincial health care facility. They've installed more than 400 tamper resistant culvert covers along more than 100 miles of highway between Afghanistan's two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar.

"There is also a more powerful radio station coming into the province," Colonel Veres said. "And, for the first time in quite a while, the majority of the people will have access to news, information and entertainment in this whole entire province."

PRT Zabul members completed 37 projects with $4 million invested in reconstruction in 2009. Thirty-three more projects, totaling $10 million, will be completed before their redeployment.

"That's approximately $14 million of investments on the part of the American people through the PRT to shape this country, stabilize the province and support improvements across the whole region," Colonel Veres said.

At times, Afghans may wonder why American servicemembers are still in their country, but when their main concern is security for their families, it is American servicemembers who train and assist the Afghan National Security Forces in providing security for those people. It is the American people who make sacrifices and invest tax dollars for the future of Afghanistan.

"We have exceptional relationships with the governors' office, the provincial development council, the district chiefs, and many of the shura elders; individuals who truly appreciate investments that the American people are making in their country," Colonel Veres said. "This is a relationship that is built on the basic understanding that we are here to help."

PRT Zabul members have been helping, not only with reconstruction, but also fundamental construction in parts of the province that has faced tremendous challenges from more than four years of war and destruction.

"On top of that, add the fact that there is crushing poverty, there has been an extensive period of drought, literacy is only 10 percent with maybe as little as one percent among women, and the fundamental health care infrastructure has been absent for a number of years," he said.

This complex team is working to improve all of these conditions. More than 90 servicemembers from 35 Air Force specialty codes and Army military occupational service codes; civilians from the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Army Corps of Engineers; a British ISAF public affairs officer; a Romanian liaison officer; and others, all come together to create the most diverse organization in Regional Command-South with various skill sets for the improvement of Afghanistan.

Whereas many other provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan are usually a part of a larger installation with other civilians and military organizations, PRT Zabul members must be self-sufficient in everything, including food services, maintenance and securing their own installation.

Colonel Veres said he is very fortunate to have the privilege of commanding PRT Zabul, which consists of people with incredible flexibility, adaptability, intelligence and motivation and who are very proud to serve here.

"I am incredibly impressed by the dedication of these people, and I think some of the Afghan and (International Security Assistance Force) organizations have said some very positive things about the accomplishments of our personnel," he said. "This has been the most meaningful assignment in my military career."

A first generation immigrant himself, Colonel Veres said tyranny and oppression were not learned from a textbook as he'd experienced them firsthand until his parents and he immigrated to the U.S.

"It's really easy for me to answer when people ask why I am in Afghanistan," he said. "When I look into the eyes of the children of Afghanistan, I can't bring myself to turn my back on the absolutely crippling needs of this society. More importantly, the ideology that is capable of throwing acid on a young girl's face simply because she is going to school is part of the same mindset that carried out the attacks of Sept. 11th on the United States.

"The boys and girls of the next generation of Afghanistan need a little help on their way to a brighter future, and our team is here to reassure them that they will not have to confront this mutual adversary on their own," he said.

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