- Developing the Infrastructure. An short history of early U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan.
The Helmand Valley Authority (HVA) was one of the most ambitious and complex undertakings in the history of U.S.-Afghan collaboration. In addition to building a network of irrigation canals to promote agricultural production, the HVA constructed thousands of houses and even entire towns, such as the modern provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, as well as two new airports. To honor Afghanistan’s rich traditions, the Qandahar International Airport terminal was designed with majestic arches evoking the nearby ancient ruins of Qala-e-Bost.
- The Lost History of Helmand, Adam Curtis, BBC, 13 October 2009. An essay on the political, cultural, and ideological history of early U.S. development efforts in Afghanistan.
But again all the doubts and worries were overwhelmed because the American technocrats and politicians had become fascinated by a new idea. It was called "Modernization Theory". It said that there was a way of using science and technology not just to stop countries like Afghanistan going communist, but to actually transform them into democratic capitalist societies like America.
In 1969 the Afghan government and the American planners finally promised "the year of yield take-off".
But there was a drought. The Helmand river became a trickle. The main reservoir created by the project dried up completely. Wheat yields were the lowest in the world - 4 bushels to the acre - Iowa's yield was 180 bushels to the acre. This created a massive food crisis which began to destabilize the government and the King.
- U.S. keeps funneling money to troubled Afghan projects, Marisa Taylor and Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, 12 January 2011.
KABUL, Afghanistan — For years, U.S. officials held up Kabul's largest power plant project as a shining example of how American taxpayers' dollars would pull Afghanistan out of grinding poverty and decades of demoralizing conflict.
But behind the scenes, the same officials were voicing outrage over the slow pace of the project and its skyrocketing costs. The problems were so numerous that one company official told the U.S. government that he'd understand if the contract were canceled.
"We are discouraged and exhausted with the continued flow of bad information," one U.S. official complained in an internal memo that McClatchy obtained. "This is a huge example of poor performance on an extremely important development project."
- Watershed of Waste, Part 1, Aghanistan’s Kajaki Dam and USAID and Part 2: Afghanistan's Doomed Dam, Jean MacKenzie and Ben Brody, Global Post, 11 October 2011.
Editor’s Note: The project to refurbish the Kajaki Dam, is a watershed of waste. The much-vaunted, $266-million dollar project in southern Afghanistan has little chance of being completed on schedule, say both U.S. and Afghan officials. Worse still, a major beneficiary for any work that the implementers do manage to finish will almost certainly be the Taliban. Over the last three months, GlobalPost has investigated the Kajaki dam, talking with U.S. and Afghan officials in Kabul, getting rare access to the dam itself and asking questions in Washington as well.
- Re-engineering Afghanistan, Glenn Zorphette, IEEE Spectrum, October 2011. A lengthy cover story about our problems delivering electricity.
Of the many reasons for the disappointing results, a few stand out. The standard contracting methodology used by U.S. government development agencies in Afghanistan does nothing to discourage overspending and inefficiency. In addition, Afghanistan has a long history of relying on foreign powers, often invading ones, for its major infrastructure. This reliance has fostered a culture of passivity and a crippling deficiency of homegrown engineering expertise.
In the electrical sector, however, these factors pale alongside a couple of others. The Afghan national electric utility is unable to collect enough revenue to sustain its own operations and it has trouble simply keeping records consistently. And one of the most serious problems, according to analysts, officials, and engineers interviewed in Afghanistan and the United States, is the incompetence of USAID, an independent U.S. government agency that receives guidance from the Secretary of State. It is the dominant development organization in Afghanistan, and it has, according to these observers and even its own internal documents, made major missteps in every significant electrical construction project it has undertaken in the country.
- Political and Security Situation in Helmand: Spanta and Spenzada Views, Ambassador William B. Wood, 22 November 2008. A Wikileaks US Embassy cable.
1. (C) President Karzai is willing to consider a combined ISAF-ANA (with key roles for the U.S. and UK) security plan to improve stability in Helmand, but is convinced reinstating Sher Mohammad Akhunzada (SMA) as governor is the best way to achieve stability (and bring out votes in next year,s election). There is no known decision or timeline for replacing Governor Mangal with SMA. Spenzada welcomed international collaboration with Mangal to increase aid projects in Alizai areas to bolster Mangal,s tenuous position.
- Sangin District Afghanistan 1/5 1st Platoon Blackfoot Company, awwwwnaaaa, 6 June 2012. A Youtube.
- In Afghanistan, the rise and fall of ‘Little America’, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, 5 August 2011. A digest of the book. And, some lengthy extracts.
Over the following decade, a legion of Americans hungry for adventure and hardship bonuses descended upon southern Afghanistan to join the vast, U.S.-funded nation-building project. Within a few years, they had built a model town from scratch. The streets were lined with trees. The white-stucco homes with green front lawns resembled subdivisions in the American Southwest. There was a co-ed high school and a community pool where boys and girls frolicked together. A clubhouse along the river featured nightly card games and a Filipino barkeeper who could mix a potent gin-and-tonic.
The Americans called the town Lashkar Gah. The Afghans called it Little America.
- Life Before Death, Michael Yon, 6 October 2008. The conservative but independent-minded war reporter has some very nice evocative photographs from a nonembedded trip to Lashkar Gah.
The Americans built Kajaki dam in the 1950s, and supplied electricity to places that never had it, and helped build a large irrigation system that later was used to grow massive amounts of opium poppy, which of course funds the Taliban who support al Qaeda. Strange how that played out.
- Where Eagles Dare, Michael Yon, 9 September 2008. Yon's account of Operation Eagle's Summit.
When I was briefed on the top-secret mission before it was launched, I thought : “Good grief. I might have to report on the failure of one of the largest and most important missions of the entire war.”
- Afghanistan’s hell, the Sangin Valley: Why Sangin?, Edward Marek, 7 November 2011. A military history of the district.
As an editorial aside, and I am very reluctant to be critical, but it is hard to understand why, after all these years of experience in the Sangin valley accrued by the British, how it could possibly be that the Marines were not prepared for these IEDs and had not trained for them. That’s all I’ll say.
Corporal Travis Buchholz said:
"It all just happened so fast ... We knew Sangin would be tough but we didn't realize how fast it would happen. As soon as we got here it was, like, bam. There was no time to ease into it. People started dying immediately."
- Deadly insider attack that left 3 U.S. Marines dead was work of an Afghan teenager, Washington Post, 17 August 2012, and Teenager plotted Afghan insider attack, Financial Times, 18 August 2012. The Garmsir shooting, and Sarwar Jan.
- Taliban stalls key hydroelectric turbine project in Afghanistan, Guardian, 13 December 2009.
Senior British officers privately say the enormous diversion of scarce military resources for the operation allowed the Taliban to make major gains in other critical areas of the province, including Nad Ali, which subsequently saw some of the most intense fighting between British forces and insurgents.
- Afghan Helmand spokesman rejects minister's explanation on dam turbine installation, BBC Monitoring International Reports, 19 August 2012.
Ahmadi also dismissed the reports that more than 250 civilians have been killed during the transfer of the turbines to the dam. He said that the third turbine was transferred to the dam four years ago with the help of the ISAF forces at a time when the Taleban militants and drug smugglers carried out some attacks in which 52 militants and smuggles, including 12 civilians, were killed.
Analysts say the Kajaki Dam comes first in the world in terms of its capacity, and if enough investment is made on this dam, it will provide electricity for all southern provinces of Afghanistan.