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KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - In a small mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan, International Security Assistance Force members of the Khost Provincial Reconstruction team are put to the test.
Insurgents attack Combat Outpost Sabari in the Khost District with indirect fire on a near daily basis. However, a group of ISAF members work with Afghan people who want to make their village a better place for their families and future generations of Afghans.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sam Rogers, an ISAF Civil Affairs ‘Team East’ lead, accompanies patrols in the area to help the Afghan leadership make changes for the better within the local populace.
“Since the PRT arrived in Sabari, the previous approach to governance and development assistance was hands-off due to the poor security and minimal interaction with the populace,” Rogers said. “Our biggest effort as a combined team is to show greater support to the District Governor Zermaed Muhklis, and identify the local source of instability affecting the populace.”
PRT members provide better access and visibility to the provincial government, observing interaction with local leaders, and promoting the mission, announcements, invitations for feedback on government projects through a local radio station.
“The District Governor is a well educated man who truly believes in the future of Afghanistan, and its people,” Rogers said. “His actions since taking office made the most significant contribution to the mission in Sabari.”
According to Rogers, the joint efforts of all the Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF members help improve security in the area, and gain the population’s trust. They see how the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Coalition Forces work together in a more positive, professional, culturally aware and considerate force. These partnerships will help pave a better way ahead for the people in the district, he said.
“A representative government, free of corruption, is what the people need, but it is not an easy goal to achieve,” he continued. “The main effort is for a stable, non-threatening Afghanistan able to meet the needs of its people.”
ISAF PRT units operate in partnership with Afghanistan as they specialize in governance, development, information and agricultural mentoring.
“At PRT Khost, our primary effort is to connect Afghans with Afghans, and provide solutions to the root cause of instability,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rob Cooley, Civil Military Operations Center lead and PRT Khost deputy commander. “We are trying to connect the village and tribal elders with their district leadership, the district leadership with its provincial leadership, and its provincial leadership with its national leadership.”
One of the PRT Khost goals is to develop confidence and trust between the people and their government.
“We accomplish this at the district level with civil affairs resources, embedded with coalition forces that live, and operate within the districts,” Cooley said. “At the provincial level, we partner with senior Khost leadership ensuring clear and open lines of communication, visibility to on-going governance and development activities, and the implementation of sustainable practices for the future.”
There are still many hurdles to cross such as securing the people, maintaining legitimate governance and urban development. The process to deliver better security and development through the Afghan National Security Force and Government of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan leadership is one of the biggest.
According to Rogers, the greatest concern would be having a change in District Governor, which can happen frequently and with little notice. This is a result of the current approach to government that the Afghans are using, but if it happened, it would almost be like starting from square one all over again, he said.
"While working in Paktika, I had many threats, and even now, in Sabari, I cannot stay in my own home or the insurgents and criminals will kill me,” said Governor Muklis. “I need to provide for my family; a good life now, and a better life in the future. Many people ask me why I work for the Americans. I tell them I work with the Americans. I love my country.”
Many of the threats or consequences come in the form of night letters. Pashtunwali, meaning “the way of the Pashtuns,” presents an “Honor Code,” which, along with religious reasons or outright fear, contributes to the populace giving safe haven or provisions to the enemy, or turning a blind eye to their activities. Due to these reasons, their willingness to support the government and security forces is tentative at best. The rules and regulations of the tribal society have been around for more than 2,000 years, and are resolute in the Khost Province.
"The majority of the populace is intimidated by a larger than reality perception that the insurgents and criminals are everywhere and see everything," Rogers said. "They live in fear of even the slightest offense to the enemy, but nobody that I have spoken to knows anyone who has actually been punished to such an extreme as death or dismemberment."
ISAF, ANSF and GIRoA have identified many of the problems, and their potential solutions, but now it is time to make the process work through Afghans partnering with each other.
“We have heard recently that the people of Khost have greater trust and confidence in their government and security forces,” Cooley said. “They see improvements in the quality of construction projects underway, and a more responsive government willing to address the needs of the villages and their people. There is still a lot more work to be done, but all partners are taking steps in the right direction.”
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