Encouraging a Legacy of Sustainability.
A member of provincial Reconstruction Team Kapisa climbs through an opening of an under construction schools roof, Kapisa province. The Kapisa PRT is a U.S. military team that engages with local leaders and contractors to plan and inspect development projects in the province.
(Photo by Staff Sergeant Greg Biondo, 17 May 2012 via DVIDS. Story by Tech Sergeant Beth Del Vecchio.)
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In the wake of U.S. draw down in Afghanistan, many Provincial Reconstruction Teams are preparing for transition of projects to Afghan control.
One of these teams, PRT Kapisa, hopes to leave a legacy of sustainment that lasts long after they are gone.
The Kapisa PRT covers an area of approximately 1,840 square kilometers of mountainous terrain, home to nearly 365,000 Afghans. Located just North of Kabul, Kapisa is the smallest province in the country, but has one of the highest populations per capita spread throughout seven districts.
The PRT has been conducting counterinsurgency and stability operations in the province for more than six years. According to the current commander, Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Shafa, Kapisa is seen as an important piece of property in the war against insurgency in the country.
"Kapisa has been called the gateway to Kabul," he said. "It’s viewed as an important area even as small as it is, because it’s a transient area for insurgents, transport of weapons and criminal activity, to include IEDs."
The PRT has been working with leaders of Kapisa, at the provincial and district level, to counter this reputation and bolster the capacity and credibility of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, or GIRoA. Subject matter experts and mentors on the team work closely with key leaders to facilitate development.
The PRT vision has always been to foster a stable and secure environment that is ready for transition to GIRoA control and administration, but now the last team in Kapisa is focusing on sustainment.
"I think the emphasis for the PRT in the past was to do as many projects as possible. We’ve adopted a more narrow focus toward putting the Afghans and the GIRoA in the front," Shafa said. "We’ve tried to implement ‘by, with and through the Afghans’ as a team philosophy. To show that we can enable them to use their own system and where there are gaps we can help, but really the Afghans can see these projects as good things their government has done for them."
With the help of an Army security force, PRT Kapisa traverses not only its own province, but also the surrounding provinces of Parwan and Kabul participating in key leader engagements, scouting areas for new projects and performing quality checks and site visits on existing projects. They work closely with the Afghans, mentoring them on how GIRoA can work for them.
Air Force Capt. Scott Kelley, PRT Kapisa lead engineer, is the subject matter expert for all construction projects in the province. He has worked on roads, bridges, construction of schools and also improvements to power capabilities on existing infrastructure. He says the process for executing the projects is very similar to what’s done in the U.S.
"The provincial government will identify a need somewhere and it will come to us. I create a project package and send it out to Afghan contractors who will submit bids," Kelley said. "We are working more closely with the provincial government, so I get the Afghan engineers’ input before we send it out to the contractors."
The Afghans get a chance to weigh in and make suggestions on the projects in their districts. Kelley sees this as an ideal way for him and the other PRT engineer to mentor their counterparts.
"It used to be that the PRT would go out and do a quality check, take a look and say hey that wall’s not high enough or that wiring is not right," he said. "Now, it’s more about getting our counterparts out there with us, doing the assessments and helping us find solutions to the problems."
Throughout the years, the PRT has helped to develop a network of trusted contractors in the province. Kelley said it’s easier now to get projects done, so they can focus more on utilizing the work force they’ve created over the years.
"We’ve built hundreds of miles of roads here. In the states, we’ve got budgets and plans in place for repairs and upkeep. Here, the plan is run it to failure," he said. "After a few years of heavy traffic, even the roads that are built well are starting to fail."
"The biggest goal for me is to get them out to the site, teach them what I know about sustainment and how to use their system to get funding for what they need," Kelley continued.
The PRT has many success stories, but two stand out to Shafa and Kelly as examples of success and glimmers of hope for the future of Afghanistan.
The first is a mid-wife training center at which Afghan women from several provinces are trained to deliver babies and care for mothers during and after they give birth. The concept was created by Dr. Mirza, the Kapisa director of Public Health, with the hopes of combating the highest infant and mother mortality rate in the country.
"Dr. Mirza has been selfless as far as furthering his own needs over the betterment of the province. He was given some furniture, supplies and even a generator from the Ministry of Public Health to use in his office in the capital. But instead he pushed it to the mid wife training center to help furnish the building and used the generator as a power source for the center," Shafa said. "He welcomes the help from the PRT, but doesn’t seek it. He only asks us for help when he’s exhausted all options."
The PRT recently visited the center after it was attacked with small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades. According to Shafa, Mirza was concerned that the building was no longer safe and they should relocate the training center.
"I asked Dr. Mirza if he had support from the local population when it happened and he said yes, the local population came to help and the village elders spoke out against the incident," the colonel said. "There are still some questions about why it happened, if it was criminal activity, insurgents or a land dispute. It’s hard to say, but the bottom line is that they still received support from the local area."
Shafa recommended that they stay put to show resolve.
"If they show resolve and the community supports them, it will discourage that kind of activity," he said. "The day after it happened, the women were calling to see when they could come back to training. These women have a lot of potential to make impacts in many different villages. It’s definitely a success story."
The second success story is girl’s school being built by a contractor named Mohammad Ashraf. Mohammad was in the Afghan National Army, but got out to become a contractor in Kapisa. He’s worked a lot with the PRT in the past and has proven himself time and time again.
Kelley is a fan.
"Mohammad cares about this country. Yeah, he’s getting paid to build that school, but he’s doing it because of what it will bring to the country and what it will be used for," he said.
According to Kelley, Mohammed was overpaid once and he brought it to the team’s attention before being asked about it, behavior not typical in the war-torn country.
"For every bad person I meet, there’s always the good ones who want to get out there and get after the situation. They are good leaders and they are motivated," said Shafa. "Afghans don’t need the PRT to be successful. Certainly there will be challenges, but my goal is to show by our actions that they can really sustain this province and take it to the next level, to continue to develop and benefit the population."
The future of the province will reflect the legacy that the current team leaves and only time will tell. One thing that is for sure is that these two success stories reflect the hard work that has been done by the PRT throughout the years.