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Brian Luke Community Blogger, WGRZ-TV

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Afghan Provinces ‘Prime for Transition,’ Colonel Says

By Terri Moon Cronk

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2010 – Three provinces in eastern Afghanistan are “prime for transition” in the near future for self-governance, a task force commander in the region said today.

“The Afghan government has made tremendous progress in [its] ability to both protect and govern the Afghan people,” said Army Col. William Roy, commander of Task Force Wolverine and the Vermont National Guard’s 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, speaking from Afghanistan with Pentagon reporters by video teleconference.

Roy and his soldiers are developing security forces and district governments in Afghanistan’s Parwan, Panjshir and Bamyan provinces. A recent combined operation in western Parwan, he said, resulted in five Taliban operatives being detained when they were caught trying to plant bombs along a major road network.

“We see this as a tremendous example of the progress they're making,” he said.

The Afghan National Police are “right on the heels” of the Afghan army in gaining respect from the Afghan people, Roy said. Afghan police candidates in the region are well-educated, he added, with a 90 percent literacy rate in Bamyan.

“When you have a [police] training class with seats for 30 individuals and you have 50 show up, the desire to learn and to grow in their capability is tremendous,” Roy said.

Now on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, Roy said he has seen significant change in Afghanistan’s army since he arrived in 2002 for his first tour of duty there.

“So coming back here in 2010, you see the Afghan National Army and it has grown by leaps and bounds,” he said, noting the professionalism of today’s officer corps and the building of a “very strong” corps of noncommissioned officers.

Roy said he sees Afghan soldiers during his current tour whom he first met in the war’s early years. “When you work alongside them in this type of a mission, you become very close friends,” he said. Many have gone from being company commanders to battalion commanders, from battalion commanders to brigade commanders, from battalion command sergeants major to brigade command sergeants major since he’s known them, he said.

“I had a great conversation with one of the former company commanders in English,” he said. “He went through the training center to study English, and we had a tremendous conversation when I came back.”

Progress in security has allowed for development in the three provinces for reconstruction, embedded training and agribusiness development, the colonel said, and economic development in eastern Afghanistan is becoming evident.

“In Panjshir, they just opened up a marble mine factory that is really providing a lot of revenue as well as jobs for the locals,” Roy said. Tourism signs are beginning to pop up in Bamyan, he added. The future of Afghanistan lies in small business, Roy said.

“When I was here in 2002, when you went from Kabul to Bagram, there was virtually nothing on the road,” he told reporters. “Now, in about an hour-long drive, you get the development all the way along -- businesses growing up, gas stations on the side of the road.”

Afghanistan’s ability to self-govern is moving slowly, but steadily, Roy said, noting that Bamyan has Afghanistan’s only female governor, representing the Hazara population. Panjshir’s ministry of agriculture put together a budget, sent it to the central government and received the budget back to put in place in the province, he added.

The U.S. military offers Afghans the opportunity to work through such programs as the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which provides funding for immediate-impact projects. If a bridge needs rebuilding, the Afghan people will build it with cement supplied by the U.S. military. By mandate, contractors must hire local workers for such programs.

The relationship between the provincial governments and Afghanistan’s central government is strong, Roy said.

“The governors that we have in all three of our provinces understand what the requirements are to oversee the needs of the people,” Roy said.

“It's the Afghans who are leading the way,” he added. “And it's been that way for quite some time.”

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