Thursday, March 19, 2009

Civil affairs team facilitates Afghan governance, development

Date written: March 1, 2009
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones

DELARAM, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Friend or foe? This is sure to be a question many Afghan people think of as they witness U.S. forces operating in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. One group of U.S. Marines helps ensure U.S. forces and Afghan security forces aren’t seen as an enemy of the people but as allies, defending Afghanistan and its way of life.

Reserve Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Civil Affairs Group, operating in support of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, work closely with the people of southern Afghanistan. Their goal is to build working relationships that ultimately lead to successful counterinsurgency operations, a stronger economy and a more capable government.

Part of a small civil affairs group, the smaller civil affairs team operates with situational awareness and respect for Afghan cultural standards, said Capt. Anthony R. Ward, a team leader with 3rd CAG.

The team’s primary job is to facilitate and conduct key leader engagements with Afghan government officials, village elders and prominent community leaders. As the team works with these Afghan leaders, they learn more about their culture, systems of commerce and traditional ways. This knowledge is critical in facilitating governance.

Ward’s team is comparatively small given the size of the area of operations in which it works. He credits the success of his team to the strong, mature and independent noncommissioned officers who serve with him.

“We are trying to build relationships with the people, winning hearts and minds, so that they will actually be on our side,” said Sgt. Jesus O. Luna, a civil affairs NCO with the team. “We already have some villages trying to side with us to keep anti-alliance forces out.”

A recent example of a civil affairs operation occurred in the community of Delaram, Farah Province, one of many areas in which Ward’s civil affairs team operates. In Delaram, his team has provided loads of material assistance items, such as food and clothing, to the district sub-governor to distribute to the Afghan people there. The goal is simple – promote local government and encourage Afghans to address their government officials with problems and solutions.

A previous civil affairs team operating in Delaram dug wells in the city, built a wall around the boys’ school and conducted road repair projects in the area. Ward’s team follows up on those projects and a few of their own that are underway. City projects like these are requested by the Afghans.

Ward’s civil affairs team traveled into the city of Delaram Feb. 19 to check on the progress of projects it’s facilitating. In support of the city, Ward’s team has arranged a renovation of the city mosque and the digging of a new water well. His team is also overseeing the cleanup of a bazaar and landscaping by pouring new gravel throughout the bazaar’s grounds.

“(Delaram) is in a better state than when we first started,” said Cpl. Steven W. Mootz, a civil affairs NCO with the team.

The renovation of the mosque was the first project the Delaram district sub-governor insisted on having completed in Delaram. The completion of the mosque will not only please the locals but help draw more people to the area.

“Doing things like this shows good faith toward the city and Afghanistan with respect to their religious culture,” Mootz said. “The bazaar is the life blood of the city. That is what we have to focus on and try to improve with our influence.”

The majority of the employment opportunities within the bazaar consist of shopkeepers and laborers.

“We talked to the people of the area about what they thought of the projects and they all seemed to be happy,” said Mootz. “The sub-governor is pleased, the mayor is pleased and we are all working together on this.”

The gravel for the bazaar was a major request of the shopkeepers. The roads were filled with potholes and the uneven ground created huge puddles, making it difficult for pedestrians and local traffic.

“It caused a lot of unsanitary conditions and trucks to get stuck,” said Mootz. “It was an all-around bad situation. We were able to flatten it out with some gravel to eliminate puddles and make it a little easier to drive through.”

Whenever possible, the civil affairs team hires local Afghan contractors for such projects and asks that any additional laborers also be hired from within the city to stimulate the local economy.

“A lot of people in Delaram are unemployed,” said Mootz. “A lot of people come here because it is a safer area, but there are few jobs to support them. One of our efforts is to hire local people, so they can get money back to their families.”

The team also focuses on surrounding villages.

“(Villagers) are telling us that they like us and that they know we are here to help them,” Luna said.

Luna explained the importance of the “fence-sitter theory,” which he believes is key to the success of U.S. forces. He said, in theory, approximately 10 percent of the population believes in NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces and another 10 percent dislike ISAF. The remaining 80 percent are sitting on the fence – those who can be swayed to either side.

“It’s those fence-sitters we want scooted more to our side,” said Luna. “Not exactly on our side but (neutral) to the point they’re not helping the bad guys out.”

The team makes visits to villages with the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army leading the way. Often, they load ANA trucks with material assistance supplies for the ANA soldiers to hand out to the villagers.

“We have lots of (capabilities),” said Luna. “They can put us anywhere, and we can do many different things. We get to go with the infantry, and we get to be everyone’s friend. Everybody waves, smiles and gives us a thumbs up,” said Luna. “It gives you a really good feeling, and we know that we are doing our job.”
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