Monday, April 6, 2009

Civil Affairs, Provincial Reconstruction teams assist 3/8, improve southern Afghanistan

March 21, 2009
Story by: Lance Cpl. Brian D. Jones

GOLESTAN, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The generosity of foreign aid has found its way to the isolated villages of one southern Afghan province through the hands of the provincial government with the help of Marines.

Marines with second platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, serve in Golestan, Farah Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

They work diligently to provide security for the growing community that lives under the threat of insurgents who oppose the Afghan government and alliance forces operating there.

Afghan provincial government officials and others who befriend the Marines brave-it-out each day as they deal with the pressures of the threats against their lives and the lives of their families and fellow villagers.

Second Lt. Daniel M. Yurkovich, second platoon’s commander, meets with Golestan’s Afghan leaders regularly to address local interests, such as security and the many projects that are underway to gain the support of the community.

As the Afghan National Police and volunteers keep a strong hold on security with the help of the Yurkovich’s Marines, who conduct counterinsurgency operations in the area, foreign aid is passed through the hands of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to be invested into villages that have seen increases in security, such as Golestan.

As Yurkovich keeps the doors of communication open, a civil affairs team with 3rd Civil Affairs Group and the Provincial Reconstruction Team are working to improve the community in many ways. The PRT, which consists of military officers, diplomats and engineers, supports reconstruction efforts to help empower local governments to operate more effectively.

“(Civil affairs’) interest in Golestan is to give the local government a face,” said Cpl. Aldo J. Almazan, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer. “It’s very secluded out here, so the people don’t know their government officials and have little faith in them. (Our projects) will help the people identify with them better.”

Civil affairs Marines such as Almazan speak with locals to emphasize that the Afghan government wants to provide for its people.
“We are showing them how it is surely but slowly going to happen,” said Almazan.

With the help of Yurkovich and his Marines, the civil affairs team has a foot in the door with the Afghan community to pursue smaller, community-driven projects. In some cases, the PRT follows the civil affairs team to offer support on larger-scale projects with a high impact on Afghan communities in the long term.

Brad D. Arsenault, a U.S. Agency for International Development representative for Farah Province, recently visited Golestan with PRT associates. Arsenault is part of an integrated team with the PRT that works with the U.S. departments of State and Agriculture.
“The four of us together are trying to pool our resources and get the best effects out of what we are doing,” Arsenault said of the teamwork between the organizations.

Arsenault’s job is to take a firsthand look at the projects going on in Golestan and report back to his command with recommendations.

“I really appreciate how the Marines work in small groups and get out most everyday,” said Arsenault. “They have good rapport with the district governor, census officer, district prosecutor and all the key leaders. It’s real impressive.”

Members of the civil affairs team and PRT held a meeting with leading local government officials March 13, 2009, to determine the progress of current projects and prospects of new ones. They discussed the attitudes of the locals and to whom their loyalty belongs.

The subgovernor worries that the people who don’t receive jobs through the reconstruction contracts may turn to the insurgency to find income, and he also worries that the people will expect their government to continue to provide as much for them, though there are limited funds.

“There are not a lot of jobs, and sometimes people go down the wrong route,” said Qasim Khan, the district subgovernor, as translated by an interpreter.

Concerned about security, Khan went on to warn Yurkovich of the upcoming poppy harvest and the ensuing security threat.

The poppy harvest will last approximately 18 days, and jobs are estimated to increase from 300 to 3,000 during that time, giving the people a chance to increase their income tenfold. The insurgents depend on the harvest and are not likely to back down, according to Khan.

The topic that took precedence during the meeting was the 11 schools within the district. It was determined that four of them were in good condition, while the rest needed renovating. The PRT wants to improve the structures for long-term use. The schools are also in dire need of provincial government support to supply the students with school books and other supplies.

“Before, kids feared going to school and now that they are going to school we face the problem of not having enough school books,” said Amir Mohammed, the district prosecutor. “The less books they have, the less people come to the school.”

Mohammed went on to say that education must be a top priority to help solve issues in the long run. He said although the food assistance the provincial government is providing is nice, it would be education that would ultimately solve the problem of hunger in such communities.

Marines of second platoon escorted the civil affairs and the PRT members through the city March 12, 2009, to conduct site surveys of the schools, health clinic and bazaar.

They talked to locals about their businesses and the positive effects the new projects are having on the community.

Civil affairs Marines are currently involved in projects such as the cleanup of the local bazaar, facilitating a trash pickup, road construction and a new drainage system for the bazaar. The Marines and civilians who make up the PRT were pleased to see the progress made in Golestan and have additionally begun plans to install solar-powered street lamps and public restrooms in the bazaar.

“The people are happy that you are here and that you are focused on the bazaar because it is the center of the community,” said Khan.

Golestan has seen notable security increases but still faces an insurgent threat. However, it is not stopping the provincial government, Afghan security forces and Marines from providing for the people. Civil affairs, the PRT and the provincial government will continue to push forward with their assistance.

Future projects already in the works include: the distribution of 85 tons of wheat, the donation of live chickens, passing out material assistance items and installing a local radio station in the city. Each of these initiatives is based on Afghan needs.

“What we don’t want to do is impose American standards and ideals on the community,” said Capt. Anthony R. Ward, a team leader with 3rd CAG.
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