The commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says his organization will double its operations in Afghanistan in the coming year to help the NATO and Afghan government effort to deliver development projects to the Afghan people.
Speaking via satellite from Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Carl Strock said his office in Kabul could work on projects amounting to $1 billion worth of building and reconstruction during the coming year.
"What I see in this coming year is about a doubling of the workload, and it's across all sectors of security and reconstruction," he said. "So I really do see a significant up-tick in activity over the next year. And as I talk to the NATO staff here, they see that 2008 will even be a bigger year."
The general acknowledges that may seem like a long time for Afghans to wait, but he says they will see some improvements more quickly.
On Monday, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, British General David Richards, said his troops made gains against Taleban insurgents in recent months, and that the international community must move quickly to demonstrate that it can now deliver development aid. General Richards also said the Afghan people must see at least the beginning of the impact from that aid within the next six months or many of them may decide to support the insurgents.
General Strock says many of the changes that may be visible in the short term will be roads, which he says are needed for the local economy, and also so that other forms of aid can be delivered to the areas that need it.
"It's not just about security. It's about just getting around in this country is a challenge for us," he explained. "For example, as we complete our work on the roads and we begin to extend those roads out to provincial centers and then down to villages, that will enable us to move the reconstruction effort forward. But right now, you simply can't get into some of the places that need the most help. So, it's a matter of laying the conditions, and it takes a while to put a foundation in. But once that foundation is laid, I think you'll see that the work will begin to dramatically improve over the next couple of years."
General Strock says many of the local projects need to be small, like hydroelectric generators that serve individual villages, so that local people can be trained to maintain them. But he also says his U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with the Afghan government as it develops policies on how to improve the infrastructure nationwide.