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US Soldiers Lead Agricultural Development in Afghanistan

The U.S. Department of Defense is sending agricultural teams to Afghanistan to supplement the war effort nad help Afghans rebuild their country's largest and most important economic sector.

Pentagon officials said the Agricultural Development Teams are made up of citizen reserve soldiers from the U.S. Army National Guard.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said the teams have been working successfully to rebuild farming communities in Afghanistan and that more are expected to be deployed this year.

Geren said soldiers from eight U.S. states are expected to be a part of the agriculture program.

"These are guardsmen from all across the country, who have stepped up, volunteered to serve their country, and serve it in a very traditional way, but in an unconventional way when you consider what we normally expect in modern warfare," he said.

Through the Agricultural Development Teams, Afghans receive advice and training in soil sciences, irrigation, horticulture, and raising livestock.

Geren said the teams also focus on teaching storage and marketing skills so farm products can be sold domestically and exported. He said these skills are crucial to rebuilding the Afghan economy because more than 70 percent of people in Afghanistan farm for a living. Agriculture accounts for more than half of the country's gross domestic product.

Geren said that even though the agriculture development program is relatively new, it is an important piece of the America's strategy in Afghanistan.

"This fits very well into the overall concept of trying to build a stable Afghanistan that can stand on its own and become economically self-sufficient and certainly self-sufficient in feeding itself," he explained.

He said the symbol of the National Guard represents this mission.

"The National Guard 'Minute Man' has a musket in one hand and his left hand is on a plow. This is the history of the citizen soldier and the history of our nation. And we are taking that same combination of skills and applying it to needs in Afghanistan," he said.

Geren added that no matter how the situation in Afghanistan develops, he said the agricultural expertise provided by U.S. citizen soldiers will have a lasting affect on the lives of Afghans for years to come.