Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Coalition forces launch reconstruction in Gardez

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GARDEZ, 4 February (IRIN) - Last weekend marked the opening of the Coalition forces' first Civil-Military Operations Centre (CMOC) for reconstruction in the southern Afghanistan province of Paktia, marking a strategic shift from battling Taliban and Al-Qaeda renegades to reconstruction work.
"We are not dealing only with security, we want to help the reconstruction of Afghanistan," Robert Finn, United States ambassador to Afghanistan, told IRIN in the provincial capital, Gardez.

According to CMOC, the reconstruction programme had been established as a place for NGOs, international institutions and others to meet, exchange information and facilitate the rebuilding of Gardez and surrounding areas. The PRTs would be a mixture of US civilians and military officers, who would be armed for their own protection.

"We have already completed the reconstruction of 10 schools, three wells and one health clinic in Gardez," Ben Mixon of the Gardez CMOC said, emphasising that the teams helped in planning and prioritising projects and often hired Afghans to work with them.

Asked why the Coalition military was getting involved in reconstruction when the United Nations, hundreds of NGOs, and government agencies like USAID were already rendering assistance, Finn said: "It is just another way of doing it," noting that the reason was because there were ongoing security problems in the Gardez area.

"The idea is to provide an atmosphere of stabilisation that will encourage other peaceful activities," he said, mentioning Bamian in central Afghanistan as the next province for the PRTs. "We will have one province each month," Finn said.

The controversial Coalition initiative has been criticised by some large NGOs working in Afghanistan. A US-based NGO working in Afghanistan, CARE International, raised concern late January, saying the move could have a negative impact on security levels and that it was "not a substitute for security".

"They see this as an indirect way to promote security by an on-the-ground presence. But if you look at the kind of numbers they are talking about, if you evaluate it as a security strategy, it doesn't add up," the advocacy coordinator for CARE International in Afghanistan, Paul O'Brien, told IRIN in Kabul.

Afghan Rehabilitation Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, who had attended the ribbon cutting ceremony of the CMOC in Gardez, told IRIN the PRTs would help the government focus on larger, long-term reconstruction work.

[ENDS]

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