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Bringing Electricity To The People (And Defying The Taliban)



After more than five days on the road in a military convoy (see photo), a new Chinese-built electricity generating turbine (and tons of spare parts) has arrived at the Kajaki dam in southern Afghanistan.

It is being hailed as a victory for NATO forces -- perhaps even a turning point --especially as the Taliban has focused its attacks on derailing the well-publicized and highly symbolic reconstruction project.

Posters with verses from the Koran were plastered on the turbine to make Islamic militants think twice before attacking. Meanwhile, a decoy convoy was sent ahead of the real cargo as a ruse -- drawing away militants who had managed for the last two years to delay its delivery.

Altogether, about 5,000 soldiers from Britain, the United States, Afghanistan, Canada, Australia, and Denmark were needed -- along with support from attack helicopters, armored vehicles and artillery -- to protect the turbine as the convoy passed slowly through the heart of Taliban country.

But by the criteria announced by the British military command, the story also highlights the difficulties which continue to hamper international efforts in southern Afghanistan.

More than two years ago, Britain's top military commander in Afghanistan told journalists that success or failure for international forces could be measured by their ability to bring electricity to 2 million Afghans in southern Afghanistan.

Confidently, the British command predicted the area around the Kajaki dam in Helmand Province would be secured so that a construction road could be built and the massive turbine could be delivered by the end of 2006.

Instead, Taliban forces counterattacked -- seizing the nearby town of Musa Qala in late 2006 and holding it for almost a year. Reconstruction work at Kajaki came to a standstill for months as almost daily mortar and rocket attacks by Taliban fighters kept civilian engineers from moving into their base camp near the dam.

International forces are counting on the economic benefits of the project to boost their strategy -- to show ordinary Afghans that President Hamid Karzai's administration and the international community is doing more to improve their lives than extremist fighters.

That's why the Taliban is now likely to focus its efforts on trying to prevent power lines from being built.

NATO forces will have to create security corridors stretching more than 110 kilometers through the heart of Taliban territory before power cables link Kajaki to Kandahar.

Unfortunately, parts of the road used to transport the turbine to Kajaki have already reverted to Taliban control. Ensuring that electricity reaches millions of ordinary Afghans isn't going to be easy.

-- Ron Synovitz

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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