HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
As Marines of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, continue to push Taliban forces out of Garmsir District, Helmand province, Afghanistan, certain areas have begun to rebuild.
One such area is that near Combat Outpost Koshtay where there were high amounts of fighting just months ago. But as the fighting has moved further south and the locals feel more comfortable, there has been an increase of interest to build schools, bridges, sluice gates, and other structures needed to better the infrastructure here.
Civil Affairs Marines currently attached to 2/2 offer to pay contractors for any projects that will better the area; like building schools or fixing canals. However, local contractors and local laborers were hesitant to work at first because they feared possible repercussions from the Taliban.
Since local contractor would not work with them, the Marines had to hire an outside contractor, who repaired a road just outside the COP and proved to the locals that they could safely work in the area.
“Two months ago I was excited to have one contractor,” said Sgt. Brian Friedman, a civil affairs Marine currently attached to Easy Company, 2/2. “Currently there are five large contractors bidding on different projects and I’m helping many village elders to do small projects in their villages.”
This has set off a chain reaction as locals are now bringing Friedman new projects daily.
Recent projects, such as the repairing of a nearby culvert and reconstruction of a small bridge, have employed local laborers.
Just up the road from Koshtay, a school is being reconstructed which is employing approximately 15 men for 25 days. When done, the school is expected to have over 100 kids attending.
Haji Mobikon, a local village elder, is now planning to employ 20 men for a month building a sluice gate, bridge, and cleaning a canal that runs alongside their village. This should help bring business to the shops within his village.
“(A worker) immediately takes his days wages and goes to a local store to buy rice, beans, and chai for his family,” said Friedman.
Another elder, Haji Mohommad Abdullah, within the same village, plans on building a school inside his own compound which he expects approximately 50 students to attend.
“I teach in the summer, the children will come,” said Abdullah when asked if the students would come during the traditional vacation surrounding the poppy harvest and summer months.
Many of the village elders who come to Friedman with projects are usually willing to do the projects themselves with a little financial assistance. They hire their own villagers and manage the build themselves.
“It’s pretty simple cinder block construction,” said Friedman. “Most farmers are capable of doing a decent job. The biggest impact is relationship building and getting cash into people’s hands. That is why we prefer to have local elders be in charge of simple projects.”
The increased willingness to work seems to coincide with the increased willingness in the locals cooperation with Marines and Afghan national security forces. For instance, locals have started to divulge important information about the area such as location of roadside bombs and enemy forces.
Though these projects are not everlasting, there is still plenty of work to be done that could keep the local laborers and contractors employed for the foreseeable future.