By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 9, 2007 - When local contractor Asil Khan first thought of building a bridge over the Gogamanda River, he was knee-deep in it, evading the Soviet army on a trip to Pakistan to procure weapons for the Mujahadeen.
More than 15 years later, that idea became a reality, as Gov. Jabar Taqwa officially opened the Gogomanda Bridge and the road that links Kabul with thousands of villagers who had been cut off from the capital by the river.
"Behind the mountains there are 6,000 villagers," Khan said. "They had no way to get to Kabul. Now they have the bridge."
Construction of the bridge took six months and more than 40 local Afghan workers. The road and bridge cost $225,000 apiece. Army Maj. Don Johnson, Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team commander, said the price was a bargain.
"Normally a road like this costs $25,000 per kilometer," he said. "It should have cost us $400,000. It was a steal." Khan said he wanted to do his part for the people.
"I felt these people needed help, and this is the help we can do for them," he said.
The Bagram PRT provided funds for the project and some oversight.
"We would go and periodically check the work," Johnson said. "It's a strong bridge. We were here when it was just the foundations."
As Johnson's final mission before his redeployment, he took the opportunity to speak to some of the assembled local Afghans.
"In the 10 months I've been here, I've learned a lot about the Afghan people," he said. "They're generous, hospitable. They value education and they want the best for their people."
Johnson said a project like this would not be possible under the Taliban. He asked the Afghans, "How many bridges have the Taliban built?"
One Afghan stepped forward and answered him. "Don't ask that question," he said. "Ask how many they have destroyed."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher is assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force 76 Public Affairs Office.)
Note: PRT - Provisional Reconstruction Team