Archive for the ‘Lashkar Gah’ Category

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Story and photos by Chief Petty Officer Leslie Shively

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — Leadership from Nimroz and Helmand provinces met with members of the United States Agency for International Development and the International Security Assistance Force, March 1, to discuss water management in the Helmand River basin.

The aim of the first summit was to bring representatives from opposite sides of the Afghan political spectrum together to establish rapport on water conservation, as water is one of the most important resources in the country.

“Afghanistan is an agricultural country,” said Haji Khan Agha, director of the Helmand Arghandab Valley Authority, adding that it also has a climate where anything can be grown. “Our economy is related to agriculture and more than 80 percent of our people are farmers.”

Presentations on Helmand River basin geography, water flow and data collection, educated an audience of more than 30 attending the summit at the Afghan Cultural Center, on the current state of water usage from the river and its surrounding areas.

Three major challenges confront Afghans with water usage and conservation said Dr. Asim Yousafzai, one of the presenters at the summit: the quantity and quality of water, and water management in Helmand basin. Yousafzai, a hydrologist who works with a civil affairs team in Now Zad, said the first step toward water conservation was a better understanding of the system.

“The solution lies in increased data collection and data sharing,” Yousafzai said. “There has to be a repository of data for those who want to access it.”

Under the Regional Command Southwest security umbrella, four monitoring stations were established and have initiated some water monitoring in the Helmand system since October.

“We’ve got to understand input and outtake,” said Dr. L.J. Palmer-Maloney, a water resources management/human geography subject matter expert with RC(SW), who presented at the summit. “We’ve also established connections with Kabul University so that the monitoring information will be analyzed and used by Afghans and international scientists.”

After the presentations, what sounded like child’s play – the clatter of hundreds of green marbles running down an inclined model of the Helmand River valley – filled the Cultural Center.

The model, a 3-dimensional representation of the Helmand River valley and its catchments, designed by Dr. Jean Jolicoeur, demonstrated proper and improper water usage in three games summit attendees played.

A container, representing the Kajaki Dam, held all of the marbles at the start of each demonstration or game. Jolicoeur released the marbles and, as they flowed downward, participants around the model diverted them into their catchments with wooden slats. Those closest to the dam caught most of the marbles. Those farthest from the dam caught the least.

Each of the three games represented different environmental conditions. The first represented a wet season with hundreds of marbles. The second represented a dry season with a fair number of marbles; and the third, a drought with few marbles. If those nearest the dam diverted all of the marbles into their catchments, nothing was left for those furthest from the dam.

Some players took more marbles than their catchment could hold, leaving none for their neighbors.

The model instilled a pictorial sense of what happens in the river basin as seasons change and with unregulated water use. Flood irrigation practices using unregulated diversion canals and ground water withdrawal through wells, takes water directly from the river.

“We want them to start looking at the big picture – the whole watershed both upstream and downstream,” said Jolicoeur, a general development officer/infrastructure advisor for the Regional Platform Southwest.

“Pictures are worth a thousand words,” Palmer-Maloney said. “Seeing the river out of water is really important. We can have reports written in every language, but seeing what people are struggling with makes a big difference.”

Currently, Helmand is experiencing a drought ,Yousafzai said, with no foreseeable end. “We are in a climate pattern which is very unpredictable. We are in the Hindu Kush which is part of the Himalayan series and we are definitely experiencing a lot of climatic variations.”

“Peoples’ lives and livelihoods have vanished,” Palmer-Maloney said. “The ecosystem has collapsed and we’ve had a lot of snow, so we’re fixing to have some flooding. Helping people understand the connection is critical.

Due to the stark landscape, communities in the provinces are disconnected. Nimroz is culturally and historically associated with Herat, while Helmand is much more connected to Kandahar. It is the water system is really the only thing tying them together.

“Generations from now, regardless of the politics,” Palmer-Maloney said, “whatever is happening to the water system now is going to be what they are left with.”

As the summit drew to a close, provincial leadership agreed to a joint committee, to discuss and develop a water management strategy that will span the middle and lower Helmand River watershed.

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Helmand Provincial Governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal presented graduation certificates to about 100 governmental staff and 120 young people who finished a week-long journalism workshop March 3.

Held in Lashkar Gah, the workshop was a collaborative effort between the Helmand Governor Media Office and the Gorbat Radio TV Network, based in Kabul.

Participants were trained in journalism theory and engaged with news writing and producing video on current issues in order to give them taste of real-world experience.

“Even though learning an entire profession is not possible during a six-day workshop, a new way studying the news and looking at the world was opened to the participants of the workshop,” said Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, director of the Regional Studies Center of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Liwal urged workshop attendees to continue to pursue their interests in journalistic fields and get as much experience as possible in those fields.

“The Journalism Training Workshop was first of its kind during the last ten years,” said Mangal, adding that including journalists in the workshop strengthened students’ knowledge building in the public affairs arena.

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Story and photos by Petty Officer 3rd Class Monique LaRouche

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — A one-day financial course was recently offered to Afghan financial clerks by a joint pay assessment team, consisting of U.S. Army, Marine and civilian fiscal officers from Task Force Leatherneck.

“This is a basic-level introductory [class],” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Caruso, an officer for the pay assessment team, Regional Command Southwest, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and a New Orleans, La., native.

But, Caruso said the course is more than simple accounting. Topics covered included payroll processing, records keeping and auditing.

“We explain their pay charts and bonuses. They can begin to understand if problem exists, and the steps they can take to address it,” Caruso said.

Paying over 200,000 members in the NATO-led Afghan National Security Forces, which comprises the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Border Police can be a challenging process in Helmand. Lack of infrastructure in the province results in very few banks or roads, so consequently, managing cash over long distances can produce, at best mistakes, and at worst fraudulent practices, the pay assessment team cautions.

For Afghan soldiers and police to get paid, each must fill out a time-and-incident sheet, which is sent to the nearest Provincial Police Headquarters. After a series of approvals, funds are released and sent to either the Afghan member’s bank via electronic funds transfer, or to a “human-trusted” agent. The agent then physically travels to each of the forward operating posts in order to pay soldiers or police in cash.

Although Afghan financial clerks have been responsible for pay in the past, the system has not had adequate checks and balances, such as properly tracking funding, equipment and services. Incorporating a sound pay system is part of the long-term plan for sustaining the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghanistan as a whole.

The first step toward a sound system is properly training the clerks.

The one-day class is not mandatory, but encouraged; while enrollment in a formal, eight-week training course is offered to participants who do attend.

“The formal training gives more instruction and a continuing partnership with the financial organization to make them better,” explained Daniel Watson, a civilian financial advisor for the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.

“If they come out of the one-day [class] saying ‘I want more’ then that is one of our success factors,” Watson said.

The financial classes are an effort to educate Afghan soldiers and police on what to expect with their pay and benefits as a start to establishing a reliable pay system.

“Those types of internal controls just make sure people are paid the right amount and on time,” Watson said.

“It’s best for [the financial clerks] to have training from a fiscal stand point,” said Caruso, adding that interest among the clerks is rising. He said attendance is up from four to 11 participants for this second class held in a two-month period.

“Today was a good meeting,” said Gul Rasul, a financial officer for the Afghan Border Police. “The reason I am here is [the instructors] are our American friends. They are financial officers and we learn from them.”

Rasul was encouraged to attend the one-day class by his financial mentor Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Fisher, a personnel advisor for the 6th Zone Afghan Border Police.

“My biggest responsibility is ensuring the Afghans are maintaining their accountability correctly, which directly affects the [Afghan Border Police] finance section,” said Fisher, who hails from Lillington, N.C.

Fisher explained that the finance section allocates money for salaries per the Afghan personnel rosters, in accordance with the time-and-incident sheets. The personnel section ensures their reports are accurate and submitted on time so that the soldiers and police are being paid correctly and on time.

“As a mentor I oversee this process, ensure that it is being done correctly, and provide input where needed,” Fisher said.

“The Marines have done a great job,” Watson said, adding the financial course in Lashkar Gah will help build the Afghan fiscal organization to move toward continued success. Watson also said that training and education is important to the future of Afghan police and military forces.