Anne Applebaum has recently been to Chora in Uruzgan. She has filed a good report, in which she shows a good understanding of the key issues on the ground, contrary to most of the rest of the reporting coming from Afghanistan. Her article would be worth citing for that, but this is not, in fact, the reason why I'm drawing attention to it now.
My reason is rather that she makes mention of the planned road from district centre Chora to provincial centre Tarin Kowt. A vital connection between two key nodes, running through the Baluchi Pass. I have written of this road project before. At the time we were just past a major operation in that valley (Operation Spin Ghar), and it seemed like insurgents were on the move, with that operation heralded long in advance. A window of opportunity seemed to have opened up, as the local villagers were keen mostly on getting on with their lives, and were happy with some of what they gained access to (e.g. medical help), thanks to the valley's opening up to the outside world. More frequent patrols in the valley were planned, as well as the construction of ANA and ANP posts near the entry points. So this is interesting to follow up on.
A couple of months ago (on May 10), Eric wrote this at the Year in Afghanistan blog:
"There is a regional project to build several hundred miles of roads in many provinces, and a few of these roads will be in Uruzgan. A group of engineers went to the town of Chora, about 20 miles north of Tirin Kot, to see how far they could survey. The people of Chora were very excited to see a road project starting a survey there. They don't see much in the way of road work. It's public knowledge that as you head farther north from here, the problems with opposition forces become more acute - so after 15 miles or so going north, the villagers told the engineers that this would really not be a good time to go any farther. So when will be a good time?"
On June 14, he followed up on this, reporting how program managers were devising plans in consultation with Uruzgan's governor:
"I helped to organize a 90-minute fly-in visit of the program managers. They met with the Governor and explained how over the next 2 years, there will be a program throughout the south and east to build roads that connect the district capitals, including several in Uruzgan. He was happy to hear, of course, and wants the construction to start as soon as possible. But in which areas will the construction actually be able to take place, and how will they build it in areas that have been insecure for years?"
For now, the answer is that no road can be built from Tarin Kowt to Chora. Anne Applebaum says:
"... villagers come out to shake hands with the reconstruction team leader who is walking with us and to ask the medic for advice. Children put their thumbs up and shout "Alles Gut," the rough Dutch equivalent of "okay."(...)Unfortunately, this story is not complete without explaining that the next valley, the one visible through the gap in the mountains, is "insecure." There is no Dutch base there, and when Charlie Tiger Company goes on patrol in that direction, the soldiers don't take journalists. "Insecure" means that there are snipers and roadside bombs, such as the one that recently blew up a Dutch vehicle near here; it means the tribal leaders there are rivals of the tribal leaders here; it also means that a German aid group has indefinitely postponed plans to build a road to Chura, and that Chura's doctor doesn't feel safe far from his clinic. Not all Taliban, he explains in a low voice, approve of medicine."
So, plans postponed. There's only so much you can do with what you got, as some say.