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Cultivating Afghanistan -- Half a Year of Progress?

Since June, the Indiana National Guard's Agribusiness Development Team, or ADT, has developed three dam-building projects in mountain villages. The ag-extension agents the ADT trained are now teaching the techniques to improve crop yields and animal health to local farmers. The ADT’s rangeland management program will soon re-seed now-barren grazing land.

The next wave of projects includes sustainable greenhouses and root cellars to extend both growing season and storage—vital in this impoverished, calorie-deficient region.

ADT Commander, Col. Brian Copes said the team "Had a busy summer. Continued the development of our early initiatives in erosion control, vocational training for agricultural extension agents, and then continued on with what we call the second wave of projects, and then are beginning to see the conditions for our third wave of projects.”

On the team’s experimental farm, a herd of seven coddled Afghan goats live in an olive grove. Though three are pregnant, they are named after Snow White’s Seven Dwarves. Copes said $0.10 of medicine administered to sick goats can go a long way.

“What our agricultural experts did was de-worm them and de-tick them, and within three days, they’d gained 13% body weight," Copes said.

The ADT’s progress has been difficult in this war zone, as security deteriorated in the summertime “fighting season.” In particular, the insurgents’ IED bombs have disrupted road travel in critical parts of the province.

“When it only takes $10 worth of homemade explosives to grind to a halt 25 vehicles, the balance of power is sometimes a little vexing," Copes said.

A recent mission to Sabari, a district described as “the reddest of the red”— or completely Taliban controlled— illustrates the complications of war-zone development. Blackhawk helicopters flew the ADT into a fortified combat outpost to meet with village elders about farm assistance.  But Copes said another reality intruded.

“When we got there and found out there had been an operation the night before. Two of the local nationals from one of the villages had been killed. And so, of course, the elders didn’t want to come and talk agriculture, the elders from that particular village certainly wanted to come and protest the killings.”

After the elders protested the killing of two men they insisted were innocent, they agreed to meet with the Agribusiness Development Team. It was a short meeting. The ADT interpreter translated their message to say:  “We are really don’t need anything from you guys—no training, no nothing…In the day time you guys give us something, in the night time the Coalition forces is coming and killing innocent people. That is why we are sad with Coalition forces. We don’t want anything from Coalition forces.”

To Copes, who’s been here almost a year, it’s a situation so fluid that it becomes difficult to know how best to serve the Afghan people.

“It was an odd set of circumstances, but I characterized it later, just musing about Alice in Wonderland and through the looking glass, and simply said the environment here just gets curiouser and curiouser, which is about as apt a characterization I can offer you right now," he said.

In our next segment, a story about how even the best-laid plans can put up walls – literally – between the ADT and the people it tries to serve.

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