Image: U.S. soldiers and Afghan workers
Daniel Cooney  /  AP
U.S. military operational commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, right, poses with Afghan workers and a U.S. soldier for a photo at a U.S. military-funded road through Urgun town in Paktika province, eastern Afghanistan, Saturday.
updated 7/24/2005 5:21:18 PM ET 2005-07-24T21:21:18

With escalating violence threatening Afghanistan’s future, the U.S. military has a new focus: employ as many of the poor as possible to rebuild schools and medical clinics so they don’t join the Taliban or al-Qaida.

The U.S. military operational commander in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, believes that the more Afghans being put to work helps take away some of the enemies’ ability to recruit.

“I’d rather have an Afghan national working on a road or helping build a clinic than getting three to five bucks or whatever the Taliban or al-Qaida-associated movement pays him to plant an IED (improvised explosive device),” he told The Associated Press on Saturday.

“We are hiring as many Afghans as we can.”

Reconstruction projects
As part of the strategy, an ambitious string of reconstruction projects are on the drawing board for fall and winter, when militants here are normally quiet, in an attempt to prevent an insurgent offensive next spring, when snows melt on high mountain passes used by the rebels.

Unprecedented fighting last spring saw hundreds of people killed and sparked warnings that three years of progress toward peace since the ouster of the Taliban is threatened by the near-daily ambushes, assassinations, kidnappings and bombings.

The violence has also raised fears for crucial legislative elections on Sept. 18 — the next key step toward democracy after a quarter century of war.

Most building projects in past years have slowed down during the winter months when the freezing temperatures make construction difficult. But this year, the military is determined to push ahead with them, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said Sunday.

“Last winter, the military’s emphasis was to go after the Taliban, go find them where they were hiding,” he said. “This winter, we will still maintain that effort, but our priority will be to improve the situation of the Afghan people so they see the benefit of these elections and they see the local officials improving their lives.”

Building roads, and loyalty
In the past nine months, the military has employed more than 15,000 Afghans on projects nationwide that have cost about $80 million, O’Hara said. One such project is a 2 mile cobblestone road through Urgun town, in eastern Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan.

Kamiya visited the road — the first hard-surfaced transport link in the poverty-stricken region — on Saturday and was greeted by local officials eager to express their loyalty to the U.S.-led coalition.

“All the people know you are building the roads and appreciate it,” said Haji Satar, the local government chief. “You are giving us a guarantee of security and all the people are doing their best to keep the security here.”

Kamiya thanked the chief for his support and urged him to make sure his community votes in the coming elections.

Urgun residents have benefited from the U.S. military in other ways beside the road. About 200 of them are employed at an American base as cooks, cleaners and builders.

The military is now preparing to lay foundations for a cobblestone road from Urgun to other regional centers. The only transport link at the moment is a sandy, often-impassable track that partially runs along dry river beds.

O’Hara said that a year ago, Paktika used to be wracked by violence, but there has been less fighting in the region since the military started its reconstruction projects there.

Other projects being considered for Paktika and neighboring provinces are schools, medical clinics, government buildings, police stations and army barracks.

The funding for such military-sponsored projects is separate to about $570 million the U.S. government spent this fiscal year on reconstruction aid channeled through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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