Just outside Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military is starting a new program they hope will wean Afghan troops off American assistance.
A dozen or so American soldiers make up one of the Security Force Assistance Teams, and the goal is to help the Afghan Army plan for operations and supply themselves in the field.
But the mission is still a work in progress.
A massive white generator, the size of a garden shed, sits in the dusty heat, giving off a constant hum.
It powers the lights, computers, and air conditioners for the Afghan Army battalion in the Panjwei District. More than 500 Afghan soldiers are housed in a collection of old tents and wooden buildings on one side of this American outpost.
The problem is, the Afghans still get fuel for their generator from the Americans, and the Americans have had enough of that. They say it’s time for Afghans to get the fuel from their own government.
The dispute is one of Lt. Adam Mancini’s greatest headaches.
“Today they came by at 11 o’clock and it’s like that every day,” he says. “They expect me to be there like a gas station and give them gas whenever they need it.”
Getting Their Own Fuel
Mancini is a burly, easy-going officer from Framingham, Mass., and he just started on this training team three weeks ago.
But he already knows that unless the Afghans learn to requisition fuel from their government, he will be stuck as their gas station attendant.
Sure enough, Afghan soldiers come and pick up fuel, strapping the cans to their back.
Mancini says his commander has threatened to cut them off.
“You know, they’re gonna have to learn,” Mancini says. “So once we leave they can stand up on their own, fight the Taliban and create more stability on their own.”
The fuel is just one problem. This American training team also is trying to wean the Afghans off American bottled water, get them to fix their own radios, and plan their own missions.
The Americans hope to create more than a hundred of these training teams in Afghanistan in the coming months.
Taking Responsibility In Two Years
It’s all part of an effort to get the Afghans to become self sufficient before the Americans hand over responsibility in two years.
As the Afghan soldiers fill the gas cans, one of their officers, Sgt. Maj. Jalaka Hasar, wanders over. He has a trim beard, deep lines in his face, and the swagger of command. He insists the Afghan Army can now defend its own soil.
“They can help us to fight, they can give us training courses,” he says of the American forces.
Meanwhile, Mancini finishes filling all the fuel cans and heads over to the Afghan battalion headquarters to get signatures for the fuel.
He greets the battalion’s logisitics officer.
“Can you put in a request for the amount of fuel we are giving you daily?” Mancini asks.
But the Afghan lieutenant has a stack of papers, and a stack of excuses, for why he can’t supply diesel fuel for his soldiers.
“I will talk to each company, I want from them serial numbers from each generator. So can we put a request in for them for fuel,” Mancini explains. “OK, now how long is in going to take?”
The Afghan says it will be “one month or maybe less than one month.”
“So in the meantime, we have to give you fuel daily? Cause I’m not sure how long Colonel Rutherford is going to go along with that,” Mancini says, referring to Col. Wilson Rutherford, the tough love officer who commands the U.S. battalion.
A Tense Exchange
The Afghan lieutenant suddenly jumps up, slams his chair back, and storms out of the meeting. He returns a few minutes later and signs for the fuel his men took.
Mancini collects the papers and heads outside.
“It’s just frustrating cause the system doesn’t make sense to me. The colonel may cut them off in a week or so,” says Mancini. “It’s one way they get to learn something.”
We ask Rutherford, the battalion commander, whether he would cut off fuel to the Afghans?
“At least not in the near term,” he says.
Still, he adds, the Afghans have to do more for themselves.
“I’m going to give them some things, but not everything,” he says.
Mancini, meanwhile, has eight more months for his team to coax the Afghans to take care of themselves.