$43 million will go to reconstruction in five provinces in bid to reduce Taliban influence.
The generals and governor strode across the 230-ft. span in eastern Afghanistan – the longest Bailey Bridge built during combat since World War II, the military says – with an optimism they want to spread across this divided valley where US and Afghan troops fight almost daily battles against the Taliban.
"Once they see the joy of reconstruction, many people will come to our side," provincial governor Didar Shalizai tells US Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley. "They will run toward us."
"Inshallah (God willing)," replies General Freakley, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, using a Muslim affirmation of hope for the future.
This new bridge over the Pech River was inaugurated Monday and marks an early step in a shifting US strategy: Clear Taliban strongholds, stay on the ground long enough to reestablish government rule, deploy Afghan forces, and show fruit of reconstruction.
But the stakes are high in a region that – already five years after US-led forces toppled the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies – the American military has visited again and again, only to watch the Taliban filter back.
"Our persistence in staying here, versus hopscotching around Afghanistan, is that other valleys [hear] what's going on," says Freakley, in a later interview. "There were some valleys here that we were told we would have to fight our way into. And the elders came to the governor and said: 'When are you going to come help us?' "
A similar fight-and-build strategy is being pursued by NATO troops in southern provinces. They declared Operation Medusa a "significant success" over the weekend, and claimed to have killed more than 500 insurgents.
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