Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark


Afghan "leaders" are fighting over what little scraps of power there are to be had.  Karzai is becoming a disgrace.  The November 7 runoffs should be plenty interesting...

Please see the latest dispatch.  Short and sweet, this one: 

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Looses Spark


Very Respectfully,

Michael Yon

* * * * *

Anybody seen a better future around here?

Anybody seen a better future around here?

21 October 2009

In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008.  During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.

After communications with many American and British officers, a sad picture emerged.

The following message was provided by a well-placed officer. The message has been slightly edited by me for clarification.


ISAF's initiative [at Kajaki] to light up southern Afghanistan following the successful delivery of a third turbine to the Kajaki hydro-electric dam has run into major problems which could set the project 24 months behind schedule.

Last September, US and British special forces spearheaded a 100 vehicle convoy from Kandahar 180 miles across open desert, much of it owned by the Taliban, to Kajaki.  The Operation, codenamed Oqab Tsuka, included 4,000 British, US and Canadian troops in what was hailed as the biggest demonstration since 2006 that ISAF is delivering progress in the south.

The heavily guarded convoy contained what was called T2 (Turbine 2) and was successfully delivered to the US AID built dam after a six-day operation which saw significant fighting by British paratroopers and advance clearance operations by special forces. As it crawled north up the Sangin valley the Brits mounted the biggest deception operation seen since World War Two.

With just one road available which was an obvious target for insurgents' IEDs, special forces located a second, more difficult and remote route. After confirmation that it could be used, a battle group was flown into the area of the main route, giving the enemy the clear perception that the convoy was heading that way. Then a dummy convoy headed up the road, while the Brits used the alternative route out of sight.

But despite last year's success it is now becoming clear that little progress has been made. At the time of the operation a US contractor, known as Kajaki Joe, stated that the turbine would be installed by April 2009 with all three turbines in action by September 2009. However, problems with engineers and missing elements of the turbine have caused significant delays.

When the turbine was delivered only one turbine was in action, another was being overhauled on site with the aim being to install the new one and commission all three into service. Now exactly a year on a report submitted to US AID in Lashkar Gah has suggested that the turbine which was being overhauled needs replacing. Sources in Lashkar Gah say this is a gross overestimate of the situation and that there will be no mission to deliver another turbine.

In 2006 US AID representatives in Lashkar Gah asked the British to play down the project and not to raise people’s expectations about when power would be delivered. The British Foreign Office was quick to try and hijack the public relations spin of last year's success, even though the UK gave no funding to the project.

The overall aim of the turbine mission was to support the power grid in southern Afghanistan. In fact Canada pledged millions of Canadian dollars to the Kandahar economy once the power was plugged into the grid and supplying business in the city.  But the Canadians seem doubtful that power will be switched on before 2014—by which time they will have pulled their troops out of Afghanistan.


Even an idiot can see we need more troops

As an American I am embarassed and frustrated. War is not a play toy and neither are our soldiers. This administration needs to either go all in on Afganistan or pull out. For the record I do not believe we should pull out. If we cannot provide basic electrical power in less than two years or now 4 or 5 years there is a big security issue. It is absolutely clear to the biggest idiot that more troops are needed to do in Afganistan what has been accomplished in Iraq. It blows my mind that the administrations only strategy is wait wait wait. They are getting really good at doing nothing. I just pray our men and women do not pay an extra high price for their foolishness. Let's get the troops the resources they need. I am sorry buy Biden is an bumbling idiot when compared to McChrystal or Petraeus. Petraeus' leadership and ideas turned an Iraq around that all the dems had given up on. Now they think they know better then the generals that are making things happen. Unbelieveable. I pray for our troop, and for the rest of us if Afghanistan is abandoned. Wake up Obama it is real easy listen to your generals that have proven themselves time and time again, and quit wasting time picking a fight with Fox News. Do your job for goodness sake. 

Thanks again for your reporting Michael

David October 20, 2009


Present ROE = no more troops

TomasUSMC October 21, 2009

More troops on a hopeless mission?

However much I would love to sound a rousing gung-ho with a few tally-hos' from my armchair whilst watching our lads get their legs blown off, I really doubt that whatever government ends up with the reigns of power and the open tap of funding in Kabul the way or life for the afghan populace will increase. Take this issue of the turbines. I've worked on a few dam projects in the 3rd world and this type of infrastruture needs constant engineering support - and who will provide this with remnants of the Taliban roaming around? The sooner Kabul takes responsibility and gets a decent army together the sooner we can pull out - surely this must be a huge and the main priority for our 'leaders'

Pete October 21, 2009


This is the toughest test and a nation that is so in the stone age it makes me wonder where they have been for the last 100 years. I think they will love and prosper in freedom, once they know we are there for the long haul, otherwise they are watching to see what we and the world does. If we cut and run they will go back to being mules and good peasants. If we stay and rebuild the schools and allow a glimmer of education they will grow because they have been in the dark so long. It all depends on what happens in the south with the advances of the Pakistan soldiers on the north. I hope we have an agreement to bring in the heavies and eliminate the troops that are gathering to fight the Pakistan Army.

Phil  October 21, 2009

Remember Vietnam

This is not really much of a surprise, zero has never really promised anything to anyone other then the destruction of America. He will probably make lbj and his wiz kid, mcnamara look like real combat leaders. Anyone that actually expects anything or any action on the Afgan or any other issue that has any merit, well, it is all smoke and mirrors and not even a real good job at that.

Ole Sarge October 21, 2009

retired grocer from USA

The American voter seems to get more and more stupid every election. We seem to get what we deserve. One President that`took the balanced budget he inherited and couldn't wait to give away to his rich friends only to elect a president planning to spend even more. He has two wars going on with no plan to win either one. We have a congress and senate filled with criminals,sex perverts and every other kind of scum you can think of. I am really overcome with a sense of doom. I really feel the worst for the troops that are out there fighting in this mess with no reaol leadership at the very top.

Charles October 21, 2009


Mr Grocer, 

I look at the situation and am much more optimistic. The current president is preceding at the scheduled pace for troop drawdown in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government. You say he has no plans to win either one, but the situation in Iraq is more or less going to plan. What is your definition of victory in Iraq? As for the current domestic spending, just a few months ago, economic experts of all stripes were worried about the possibility of a massive and sustained depression. Nine months later, the stock market has stabilized and hopefully employment will soon start to pick up. Its a big concern though. As for Afghanistan, I would much prefer a deliberate and thought out strategy. McChrystal has given his military requirements to the president who then has to look at the entire political-economic-military situation to determine what is in or country's best strategic interest. Michael on this very site has suggested that any commitme to this region has to be generational and the outcome would still be in doubt. Not many Americans are probably willing to bet our treasure and troops on such a bet. Lets see what the Afghan political situation is before we commit more troops to this difficult situation.

Drew October 21, 2009

He hates our Military as Clinton did.

I knew if this man got in our Men and Women were in trouble so Please pray and pray hard for their safety and keep their families in your Prayers.Thank you Michael for keeping us informed of the problems that are facing them. 


JeanOctober 21, 2009

Double Bogey

Hey all, even Tiger doesn't birdie or par every hole he plays. Be positive, we kicked butt militarily and I bet the additional transport General Patraeus is sending might improve the dam completion projections. 

Michael, thanks for the full disclosure. 

I feel like this needs to be a Monty Python moment...Allllllllll-ways look onnnnnn the bright side of do...da do do do do do... 

David October 21, 2009


what happened to working together? A year ago, they were being 'hailed' but now they seem to be walking away, hands in pockets, whistling contently like it's not their problem. Where is ISAF-NATO in all this, what's their stance and why have they taken a back seat and let the individual parties step away. Do we need more troops there, yes. Do we need more choppers and resources, yes. But, most of all, teamwork and unity is what will win this and it's currently the missing key. Get it together guys, it's amazing what can be done as a team but individuals will be overrun.

Scott / TX October 21, 2009

Time to act

The time to act is now, not later. The president has the information he needs already, this is just another example of a lot of talk and little action, a theme becoming more and more familiar as this presidents agenda is becoming more and more clear, despite what he says in public. Our troops are in trouble right now, and they need what they need RIGHT NOW, not when the president and his fine bunch of political advisors decide is right. Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our current administration.

Phillip October 21, 2009

Trackbacked / Linked

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/21/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

David M October 21, 2009


I think you chaps have missed the point. The more troops we pour in the greater the number of targets Terry Taliban has and the greater the resentment amongst the moderate afghans, thus fueling the insurgency. Surely all efforts must be on the Afghan armed forces and also moderate warlords etc and not our costly foreign troops that have to rely on translators and stand out like a sore thumb. Surely Iraq has taught us this lesson.

PeteOctober 21, 2009


I must say Childers comment ''Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our current administration''. Surely you mean to say ''Our guys and girls are suffering right now due to the gross ineptitude of our past administrations''

PeteOctober 21, 2009


Jeeze. . . one would THINK this would be front page. One would THINK the press would be all over this. One would THINK heads would roll. I do have unlimited faith in American ingenuity, committment and purpose; that if allowed to make this happen, it would. There is something big and ugly standing in the way.

Sara October 21, 2009

Is this an engineering issue or a military issue?

Engineering is pretty cut and dried. Engineers go in and assess a problem and find practical solutions. If Turbine 2 needed a rebuild the parts and staff and tools should have been in place 2 years ago. If that rebuild turned into a complete loss, which believe me, does at times happen, especially in the 3rd World, it should have been recognized and a report filed not long after the rebuild began. This isn't rocket science. 

getting turbines 1 and 3 on line should be another engineering job. Each is an independent unit and can provide power separately. There are plenty of GE engineers out there who can assess the situation rapidly. This sounds like more political BS. Whose engineers are responsible? Who is managing the project? This is where British and American engineers used to kick ass and take names.

matt h October 21, 2009

Lessons Learned

actually Pete; 

Iraq taught us exactly the opposite lesson. The Americans and allies were, for the most part, looked upon as honest brokers in a chaotic and sectarian environment. The Iraqis needed to build organizations that until the rebuilding of the country did not exist. Pan Iraqi, non sectarian police and militay and judicial and development organizations. They are still not there yet but it's better than it was. It could all go south again precisely because there is not a guarantor of the peace involved as we disengage. 

So far, we are still not looked upon as invaders by the majority of the people of Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency has to help stabilize the country rather than create conflict. The whole peace through strength concept. Half assed measures get half assed results as was demonstrated in Iraq.

matt h October 21, 2009

Troops Now or in 3 Weeks

There is a lot of hand-wringing about whether we begin sending new troops to Afghanistan now or wait until after the election. 

While I certainly don't like him, President Obama is putting pressure on Karzai's supporters to keep the election clean. He's basically telling them: if you cheat on this one, you're on your own. 

An election with minimal levels of corruption is going to drastically help our troops. If the people believe the government is legitimate, then the mission has a greater chance of success. 

While I understand the need to get the 40,000 troops there and in place as soon as we can (although I don't think they really need to be there during the winters when nothing really happens), a clearly legitimate election is going to serve as a dramatic force multiplier. That multiplier should more than make up for any kind of delay. 

Openly committing now removes any leverage that we have over keeping Karzai's supporters on the up and up. 

If the Afghans in power can't put their nation's interest ahead of their own personal interests even when the result will be us pulling out and their being left on their own, then it's a good sign that those Afghans in power would NEVER have been the partners we needed to make this mission work. 

The Obama administration is (rightfully in my opinion) testing the Afghans' mettle. It needs to be done before we double down on an endeavor that has a high risk of failure already.

Sean October 21, 2009

It's a cluster f*(K!

Chinese fire drill, FUBAR, or whatever you want to call it but the bottom line is we need to get our a$$es out of there. 

Michael you do great reporting but you need to find a different area of conflict where something positive can occur. It certainly won't be Afghanistan. 

True then true now. 

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier."

Jim October 21, 2009

As always, this dispatch has been reprinted with permission from the author, Michael Yon.

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