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Zabul ADT Friends and Partners June 13th, 2012 Dear Friends and Partners, Zabul Province, Afghanistan eric.ahlness@afghan.swa.army.mil @ZabulADT on Twitter

20 W. 12th St. St. Paul, MN 55124 T 612.812.3070 eric.ahlness@us.army.mil

The sign at the entry control point reads “Welcome to COP Mizan”

First, An introduction: My name is First Lieutenant Tara Robertson. I’m an engineering officer and the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Zabul ADT’s small detachment at Combat Outpost (COP) Mizan. I, along with Staff Sargeant Jon B. Hansen and Specialist Dustin Douglas of our security element, work with the local security forces and the local Afghan government to promote agricultural and trade success in Mizan District. The word most frequently used to describe COP Mizan is “austere.” There are less than 50 Soldiers on the facility, and we’re co-located with a company of Afghan National Army personnel. Situated in a river valley, the COP is ringed with peaks on which Afghan security personnel have established observation points from which they can survey the valley as it expands to the west. The base itself is small, consisting of a living area, and a dining facility that also acts as a recreational area. A small gym and a motor pool round out the 200 or so square meters of total space. Meals are generally very good, but supply is typically by airdrop only, so we regularly mix in army “meals ready to eat” or MREs. Resources are scarce, and it’s very clear we’re pushing the edge of the Afghan government’s influence in one of Afghanistan’s most rural and most remote areas. The Mizan valley itself is beautiful. Surrounded by mountains, a river runs east to west. Area farmers have inherited a centuries-old ability to successfully cultivate almonds, grapes, pomegranate and other potential cash crops. Their fields and villages follow the path of the river as it turns south towards Kandahar.

SSG Jon B. Hansen has a moment of levity outside the district governors house outside of COP Mizan

One of the big reasons for the ZADT’s presence in Mizan is to help connect those local farmers with their government and enable them to move goods to Qalat and then on to larger trading hubs such as Kandahar or Kabul. Villagers here are largely successful at subsistence farming, but all too often they are unable to convert excess harvest into cash via trade. In addition, the Taliban acknowledge the importance of Mizan and are determined to keep it isolated from trade possibilities, and from government influence and assistance. Simply put, the more isolated and helpless the populace is, the easier for the Taliban to control the area. That’s where we come in. Last week, during Colonel Ahlness and 1LT Fischer’s site visit to our location, we conducted several missions intended to foster a relationship with the local government and also bring our Afghan partners from the Department of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (DAIL), to Mizan to offer services and establish a presence and working relationship with area farmers. With help from the Civil Affairs team that works with us here at Mizan, we conducted a two day veterinary seminar with Dr. Taj, the DAIL veterinarian based in Qalat, and Ismatullah, a horticultural expert who works for the DAIL and also cultivates his own land in the Qalat area.


«Organization»

On day one we left the COP and walked west down the river to a checkpoint overlooking the village of Spin Murani. After some confusion between the District Governor and the local chief of police, more than 25 local males and the their (constant) gaggle of Afghan children attended a class on horticulture led by Ismatullah. Afterwards, the Civil Affairs team handed out Radios in a Box, the primary and sometimes only way Afghans get information.

20 W. 12th St. St. Paul, MN 55124 T 612.812.3070 eric.ahlness@us.army.mil

The view west from Spin Murani ANP Checkpoint

Day two was dedicated to animal vaccinations. After the confusion of the first day, it was decided to have the event near the District Center, right outside the COP. As usual, the event occurred on “Afghan time” with groups of sheep, goats, and some cows herded in by Afghan children and followed by the male heads of household. As Dr. Taj vaccinated each group he took time to speak with each farmer and ask about any livestock problems. As we moved closer to noon and the hotter part of the day the event drew to a close. Though a small event, it’s these kind of projects that will encourage the Afghan government to begin cooperation internally, and also demonstrate its ability to provide resources and services to the people of Mizan and in other remote areas around Zabul. Coordinating for DAIL support is essential in establishing those connections and boosting the legtimacy of the Afghan Government in an area that is rarely touched by the world outside of Mizan. On day three, we left the COP and walked east down the riverbed and visited a village known to US forces as “Cadillac.” It’s immediately clear why this name was chosen when you walk up out of the river valley and crest the hill overlooking the village. Spread before you is a small valley running parallel to a tributary of the larger river. Several huts are surrounded by a lush almond orchard, several pomegranate and fig trees, squash, livestock, capped by a rose garden behind the main compound.

This dam provides a constant and controllable water source for the people of “Cadillac” village.

We spent about an hour there. Dr. Taj and Ismatullah walked around with the farmers looking at livestock and taking samples from ailing almond trees. The farmer showed us his trelliced grapes and then led us up river to a dam, made of flattened flagstone that he said took him and his brothers more than 15 years to complete. To learn more about the village and our time there, take a look at the ZADT webvideo which details our visit to Cadillac HERE. On the final morning of the week, before Colonel Ahlness and 1LT Fischer made their way back to FOB Apache, we were invited to one of the Afghan observation points to bake and eat traditional “foot bread.” We gathered in the early morning hours and made our way up the hill as the sun rose. At the top we were greeted by Afghan Security guards and taken to a small clay oven where we took turns kneading dough, slapping it on the inside of the oven, and removing it with long tongs. Afterwards we shared out the honey and margarine we’d brought and ate an Afghan breakfast while drinking chai and watching the sun rise in the valley – an appropriate end to a successful week, but a reminder that everything here happens slowly, on Afghan time.


«Organization»

20 W. 12th St. St. Paul, MN 55124 T 612.812.3070 eric.ahlness@us.army.mil

From left to right COL Eric Ahlness, 1LT Tara Robertson, SSG Jon B. Hansen, SPC Dustin Douglas and 1LT Davin Fischer

To you and yours I wish a good and relaxing start to the Minnesota summer, and would like to thank you for you support for our mission here and your interest in what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s slow progress, but hopefully in time we’ll be able to affect some meaningful change for the people here in Mizan. Sincerely,

Tara Robertson 1LT, EN Zabul Agricultural Development Team Mizan, Zabul Province

Friends and Partners Letter 12  

A guest letter from 1LT Tara Robertson, the ZADT's Officer In Charge at COP Mizan.

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