Michael's Dispatches

Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark


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.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    David · 12 years ago
    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
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TomasUSMC · 12 years ago
    Present ROE = no more troops
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Gray · 12 years ago
    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 rd 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'
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phil Hoza · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ole Sarge · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charles Luzzi · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Drew · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jean Weingartner · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David · 12 years ago
    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 life...do do...da do do do do do...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott / TX · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phillip H. Childers · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 12 years ago
    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.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Gray · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Gray · 12 years ago
    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''
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sara Johnson · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    matt h · 12 years ago
    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 rd 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 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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    matt h · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean · 12 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim · 12 years ago
    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."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jic · 12 years ago
    "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."

    Would this be the same Iraq where we turned a bad situation around by surging in more troops, so that we could have the manpower for a true COIN campaign? That Iraq?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maddy · 12 years ago
    One single thing occurred to me when I read that the dam's turbines had not been rebuilt. If the coalition wanted to do one HUGE thing to get the Afghani's on their side, it would be to make it a their MAIN priority to get that electricity turned on. Get the Corps of Engineers over there, protect them, deliver the components and the labor to get the dam fully recharged and producing power for the Afghanis, the ones who have been living in the dark. LET THERE BE LIGHT!

    Am I alone in this thinking? Come on America, Git R Done! This can be a tremendous publicity stunt that can do some reallly GOOD things for their country and get them on OUR SIDE! Thanks Michael for looking back on this project, maybe someone else will see what I see and use this project to boost our reputation in the region. It's only producing bad feelings and bad publicity now.

    The Taliban and Alqaeda wants to keep them in the dark, right, so let's give them LIGHT(s)!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Gray · 12 years ago
    Not convinced at all that the situation stabilised in Iraq due to a troop surge, but it stabilised because we recruited, paid off, negotiated with and turned certain elements of the Sadr militants, shi'ites and paid off some Sunni guerrillas. And like it or not sooner than later we will be forced to sit down with the Taliban and negotiate with them. Most terrorist campaigns have a large measure of success: look at the past situation in Israel, south africa, malaysia, vietnam, zimbabwe etc etc where eventually the terrorist organisation gets a place at the negotiating table. The 1776 revolution is a prime example.
    In closing I am all for a troop surge IF it gets Kabul to train and put more troops in the field, so our boys can come home sooner, but i suspect it may not. Until Kabul takes responsiblity for its own people and country, no matter how large our forces get we will end up in a terrible long term conflict of attrition - it has already been 8 years. I can't sit in my western office and type 'more troops unconditionally', I would be letting our boys down.

    As for our governments being looked upon as 'honest brokers' in IRAQ? That is ridiculous. We invaded that country for dubious unknown reasons, killed tens of thousands of civies and you describe us as honest brokers?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SB · 12 years ago
    I worry not only about Afghanistan and Iraq, but also any other country we are trying to back up or assist (Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, etc). Our economy is collapsing rapidly, and the effects of that collapse (manufactured or not) will overshadow all else. Deep kimchee ahead!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SB · 12 years ago
    I'm not against us helping other countries, and have done so myself while in the military. I am worried that a serious economic bump in the road (!) might not only undercut our operations, but might seriously endanger our forces overseas even if they were to go into turtle mode to wait it out.
    It appears like we are helping exterminate pests across town, while our own house may be catching fire.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 12 years ago
    IF we hadn't taken the detour to Iraq, maybe we would be way ahead. Nice move Pres CHENEY. Now, we got a CINC who's paralyzed by fear. On alotta things. We NEED more troops in a-stan. PERIOD. WHY are 150k troops STILL in Iraq? You really wanna win? Then give this Gen. the RESOURCES he needs. NATO's contribution is, well its LACKING. France, Spain, Germany, Italy-ante up. Art. 5 means nothing? Damn...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 12 years ago
    You saw the title, now pls s/one disprove this. DUMP HIM. get this done. My god, young men are dying trying, in reality, to REBUILD a nation. You go ALL the way, or don't go at all. Yeah, and thanx NATO...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Gray · 12 years ago
    No good expecting NATO to help out in Afghanistan. NATO was not involved in the decision to invade/attack, that was a pure US decision and NATO being US-led plodded along behind. No matter how it hurts US/NATO would have been better off reacting in a different manner after 9-11, which was a mere terrorist attack and not a declaration of war. It was no other affair apart from the US-Al.Q: One could even argue that the 2001 Taliban government had sod-all to do with it and probably wasn't even informed of 9-11.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cathy · 12 years ago
    My son was active duty Army for the last 5 yr., two tours in Irag. For the last nine he has had a desire to spend a year on mission work. He chose 2009. We felt he made a wise decision considering who is incharge now.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 12 years ago
    On the whole subject of electrification. Lets go back and look at a bit more of the history...
    talk about those forgetting history being doomed to repeat it.

    And for a rather more cynical (paranoid?) view of the whole situation
    http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article14 9 .html

    makes you wonder a bit about what exactly the point is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sue · 12 years ago
    Let me play the "devil's" child: if no one wants to help win this war, then let us bring every single soldier, support personnel, equipment, technology from every single square foot of earth on this planet home! Pass a law that we will help anyone out anywhere for any reason. Until that is done, Obamas and the MoveOn's must support our troops...for God's sake, they're dying there, daily!!!! What kind of inhumane hominid is against helping them today!!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lee · 12 years ago
    Failure to do what must be done, is a hallmark of this cowardly CinC.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    daniel · 12 years ago
    I don't think Obama wants this war won. I pity the soldiers who died for a mission their commander in chief doesn't believe in, I don't think you can ask them continue sacrificing their lives while their leader is essentially looking for a way out.

    If Afghanistan goes, so will Pakistan and Iraq I think. I mean, giving up on Afghanistan is such a demonstration of lack of resolve you're just asking to be tested in other places as well.

    In a way it's easy for Obama, the US is far away. Most Europeans adore him, but they don't seem to realize the Middle East is much closer to us then it is to the US. If the Americans pull out and the shit hits the fan, its gonna hit here in Europe.

    I think his nobel peace price is going to have a very bitter ring to it in the future.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 12 years ago
    Like in other areas of the world, Afghanistan's people are the ones that suffer from government corruption and disregard and even scorn at the "ignorant peasants".

    One of our best serving in Afghanistan has had enough and has decided to resign. Read his Letter of Resignation:

    Marine/Foreign Service Officer/State Dept Offical Resigns

    As Michael Yon has said in the past, the U.S. and others just don't understand what is going on and that the U.S. selection of a corrupt man for President is destroying what little chance of peace they have and why almost everything good that is worked for in Afghanistan turns out to be an abject failure.

    Papa Ray
    Central Texas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Papa Ray · 12 years ago
    Sorry, that didn't work...

    Marine/Foreign Service Officer/State Dept Official Resigns:


    Please make sure Michael reads this.

    Papa Ray
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    Matthew Hoh is clearly a highly qualified, greatly respected, and principled observer of the Afghanistan "problem". Those who decry the amount of time it is taking to come up with a winnable strategy simply do not understand the magnitude of the problem. I doubt there is any strategy that is workable in any reasonable timeframe at any reasonable cost. Afghanistan is a bitch.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Emil Mottola · 12 years ago
    The surge was a success in Iraq, but the democrats could never give George W. Bush an ounce of credit for anything.
    Since Gen. McChrystal is an insurgency expert, I tend to trust his judgment and give him the troop increase he
    needs to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is sickening that Mr. Obama is dithering about this as our troops die.
    But if we are not going to support their mission to the hilt then we have no right to ask them to risk their lives or

    Mr. Yon, I admired your coverage of Iraq and have bought several copies of your book for family and friends. I would definitely appreciate your insights into the situation in Afghanistan. Our mission should be to eliminate the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and at
    the least to prevent them from re-establishing a base in Afghanistan from which they can attack America again. I am not at all sure
    that this undeveloped a country can be "won" by the counterinsurgency tactics which worked in Iraq, by providing villages
    with electrical generators. Do we need to be risking so many GI's lives for this?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
    Ahhh, the FOX word of the week is "dithering" and the robots are out repeating it like a Goebbels mantra. Required, of course, is a facile ability to ignore facts. Here goes.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    grandserge · 12 years ago
    On our own, Canada can not fulfill this mission. We're a "welfare army" as some have put it. We don't have the troops to fulfill this mission. Sad but true. Our invvestments are real, but we don't have the numbers to do it. We just don't.

    So as long as Obama waffles his efforts, many Afghans will be waiting for results.

    Obama should not wait for electoaral results. He should be working with McCrystal and Patraeus.

    We're all in this together but Canadian voters won't send more troops in A'stan. We can't give any more. Our voters won't do it.

    NATO is failing because of ignorant voters at home.

    Canada should be helping but we're not. We're barely holding the diike together.

    We need your help.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brush Hog · 12 years ago
    Why would we pick a remote power generation project to focus on when insurgents control the landscape.
    Power transmission has to be the easiest thing to disrupt - anyone with a rifle can plink an insulator and bring down a wire. Anyone with a big wrench can topple a tower.

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