July 25, 2002 -- — American troops are training Afghanistan's new national army at a military school that was once a target of the U.S. bombing campaign. The first 300 soldiers and officers graduated today, after three months of instruction by 275 special forces troops.
Over the next several months, two more classes of 300 cadets each will be commissioned, creating what U.S. and Afghan officials hope will be a stabilizing force for a country where security is still under constant threat by remaining al Qaeda fighters and feuding warlords.
"There has to be a continuity that goes from [October] all the way out in the future," said Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, "so that we build something here that lasts."
Projects like this, say U.S. military officials, show the American responsibility here does not end with the war. They also hope to continue to build goodwill after recent mistaken attacks by the United States on civilians.
"We can show the people that not only are we willing to get rid of the bad guys but we are also willing to help the good guys," said Lt. Col. Jim Gardon. "They suddenly realize, hey, [U.S. soldiers] are just not here to blow up the countryside. They are here to build the country as well, and to help the people. And the people here have been nothing but great about it."
It's a strategy the military is carrying out across Afghanistan — work the Bush administration once ridiculed as nation-building.
Now, U.S. soldiers are rebuilding and resupplying schools damaged by bombing, and teaching Afghan students to speak English.
"I see this as a commitment by the U.S. that we're serious here," said Capt. Steve McAlpin, who is also a volunteer English teacher.
They are helping rejuvenate the country's health-care system, which was once a bright spot in the region.
"Putting in a well for a hospital like this where they don't have running water and haven't had for 15 years making sure that they have an adequate electric supply by putting in a generator that can run when the city power goes down," said Gardon. "The job of our task force is to go out to evaluate various infrastructure problems and spend Uncle Sam's money to rectify them."
A Country Ravaged by 23 Years of War
Military engineers are also helping to put back together the country's infrastructure, ravaged by 23 years of war.
Rebuilding bridges and schools are a couple of types of projects the United States has underway now in Afghanistan. And they are planning on 100 more projects in the following year.
U.S. forces have long been involved in reconstruction and humanitarian work in areas they once fought in, but this is the first time U.S. troops have carried out this kind of work while combat operations are still under way.
Military officials say they won't repeat the mistake made 13 years ago, when, after successfully helping Afghanistan repel the Soviet invasion, the United States essentially cut all ties. Afghanistan descended into a decade of civil war, and became a haven for terrorists.
"They then left Afghanistan and left Afghanistan with an enormous mess, we're paying for it now," said Edward Girardet, author of Afghanistan: The Soviet War.
Soldiers, like Maj. Bryan Cole, are helping to open up five new girls' schools. "I think rebuilding the schools will have a lot longer impact and a lot more impact than the bombs did," said Cole.
The people they're helping are grateful. But some are already asking how long this will last.
"The students here have nothing," said one teacher. "We just hope the Americans will keep helping us in the future."