- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In a development that could benefit Taliban insurgents, the Obama administration has no real plan to provide electricity to Afghanistan’s southern city of Kandahar beyond next year, a top watchdog warned Tuesday.

The U.S. considers a reliable supply of electricity to be a top counterinsurgency priority, as the administration withdraws most troops in the 13-year-old war by the end of this year. But the U.S. will stop its $1 million-a-month funding of power generation in Kandahar in September of next year, and the plan for filling the gap is so poor that the administration is considering a system of solar panels, which have proved vulnerable to theft by Afghans.

“It appears that the U.S. still has no realistic plan for helping the Afghan government develop a sustainable source of electricity for the period between … September 2015 and when a stable source of power generation is projected to come online at least three years later,” said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko. “The fact that USAID has commissioned a feasibility study to evaluate the viability of solar power to fill this gap seems overly vague.”


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Kandahar is the heart of the extremist movement in Afghanistan, and supplying residents with a stable power source is considered crucial to winning their support for the central government in Kabul. The Taliban control about half the electricity supply in the region from a power plant in a neighboring province.

Mr. Sopko noted that the U.S. has already begun to reduce gradually diesel fuel supplies that power the generators providing the vast majority of Kandahar’s electricity. He said a proposed hydroelectric dam project probably won’t be connected to the country’s two major electric grids until sometime after 2018 and, at any rate, it “will not be able to generate anywhere near enough power to supply Kandahar’s needs.”

** FILE ** Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko speaks at the Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)
** FILE ** Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko ... more >

The U.S. believes that the Afghan government’s ability to provide electricity in Kandahar will isolate the Taliban and reduce popular support for the insurgency by demonstrating the government’s capability to provide basic services and improve living conditions, Mr. Sopko said in his report.

But with all U.S. diesel fuel deliveries set to end in 13 months, he said the timetable “provides little confidence that these important objectives will be achieved.”

A previous report by Mr. Sopko found that solar panels included as part of a $70 million U.S. aid package were stolen and ended up in private homes in Afghanistan.

The prospect of the lights going out in Kandahar is raising fears that many young men will lose their jobs and turn to the Taliban.

“There are some 130 different factories operating in Kandahar whose electricity is maintained and paid for by the Americans,” said Fuzl Haq, a businessman in Kandahar.

“If the Americans stop paying for the fuel to run these factories, some 6,000 workers will lose their jobs,” Mr. Haq added, reflecting concerns of many locals in Afghanistan’s second-largest city. “These are all young people, and they may join up with the Taliban or resort to crime in order to earn money.”

The Afghan government says it cannot afford to maintain Kandahar’s power generators or pay for the fuel. Diesel supplies in the city are already being rationed, and power outages will be inevitable, says the state-owned power company.

“We have no other way (of operating),” said Mirwais Alami, chief commercial officer of the Afghan Public Utility, known as DABS, in Kabul. “If businesses cannot compete with Kabul in Kandahar, they will collapse.”

How to pay for Kandahar’s power without U.S. or Afghan government funds is a major problem, with powerful tribal and political leaders already refusing to pay their electricity bills, according to DABS officials.

Revenue collection in the south has also been dented by the Taliban, which control areas along power lines.

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