Reflections on a Day in Kabul
I finished up a productive and extremely eye-opening trip to the Middle East with a visit today to Kabul, Afghanistan. After decades of war and strife, transportation systems throughout this country had fallen into a state of disrepair by the time the Taliban fell earlier this decade. Ever since, the Department has been supporting the global effort to bring Afghanistan’s transportation network into the 21st century.
As we heard time and again today, wherever there are roads, there is victory in Afghanistan. The good news is that since 2001, more than 4,000 miles worth of new roads and bridges have been built throughout the country. As a result, once remote regions are now connected to trade, security and ultimately, prosperity.
Building roads is an important first step, but in an isolated land like this, having strong air service is vital. So we’ve been working closely with the international community and the U.S. Agency for International Development to make more than $26 million available for investments in Afghanistan’s civil aviation infrastructure.
These investments are paying off. Since 2002 alone, there has been a 40 percent increase in the amount of civil aviation traffic operating safely throughout the country. To make sure all these new flights arrive safely, we’ve arranged for two fire trucks to be donated and shipped to the Kabul airport. And we’re helping to arrange for the installation of state-of-the-art radar systems at the airport as well.
New radar equipment won’t do you much good, of course, without having people who know how to operate it. So we are training Afghanistan’s first-ever team of air traffic controllers. Eleven Afghan students have already completed their basic training at our FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, and more will begin going through advanced training over the coming weeks.
And with all this new aviation capacity coming on line, the country is building a new international airport in Kabul. When you compare it to the current facility, this new facility is very impressive. You could see how proud this country is of the new terminal during the tour my host, Afghan Transport Minister Hamidullah Qaderi, gave me.
It was the same pride of accomplishment and hope for the future that I saw at the National Literacy Center. This center, originally established to teach girls for the first time ever in this nation, is now a co-educational facility dedicated to teaching a new generation of Afghan educators.
My hostess, the nation’s first female Governor, Habiba Sarobi, introduced me to many of the center’s students and gave me an opportunity to hear some of their stories. As I shared what it was like working in meat cutting and then in transportation here in the states, I realized that compared to what many of these girls have been through, I had things pretty easy.
At the literacy center, we were joined by the Minister of Education, Mohammad Haneef Atmar. He told me about how under the Taliban, the country’s schools were burned and teachers killed, but the Afghan people fought back with their education instead of bullets. The Minister said, “We [teachers] don’t have guns, but we have a strong will to educate this country.” He said the fall of the Taliban has resulted in the highest enrollment of students in Afghanistan's history - 6.2 million.
The Minister and Governor could not have been more complimentary of the First Lady and the President. And the teachers I met talked about how the First Lady’s commitment to education in Afghanistan was a source of pride for them. I leave Afghanistan thinking this is a country that wants to stand on its own two feet and it is our responsibility to continue to give then the support they need.
There is a sense in this country that things are getting better, but that there is still so much more that must be accomplished. That’s something I heard even when I met with President Hamid Karzai. By all accounts he is a strong leader and in taking the time to meet with me, he clearly understands the role transportation must play in rebuilding this proud and ancient society. I don’t envy his tasks, but I do honor his commitment to his country and his dedication to his people.
Commitment and honor are words that go a long way, of course, in describing the American men and women serving in uniform throughout Afghanistan. While I was in Kabul, I also had an opportunity to meet with a small group of soldiers from around the country, including from my home state of Arizona. I was honored to spend some time with these brave men and women, and I thanked them on behalf of the President and on behalf of the American people for their service. It is also fitting to recognize our Ambassador, William Wood, and his staff who carry the American flag proudly while serving us in Afghanistan.
Every day, our soldiers are putting their lives on the line to defend freedom in some of the farthest frontiers of the world. They do it with dignity, with courage, and all too often, with sacrifice. And while I was impressed with everything I saw and everyone I met, it is for all the soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Afghanistan today that I would like to dedicate this blog. May God bless you all, and may you return safely home.