As proud as I am of the work the Department of Transportation has done here in the United States during the past four years, I am particularly proud of our DOT professionals who have volunteered for difficult duty in Afghanistan.
Readers of this blog know that I am a big believer in the economic power of transportation investments. But the idea that investing in infrastructure will create jobs today and pay valuable dividends tomorrow is not limited to the United States. That's why DOT personnel have served in Afghanistan since 2005.
Speaking with the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce
Our mission is to support Afghanistan’s economic development and to help it fulfill its potential as a multi-modal hub for Central Asia. And just as we have been doing in America, we're working in Afghanistan to develop a safe and integrated transportation network—one that allows for the affordable and reliable movement of goods and people within the country and to regions near and far.
The reliability of transportation networks is critical to a strong, secure future for all of Afghanistan. A good transportation network will ensure that farmers, factories and businesses can get their goods to market. And it will help reduce poverty in the region.
Of course, just as it is here at home, safety is the number one priority of our work in Afghanistan.
In aviation, we have assisted our Afghan and USAID partners in the design and construction of regional airports. We have also focused on improving the country’s international airports. This summer, we performed an extensive assessment of Kabul International Airport to identify the improvements needed to meet international safety standards. We plan to do the same at other international airports in the country.
We have also helped the Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation develop plans for increased air cargo service operations at the Kabul and Kandahar international airports. This is a very important part of Afghanistan’s future. A vibrant air cargo service will provide high-paying jobs for Afghans involved in the transport operations, and the export of Afghan produce, textiles, and other goods will help increase the economic prosperity of many others throughout the country.
President Karzai recently signed the Civil Aviation Law. With this development, we can help Afghanistan establish an independent Civil Aviation Authority with internationally-compliant standards and procedures. This will provide the foundation for safe and sustainable aviation that plugs Afghanistan into the global aviation system.
We're making progress with other modes of transportation as well. President Karzai established a Railroad Authority in September, and the Ministry of Public Works aims to have a fully-functioning Railroad Authority within three years. The DOT team is working with our Afghan counterparts to establish the necessary framework, such as staff, funding and standards.
We're also working with the Ministry of Public Works to build a safe, sustainable highway system that will connect Afghanistan with its neighbors.
In everything we've done, we have worked to create a strong, safe, and uniquely Afghan national transportation system that will support development and economic growth. But our work is not done. With the planned withdrawal of the U.S. military in 2014, Afghanistan will enter a new phase of support and assistance.
And DOT will be there to help.