For years I've thought that one of the best ways to boost Afghanistan's economy would be re-paving the ring road and making it far more secure. (That's the only major highway in the country, connecting Kabul with Mazar-i-Sharif to the north and Kandahar to the south, with connections from those cities to Herat in the west. In the map above, ignore the red line across the middle of the country-that's not a real road.)
Central Asia, to the north of Afghanistan, has a lot of cash from natural gas, as I understand it. And I know the subcontinent, just to the south and east of Afghanistan, has lots of cheap goods it could export overland to Central Asia. It seems to me that getting the ring road up and running would restore a big part of Afghanistan's traditional economy, which is the transport of goods.
So I was glad to see Ashraf Ghani, the former Afghan finance minister, told a Senate Foreign Relations hearing earlier this month that, "If we secured the Ring Road, not just its psychological impact but economic and political impact would be enormous." (I only got around to reading the transcript of the Foreign Relations session on Friday night, on a flight from DC to LA. That is what I love about long flights -- putting on my noise-canceling Bose headphones with a few hours of Oscar Peterson music and cleaning up my reading pile.)
Maybe what is needed on top of that, to get the locals signed up, are truck stops (what Afghans used to call caravan serais) where locals could work. We might also want to think about providing mobile armed escorts, both on the ground and in the air, to truck convoys, to deter Taliban attacks and shakedowns by the police. (As Ghani said at the Foreign Relations session, "The threat to the local population is from the police...not exclusively from the Taliban.") Providing protection to convoys would place truckers on a far more viable economic basis, and also provide jobs.
This strikes me as a great mission for Strykers.
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.