Now that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has signed important agreements with the United States and NATO, a small number of international forces will remain in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.
However, as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission draws to a close later this year, Afghans are continuing to take on the security responsibility as well as ensuring that logistics and communication routes, including bridges built by ISAF, are kept in good state of repair.
Recently, a group of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers with the National Engineering Brigade and Afghan civilian engineers attended training at the Kandahar Airfield to gain a better understanding of the bridge technology from ISAF engineers.
Staff Sgt Ronnie Wilhelm, one of the primary trainers for the Afghans, explained that they were training them on steel truss bridges used by coalition forces.
“There are definitely hundreds theatre wide. With this training they’ll be able to maintain the bridges themselves,” said Wilhelm
“The important thing we’re learning here is how to use steel structures. Because of the training, we know how to assemble them. It’s a new technology for Afghanistan as we have been constructing concrete bridges,” said one of the course attendants.
Staff Sgt Mathew Schnell, who helped train the Afghans, said that it was important for both the ANA and Afghan civilians to be a part of the course.
“The public might have to help with these bridges. Most of these bridges are main line bridges used by civilians as well as the Army,” he said.
Schnell explained that these bridges give the people of Afghanistan freedom of mobility, especially during the flood season. They allow Afghan soldiers to get where they need to be to protect their people and allow commerce to flow year round.
An Afghan engineering professor who attended the course said, “This training will be good for us as well as our university. We will take these materials and teach our students. So instead of teaching one or two people, we’ll have the materials to teach 500 students a year.”
Schnell said that the Afghan soldiers were very receptive to the advanced training. “They are very eager to learn about all the components they didn’t know about. They gave me the impression they are here to learn. I fully trust that they are able to continue with the bridge repairs and the missions that lay ahead,” he added.
Though these bridges are located thoughout the country, an Afghan engineer with the Ministry of Public Works said, this was the first time he had been trained on them.
“The US military trained us on very useful topics. I know I can build this bridge by myself. I know all the parts, and if something is missing I can get the right part,” he said.
The Afghan professor said that with increased security, it will be possible to bring more experts to teach here in Afghanistan, not just for building bridges but all kinds of civil engineering projects.