by Ray Fleming

I N September 2008 I wrote in my Looking Around column in this newspaper about a remarkable British undertaking in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. It involved 5'000 troops, 100 vehicles, 30 helicopters and 20 fighter jets. The task was to transport a 200 tonnes turbine 50 miles through Taliban territory to the Kajaki Dam hydro electric project which had been started by the United States in 1975, continued by the Russians but then left unfinished. The British commander said the prospect of a supply of electricity and irrigation for large areas might be “the beginning of the end” of the Western presence in Afghanistan.

More than four years later, as American and British forces prepare for their departure from Afghanistan, it has emerged that virtually no progress has been made with bringing the Kajaki Dam into service. Most of the intricate equipment of the turbine is still unopened in it crates and American forces are handing the project over to the Afghans who probably do not have sufficient engineers with the necessary skills.

Kajaki Dam is probably just the biggest and most expensive of hundreds of well-meant initiatives in many walks of life in Afghanistan that, for a variety of reasons, are at risk of failure once the Western presence is substantially reduced. This war and its side-effects have been a disaster from beginning to end.