The economic power of military-fueled industry has been illustrated throughout history, and it looks like the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces will be a boon to developing industries in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Col. John Ferrari, deputy of programs for NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, discussed how NATO and coalition forces have worked to build Afghan forces while focusing on Afghan industry to support military growth during a June 4 DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable.
Ferrari said his program will have spent about $40 billion by 2011 to recruit, train, equip and sustain the Afghan army, as well as the Afghan National Police. This year, Ferrari's group has focused on an initiative called “Afghan First,” which promotes the participation of Afghan manufacturers, rather that purchasing imported equipment.
Their most-heralded success has been with Afghan boot manufacturer Kabul Milli, who not only received a contract to make the boots used by Afghan police and soldiers, but also received assistance to improve manufacturing techniques to make the boots more durable.
“In the past, we used to think we were buying boots here in Afghanistan, but it turned out that they were manufactured outside of Afghanistan and imported,” Ferrari said. “Now in our contract we specify that we're only going to buy boots that are manufactured in Afghanistan.”
Initially, the manufacturer was the only such business in the country. Since Kabul Milli won the contract and NATO said it would only buy Afghan-made boots, local competition has emerged, Ferrari said.
“A few other companies heard we wanted to buy locally manufactured boots, and just two weeks ago I went out and visited two new factories rising from the ground, where nothing existed before, to make boots,” he said. “And so there's an example of the economy and the private sector reacting to a known market demand.”
There have been similar recent spikes in growth for other industries to support military needs. Afghanistan-based clothing manufacturers are making uniforms, though no textile factories exist there yet, so fabric still is imported. Blankets, poncho liners, and other items issued to soldiers will soon be made by Afghans, as well, Ferrari said.
“We're also about a week or two away from awarding a multiple-award contract for individual soldier equipment to women-only-owned businesses,” he said.
A new company has been created to build furniture for Afghan security forces in Policharki, near Kabul. Another company is learning to build facilities out of connexes – the metal shipping containers one might see stacked on a barge.
“As we're buying furniture for the Afghan security forces, we can go to them,” Ferrari said. “And then, another place we've recently been to is learning how to make facilities … so instead of importing those connexes, we will look at getting them up to the quality that we need and they will be able to do that.”