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Afghanistan War: Bulldozing through Kandahar

Using explosives and bulldozers, the US military has leveled hundreds of homes and trees.

But there isn't much of a staff at the Zhari district office other than the district governor. So, the Civil Affairs team from the 2nd brigade is based in a tiny room just opposite the governor’s office at the Zhari district center. Their team is split into two groups of four soldiers and officers, who together field an average of 120 claims a week.

“There’s kind of a backlog right now,” said Maj. Todd Clark, a civil affairs officer for 2nd Brigade who was handling claims at the Zhari district center last week. “Typically we only do it once a week.”

As Afghans come in to begin the process, their names, photos and fingerprints are taken before the civil affairs team begins working out the basics of the compensation package. Clark has a list of payments for commonly damaged items: a mud built house is worth about $8,000. For a pomegranate tree, villagers get $175. One grape vine is $22. He said the average total claim these days is about $2,500.

One structure the Americans aren’t paying for is grape huts. Clark said they’re pairing up Afghan farmers with a USAID contractor, called AVIPA, whose engineers have come up with a new design for grape huts, and will rebuild them for free.

“It has wider gaps in it, it’s faster to build, a bit less expensive, and it’s not so much of a fort that it can be used against us,” Clark said.

Although the Afghan district governor must sign off on any compensation before the Afghan claimant sees the Americans, Afghans are almost guaranteed to receive compensation with a claims card issued by an American soldier in the field.

And it’s the Americans who are doing most of the work. They check documents and, most importantly, hand out the cash.

But because few Afghans have property deeds in this region, they have to get verification of their ownership from neighbors or village elders, providing an opening for corruption.

Clark said there aren’t a whole lot of other options.

“It’s kind of all we have to go by,” he said. “Everything in this culture goes through the village elders — so we try to follow that tradition.”

On a recent morning at the district center, a distinguished looking elderly Afghan man named Haji Ratmutullah from Mullah Omar’s hometown of Sangsar, said he’d come to check on the progress of 110 compounds damaged or destroyed in the town.

He said some people were living outside because their houses had been destroyed. Others had fled to Kandahar City. He said the situation was still “very dangerous.”

“The Taliban can’t stand and fight face to face — so they’re planting the mines and IEDs and innocent people are getting injured,” he said. “But we are angry with the government too, because they haven’t paid us back the cost our buildings.”

“So we are unhappy from both sides — the Taliban and government,” he added.