The Canadian Forces helped successfully escort a new turbine through some of Afghanistan's most dangerous territory to an American-built dam that would increase electrical production to the country's south, NATO said Wednesday.
Some 4,000 Canadian, U.S. and British troops guarded the turbine as it travelled almost 180 kilometres from the city of Kandahar to the site of the Kajaki dam project — the largest U.S. aid project in Afghanistan — in the neighbouring province of Helmand.
"The result of the operation will be a much-needed increase in capacity to generate electrical power, which will create a better quality of life for Afghan people in southern Afghanistan," NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
Troops from Denmark, Australia and Afghanistan also took part. The turbine arrived in Kajaki on Tuesday.
Maj.-Gen. J.G.M. Lessard, the Canadian commander of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, said the security mission to protect the turbine "clearly demonstrated" NATO's and the Afghan government's commitment to reconstruction.
"Despite the disruptive effort from the insurgents, we achieved our goal and delivered the new turbine," Lessard said.
"The insurgents' efforts have not been successful. They will not win and are not winning in the southern region."
The southwestern province of Helmand, where the dam is situated, is firmly in Taliban control and grows more opium poppies than any other place in the world. (Although in May 2001, when the Taliban was still in power before the U.S.-led invasion later that year, the U.S. government gave it $43 million US in aid for having banned opium growing.)
Reports said a convoy of 100 vehicles and dozens of attack helicopters and fighter jets escorted the turbine.
Western officials have long fretted they would not be able to deliver the turbine safely through the Taliban-held land.
More infrastructure required
The Kajaki hydroelectric dam has the potential to provide Afghanistan with six per cent of its power.
The dam was originally built in the 1950s to help Afghan farmers irrigate their fields. U.S. crews returned to Kajaki in the 1970s and installed two turbines.
In recent months, one turbine has been working but a second has been offline for repairs. A hole sat in between those two turbines where the third is to be installed.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government's aid arm, has said the cost for refurbishing the two existing turbines and for the purchase of the third is $51 million US.
The region also needs new transmission lines to carry the increased power to Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand. That will cost more than $77 million.
At full capacity, the three turbines together can provide southern Afghanistan with 51 megawatts of power, said John Shepard, an engineer from Tucson, Ariz., who has been working on the Kajaki project since 2004.
Afghanistan's current electricity-generating capacity is about 770 megawatts, mostly from small, individual power grids that service local communities.
By comparison, Canada has about 120,000 megawatts of generating capacity.