Developing the Infrastructure

From 1946 to 1978, numerous American and Afghan engineers worked to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure in part through the construction of dams and highways. The Morrison-Knudsen Company, a private U.S. firm, completed the monumental Arghandab and Kajaki dams in Helmand Province by 1953. Two of the major roads, the Kabul-Qandahar and Herat-Islam Qala highways, were built during the many years of American-Afghan cooperation and completed in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Afghanistan’s abundance of fertile land and mineral resources made it a natural partner for numerous and varied collaborative efforts.

The Helmand Valley Authority (HVA) was one of the most ambitious and complex undertakings in the history of U.S.-Afghan collaboration. In addition to building a network of irrigation canals to promote agricultural production, the HVA constructed thousands of houses and even entire towns, such as the modern provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, as well as two new airports. To honor Afghanistan’s rich traditions, the Qandahar International Airport terminal was designed with majestic arches evoking the nearby ancient ruins of Qala-e-Bost. Such achievements were often presented at Jeshyn Fairs in Kabul, and in 1958 visitors were captivated by an enormous scale model of the Helmand Valley.

The HVA was a major focus of the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) from 1953 until 1961 – the year ICA was taken over by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). With the support of these organizations, Afghans across the country received training in disciplines such as vehicle repair, hydroelectric engineering, and sustainable agriculture. Animal husbandry was another important field where American initiatives were successful. The most prominent of these projects was the dramatic 1962 delivery of 14 prized cattle to King Zahir Shah by Frederick Lege, III, a livestock specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To accomplish this feat, Lege and the animals spent 65 hours in a cargo plane flown by the Oklahoma Air National Guard from the United States.

During the 1970s, infrastructure improvements continued under the Helmand-Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA), as well as through USAID-sponsored efforts outside Helmand Province. For example, the U.S.-Afghan Drainage Project introduced drainage canals, new types of fertilizer, and salt-resistant strains of wheat to combat soil salinization in areas of intensive agricultural production. Another undertaking, the joint U.S.-Afghan Rural Works Project, made use of HAVA-trained Afghan civil engineers to build roads, bridges, and irrigation canals elsewhere in the country.

This history is not only a tale of concrete and steel, but also a testament to personal and professional relationships forged between Americans and Afghans. Those individuals who traveled across the world to assist Afghan engineering projects were enchanted by the beauty of the country and the warm hospitality of its people. Most importantly, locals who received training and work experience through U.S.-supported development projects became teachers and mentors to the next generation of their countrymen.

Prime Minister Shah Mahmood visits the Hoover Dam.
The early years of the Helmand Valley Authority (HVA).
Ignatius A. Heckmiller returns from reading water levels while his Afghan assistant steadies the cable.
Local Afghans and ICA rural development workers share a relaxing moment.
The Helmand Valley Authority (HVA) Exhibition Building at the 1958 Jeshyn Fair.
Building long-distance roads across Afghanistan.
Frederick M. Lege, III, brings prized cattle to Afghanistan.
CARE assists children in the provinces.
USAID programs in Afghanistan.
Peace Corps Volunteer Frank Brechin (center) advises mechanics at the Zenda ba Non automotive workshop.
America participates in Afghan aviation.
Continued efforts of the Helmand-Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA).
The opening of the Traz Khaja Noor Flume.
Filming Our House is Near