Yesterday we spoke with Air Force Col. Larry Avery who is in charge of equipping the Afghan security forces with clothing, guns, ammo and vehicles during a DoD blogger round table.
We've already blogged about the "light infantry" weapons and combat equipment load, and Avery said that TE list hasn't changed. But what he wanted to highlight was the business development he's involved with in helping local companies compete for, test and manufacture gear for the Afghan army and police forces.
This year, the so-called "Afghan First" program has spent $150 million on helping local companies start up equipment operations. Avery said about 10 companies have contracts so far, including six women-owned outfits that manufacture "backpacks, socks and underwear," Avery said.
He pointed to one company called Kabul Milli as an example of what can be done in a country devastated by war but populated by locals with a strong work ethic...
So the example I'll give you is we went out and we found an old boot factory that had existed in the past. It had an entrepreneur owner who wanted to invest his money in standing up to capability, and so the name of the company is Kabul Milli Boots. And we worked with them and we told them that we needed them to not import the boots; we wanted them to make the boots here.Kabul Milli mad a batch of boots (that cost $65 per pair) that fell apart, so Avery called in the experts at Natick to lend a hand...
We brought in some of our experts from the states. We brought in the Natick Laboratories from the Army laboratories up in Massachusetts who do all the clothing and apparel for the Army, and they came over and they worked with them on quality control standards. And then the second -- and then we helped them, you know, look at -- develop the specifications for the boots, and the second set of boots were better. And then we made a limited run in a third set of boots. In fact, I'm wearing a pair right now and I've been wearing them for four and a half months, and they're -- they actually, it's a great boot, it's a very comfortable boot.Avery said the program has started small this year but he plans to expand it into uniforms and other kit with an injection of $500 million in 2011. He recognizes that the economy of Afghanistan right now can't support buying a $65 boot, but with initiatives like this and the exploitation of potential mineral wealth there, he sees light at the end of the tunnel.
There's been mineral discoveries, there's been other things that they need to do to build an economy here so that they can be self-sustaining. As to when that's going to occur and how long that'll take, I don't know. But I say I have hope because of the work ethic of the people that I've been around.