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Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade
LASHKAR GAH, Helmand province, Afghanistan – 10.14.2009
Mirwais Nassery, owner and manager of Mirwais Nassery Construction Company, employs more than 150 Afghans in Helmand province. But if he doesn't find his next build soon, he and his many employees will be out of a job.
"Finding work for the last few years in Helmand has been tough," said 34-year-old Nassery, whose family relies on his company's profit for support. "I'm looking for future work. We can construct roads, canals, schools and other buildings. We will attempt anything."
Nassery joined more than 130 fellow Afghan contractors in Lashkar Gah Oct. 14, for the first-ever Afghan Business Conference, hosted by Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. The conference was planned with hopes of providing local contractors the opportunity to fill military contracts in Helmand.
The brigade, headquartered at nearby Camp Leatherneck, hosted the conference to meet with local Afghans and better understand the goods and services available from the Helmand community. The brigade also educated local businesses on how to bid for contracts with the U.S. military.
"The vision of today is to maximize economic growth," said Army Maj. Nathan Winn, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan contracting officer, introducing the Afghan First Program. "We want to look first to Afghan-owned companies to ensure money spent in Afghanistan stays in Afghanistan."
Winn said $13.5 billion in contracts have gone to Afghan companies in the past two years through the Afghan First Program. Unfortunately, Winn said, this money is going mostly to companies located in Kabul, Bagram and Kandahar.
"This initiative is meant to increase opportunities for Afghan companies in Helmand," Winn said. "It will help the Afghan economy grow, employ more Afghan people and promote reconstruction in Afghanistan."
Winn said the U.S. military needs commodities, such as electrical supplies and gravel, services like delivery of water and recycling, and construction workers to build roads, buildings and bridges, both on military camps and in local communities.
Juma Khan, an engineer with the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, identified many locations throughout Helmand where construction projects are planned, as outlined by the Helmand Development Plan, which was structured by Provincial Reconstruction Team-Helmand and approved by the Afghan government.
The PRT introduced the Peace Dividend Trust to the potential bidders following Khan's briefing. The PDT is a non-government organization with locations in Lashkar Gah, Kabul, Mazar, Jalalabad and Kandahar that assists local businesses in gaining access to military and international agency contracts. Since 2006, the PDT has helped local Afghan companies gain nearly $400 million in contracts.
"We have the ability to reach out and touch a lot of people," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general, MEB-Afghanistan, in conversation with Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal. "We have lots of potential contracts we would like to start working."
Lt. Col. Zachary Bennett, development officer, 4th Civil Affairs Group, MEB-Afghanistan, said the brigade plans to hold another Helmand Business Conference in the next 90 days at either Camp Leatherneck or Camp Dwyer.