As U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, darkness falls on Taliban’s birthplace

In: The Washington Post, May 8th, 2015.

Inside a former U.S. military combat outpost, still ringed by curled barbed wire and blast walls, several massive generators are silent. Outside, factories that depend on the machines for electricity are either shuttered or on the brink of closing.

They are totems to one of the least-known American efforts to combat the Afghan insurgency: lighting up this strategic southern city, the cradle of the Taliban. But on this April day — nearly a year after U.S. troops vacated the base, leaving the Afghans in control — the more than $300 million American project to bolster the economy by supplying electrical power had literally broken down.

As the U.S. military’s presence and its aid dollars shrink, the cash-strapped Afghan government is unable to afford spare parts or fuel for the generators. Now, Kandahar, where Osama bin Laden ordered the 9/11 attacks, is growing darker, raising questions about the city’s stability and whether U.S. funds were properly spent.

A year ago, on good days, some enclaves received 12 to 16 hours of electricity a day. Today, sometimes weeks go by with no power at all, local officials and residents said.

“We are struggling to survive,” said Rohullah Noori, the marketing manager of Herat Ice Cream, which neighbors the base. “Our company’s life depends on electricity.”

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