(Repeats with no changes to text)
By Jessica Donati and Sarwar Amani
KABUL/KANDAHAR, Afghanistan Aug 5 When the
United States stops funding power generation in Afghanistan's
southern city of Kandahar next year, the lights are set to go
out and factories will fall idle, playing into the hands of
Taliban insurgents active in the area.
Bringing a stable source of electricity to Kandahar, the
cradle of the hardline Islamist movement and once a base for its
leader Mullah Omar, was a top U.S. "counter-insurgency priority"
as Washington pursued its policy of winning "hearts and minds".
But regular power in the city is still years away, and when
the United States finally ends subsidies - currently running at
just over $1 million a month - in September 2015, Kandahar could
lose around half its severely limited electricity supplies,
Afghan power officials and U.S. inspectors say.
The Taliban, meanwhile, control about half the 12 MW of
power supplied to Kandahar province from the Kajaki plant in
neighbouring Helmand province, ensuring a stable supply of
electricity in their strongholds, according to the head of state
power firm Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) in Kandahar.
"There are some 130 different factories operating in
Kandahar whose electricity is maintained and paid for by the
Americans," said Fuzl Haq, a businessman in Kandahar.
"If the Americans stop paying for the fuel to run these
factories, some 6,000 workers will lose their jobs," Haq added,
reflecting concerns of many locals in Afghanistan's second city.
"These are all young people and they may join up with the
Taliban or resort to crime in order to earn money."
Alex Bronstein-Moffly, a spokesman for the U.S. Special
Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), said
power shortages in insurgent heartlands would be a major setback
13 years after the Taliban was toppled in a U.S.-led war.
"If electrical service to Kandahar is compromised it could
end up endangering counter-insurgency and economic gains made
over the last few years," he said.
U.S. power subsidies were intended to fill in until the
power grid reached Kandahar and a new turbine was installed at
Kajaki dam, but both projects remain years away from completion,
not least because of strong armed resistance from the Taliban in
"It appears that the U.S. still has no realistic plan for
helping the Afghan government develop a sustainable source of
electricity," wrote John Sopko, a U.S. special inspector
general, in a report published on Tuesday.
Winning over locals in the hot, dusty cluster of low-slung
houses and markets has been a priority for the United States,
which, like other foreign powers, is due to withdraw most of its
troops from the war-torn country by the end of the year.
The Afghan government says it cannot afford to maintain
Kandahar's power generators or pay for the fuel. Diesel supplies
in the city are already being rationed and power outages will be
inevitable, says the state-owned power company.
"We have no other way (of operating)," said DABS chief
commercial officer Mirwais Alami in Kabul. "If businesses cannot
compete with Kabul in Kandahar, they will collapse."
How to pay for Kandahar's power without U.S. or Afghan
government funds is a major problem, with powerful tribal and
political leaders already refusing to pay their electricity
bills, according to DABS officials.
Revenue collection in the south has also been dented by the
Taliban, who control areas along power lines.
"Taliban collect revenue from electricity in places under
their control," said engineer Sayed Rasoul, the head of DABS in
The U.S. aid agency has just awarded a new $27 million,
four-year project to improve electricity revenue collection and
management in Kandahar. The cash cannot be used to pay for fuel.
It says increasing tariffs was one way to keep Kandahar's two 10
MW generators running.
"USAID has worked with DABS to prepare users to pay for the
more expensive power generated with diesel until DABS completes
work on a new turbine at Kajaki and on the power transmission
line," said Donald "Larry" Sampler, Assistant to the
Administrator in the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs
(OAPA) in Washington.
But plans to increase tariffs as much as tenfold or more may
be unrealistic in one of the world's poorest countries, where
only 30 percent of people have access to electricity.
(Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Michael Perry and Mike