Trip to Gardez, 3-4 April 2005
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Background
Kabul
Driving in Kabul
Leaving Kabul
Roads
On to Gardez
DDR
Gardez Camps
Fortresses
Sp Forces
Marriage
Random Thoughts
Conclusion

 

Roads

Out of Kabul we were blessed with about 25 miles of good road, the best Iíve seen yet over here. The road was about three lanes wide -- one in each direction with a suicide lane in the middle -- though without painted lines anywhere. No reflective markers or guard rails, either. But it was paved in recent years, and without potholes or washouts. In America, it would have been an unfinished country road. In Afghanistan, it was a turnpike.  

At the time of this writing, the most recent and reliable statistics I could find on roads throughout the world came from the 2003 CIA World FactBook, http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

Comparing Afghanistan with another Third World country, Thailand, and a First World country, France, shows:

Size, sq km
Afghanistan : 647,500         Thailand : 511,770         France : 545,630

Paved roads, km
Afghanistan : 2793               Thailand : 62,985           France : 894,000

In other words, for every one mile of paved road in Afghanistan, Thailand has about 22, France about 320.

Afghanistan has a long way to go, and doesnít even have the roads to get there.  

I saw the importance of roads on our second day, when we drove from Gardez to Zurmat.  

The map shows it as a secondary road, typical of most roads in the country. Like all secondary roads in Afghanistan, and unlike secondary roads in America, it was unpaved. You drive on packed dirt and gravel, avoiding if possible the rolling washouts created by rains and trucks. Most of the hour-plus drive was made in second gear.  

Afghanistan is working on a ďringĒ road that will circle the country to tie its four major cities together: Kabul to Kandahar to Herat to Mazar-e-Sharif to Kabul. Itís as if America's only interstate ran from New York to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Seattle to New York, and virtually all other roads in the country were unpaved.  

We passed a number of graveyards along the way. The gravestones are a flat sliver of rock a foot or two high, coming to a point at the top. Often a long stripped branch stands above the grave, with a pennant, usually green or red, sometimes black or white, fluttering in the breeze. None of the graveyards we saw was large, most the size of a small back yard.  

A number of areas along the road had crews in blue uniforms and face masks clearing mines. Their work was marked by single stones or small piles of stones painted white to indicate a removed mine. (Red paint is for mines found but not yet removed; I didnít see any of these.) Where one mine was located, more were sure to be found, often in the dozens if not hundreds, a step or two from each other.

 

Update, 1 May 2011, NY Times, on building the road between Gardez and Khost.

Update, 10 February 2012, Wall Street Journal: Roads to Nowhere.

next: On to Gardez