In the summer of 2008, in what was described as the biggest British-led ‘route clearance operation’ since World War II, nearly 5000 ISAF and Afghan troops transported eight components of a hydroelectric turbine, each weighing 20 to 30 tonne, from Kandahar Air Field to the Kajaki Dam in Helmand Province – in the face of heavy Taleban resistance. AAN’s latest report, ‘Eagle’s Summit Revisited: Decision-Making in the Kajaki Dam Refurbishment Project’ by Noah Arjomand, revisits the operation and explores why, despite widely recognised warning signs that the turbine would not be producing electricity in the foreseeable future.Kajaki turbines, noah 005 mittel
The Kajaki Dam refurbishment project was sold to the media as crucially important to southern Afghanistan: the new turbine would provide an estimated 1.7 million people with electricity, fuel agriculture and industry, and be key in the counterinsurgency battle to win hearts and minds. Four years later, the turbine parts remain in storage beside the dam. This report by our author Noah Arjomand revisits the operation and explores why, despite widely recognised warning signs that the turbine would not be producing electricity in the foreseeable future, and at a time when insurgency was raging and British troops were spread thin in Helmand, the decision was made to devote such enormous military resources to transporting the turbine to the dam.
The paper analyses the decision-making processes that led up to the operation and in doing so provides an important case study of how wartime development is implemented in practice, particularly when multiple organisations with different interests and ways of doing things are involved. ‘The decision to transport the turbine was made,’ writes Arjomand, ‘not because it was in some objectively logical sense the best way to serve the war effort at the time, but because it served the particular interests of the organisations that championed it.’
In this case, the installation of the turbine appealed to USAID’s development specialists, who saw it as a discrete task which was technically possible and could be presented as a key contribution to the counterinsurgency effort. Over time, it also became a way for both the American aid agency and the British military to show their mettle to a dominant US Department of Defense. The turbine thus took on significance beyond the actual 18.5 megawatts of electricity that it was to provide, especially bearing in mind that this would, in fact, put only a small dent in the increasing demand for electricity from southern Afghanistan’s cities.
It is hoped that a greater understanding of the dynamics that shaped past decision-making processes will inform and encourage better decisions – both at the policy and operational level – in the future.
AAN Thematic Report 01/2013
Release date: 30 January 2013
Download the report here.
Photo: The gap between turbines 1 and 3 at Kajaki dam (archive).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020