Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two views of the Dahla Dam

From the Eighth Quarterly Report to Parliament, June 13, 2010

"This type of support contributed to the advancement in this quarter of a Canadian signature project, the rehabilitation of the Dahla Dam and irrigation system, located in the fertile Arghandab district. The January-March dry period enabled the start of physical work on the irrigation system, and the removal of 85,000 cubic metres (enough to fill 34 Olympic sized swimming pools) of silt and other materials from the main canal, improving downstream water flow to Kandahar farmers."

On the other hand, we have this report from Mitch Potter at the Toronto Star, June 9, 2010:

Canada’s International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda went so far last month as to wave panoramically during a helicopter press tour and proclaim the green expanse of the fertile Arghandab River valley below as the early signs of Canadian success.

But a three-week Toronto Star investigation, including interviews with more than 20 private contractors, government officials, Afghan tribal leaders and others knowledgeable about the project, shows a disaster in the making.

Foremost among the setbacks, insiders say, was a dramatic confrontation on Feb. 20, when rising tensions between Canadian security officials hired to oversee the project and members of Watan Risk Management, a group of Afghan mercenaries with close ties to the Karzai family, culminated in a “Mexican standoff” — the guns hired to protect the project actually turned on each other in a hair-trigger confrontation.

“That was the day Canada lost control. The thugs from Watan won, and the Canadian security managers involved were put on the next plane home, lucky to be alive,” a witness to the standoff told the Toronto Star on condition of anonymity.

“Ever since, the project has been basically held hostage by the Karzai mafia, who are using ‘security concerns’ to stall the work. They are able to put fear in the heart of the Canadian contractors, telling them ‘There is evil outside the gates that will eat you.’ The longer they delay, the more money the Afghan security teams make. The Canadians have good intentions but that is the reality.”

The Toronto Star has confirmed the identity of the private Canadian security officials who fled for their lives: Curtis Desrosiers, who served as a contracted security manager for the Dahla Dam project, and his deputy, Mike Hill.

Now back in Canada, Desrosiers and Hill say they are reluctant still to divulge all they know of the security fiasco, citing concerns for the safety of their families. But others familiar with their story say both men feel “abandoned by and disgusted with” the Canadian government, SNC-Lavalin and the Canadian military for allowing the Afghan company to muscle them out of the country.

“We were run off for doing our jobs, which was to provide Canadian oversight,” Hill said in an interview Tuesday.

In a separate interview, Desrosiers said, “I don’t dispute any of the facts you describe. I did the right thing and I can still look myself in the mirror. I believed in this project . . . and now I’m reluctant to tell you how I feel.”