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Parwan Province Afghanistan

by Geraldo Rivera | Dec 07, 2007

Salang Tunnel

Of all the public works projects completed here in Afghanistan with US and foreign assistance over the last six years, none was more impressive to me than the strategic Salang tunnel. Originally built in 1964 by the Soviets, during their ill-fated invasion to rescue the local communist government and take over the country in 1979, they used it to help move their tanks and heavy equipment down into the heartland. Cut into the mighty Hindu Kush Mountains, the tunnel is located about 65 miles north of Kabul, and quickly became the most vital passage connecting this rugged country's north and south, cutting travel time from the 3 days it used to take to drive around the mountains to just a few hours.

On my first trip in December 2001, during the U.S. led attack on the Taliban government, the tunnel was an absolute wreck after savage fighting between the fundamentalist Taliban government and the Northern Alliance rebels in the Nineties destroyed the entrances, roadways and ventilation system, making it impossible to pass by vehicle and extremely dangerous even to walk and crawl through.

As I said at the time, on what was one of my first assignments for Fox News, “the scary thing about approaching the entrance to the tunnel is that there are landmines everywhere, any misstep in this area could mean death. Now I know what utter destruction means, it reminds me ironically of the World Trade Center.”

Since then and the fall of the Taliban, with the help of the United States the Salang tunnel was eventually cleared of debris, land mines and booby traps, and after suffering a setback when a sudden avalanche closed it again a couple of years ago, it’s been reopened to traffic, with a daily flow of about 1000 vehicles, making an important contribution to the commercial rebuilding of the country.

Passing through this week with a unit from the Army’s Bagram Provincial Reconstruction Team, it was an awesome feeling to drive through the tunnel in just a few minutes, instead of the few hours it took to crawl through it exactly six years ago this week.

Then, before the GI’s from the PRT and I had a little fun in the snow covered pass--I asked the unit’s Executive Officer, Captain Erick Sax, the son of a retired New York City police officer, if the Taliban was complicating his unit’s efforts to rebuild this war torn country. He explained that the northern area of his district, here around the tunnel, the fundamentalists were fairly inactive, but that in some of the low lying agricultural areas they were muscling in and disrupting reconstruction efforts.

Then on cue the young GI’s started pelting us both with snowballs. As I explained to the audience, these guys have been here for a year, they’re going to miss another Holiday Season with their families and that they deserved to let off a little steam. They loved it, especially those who blasted me with two whoppers, and on the way down through the breathtaking mountains opined that it was their favorite mission of the tour.

Down from the mountains after that bit of comic relief, we saw one of the massive electric projects being constructed with international aid to bring power to the people, and I visited some of the 70 projects being managed by the Bagram team, including road reconstruction, clean wells, schools, health clinics, and most affectingly, an orphanage.

“So what’s the mission here captain,” I asked Captain Sax?

“Today were dropping off donations from American people, we have access to humanitarian supplies we also especially this time of year get a lot of people back home who want to donate. What we got today is a truck load of school supplies, kids clothing, women’s clothing, blankets lots of toys and were going to drop some here at the red crescent and then we'll take some to the orphanage, make they’re holiday a little brighter.”

“Let’s give a shout out to St. Joes' Church in Owosso, Michigan, and to Shoes for Kids in Garrison, Iowa for donating boxes of kids’ clothing, toys, blankets and shoes,” I said, ending the piece with kids squealing with delight.

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