•  Carrier


To Generate and Sustain

As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, a hydroelectric dam located 100-mi northwest of the City of Kandahar will play a critical role in preventing national fracturing and discouraging insurgencies of groups like ISIL from taking root.


 By Maj. Robert T. Moore, P.E., M.SAME, USAR


any lives and billions of American taxpayer dollars have been given rebuilding Afghanistan’s infrastructure. Now, the fledg­ling Afghan democracy must sustain a 21st century infrastructure that will prevent national fracturing and discourage insur­gencies of groups like ISIL from taking root.

In the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, one U.S. strategy to fight the insurgency has been to keep locals gainfully employed. This elevates the quality of life and decreases the likelihood locals will become disgruntled and join the insurgents.

Kajaki Dam

Commissioned in 1953, the Kajaki Hydroelectric Dam stands 100-mi northwest of Kandahar in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Holding 1.7-billion-m³ of water, it can currently produce 33-MW of electricity, but is operating only two of three turbines. Boosting that energy capacity and routing it effectively to the City of Kandahar will relieve the need to operate diesel burning generators, which exhaust tons of pollution and are expensive to run. PHOTOS COURTESY USACE



Coalition forces, to support this goal, have designed, built and fueled large power generation stations in Kandahar, delivering electricity to businesses and individuals throughout the city. But those massive generators require a significant amount of fuel. For the past 10 years American taxpay­ers have paid the bill at roughly $1 million every month to keep the lights on and the factories humming.

As coalition forces withdraw from the country, those fuel subsidies will disappear. Leaving a million Kandahar citizens with­out power is concerning. It provides the Taliban with a ripe opportunity to recruit unemployed and disenfranchised young people. Fortunately, there is a plan to keep the lights on and deliver clean, renewable energy to the southern part of the country. Although Afghanistan lacks resources to purchase fuel for its generators, it does have large dams in the vicinity that can be used to create hydroelectric power.



The Kajaki Hydroelectric Dam stands 100-mi northwest of Kandahar in Helmand Province. Holding 1.7-billion-m³ of water, Kajaki can produce 33-MW of electricity. And, at 97-m high, the dam is only slightly smaller than the Aswan Dam located on the Nile River in Egypt.

Commissioned in 1953, Kajaki Dam is actively operating only two of three turbines. Boosting that renewable energy source and routing it effectively to the City of Kandahar will relieve the need to operate diesel burning generators, which exhaust tons of pollution into the air and are expensive to run.

In a spirit of partnership and coopera­tion, coalition forces in conjunction with the Afghans, devised a plan to increase production and deliver electricity all the way from Kajaki to Kandahar. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Afghan state power firm Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat all will participate in upgrading the dam to keep the lights burning brightly in Kandahar, long after the coalition forces depart.

Because only two of the three turbines have been installed at Kajaki, the top prior­ity is to install the third and final turbine. In August 2008, coalition forces hauled the turbine from Kandahar to Kajaki in a convoy of 100 vehicles stretching over 2-km. Primarily comprised of British soldiers, the convoy took five days to reach the dam. Commenting on the turbine delivery mission, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the time said, “It is yet another example of the skill and courage of our forces, but also a reminder of the funda­mental purpose of why they are there—the long term development of Afghanistan, giving the people a stake in the future”.

Today, the third turbine sits just outside the powerhouse, waiting to be installed. During 2015, with funding from USAID, the third turbine will be installed, bringing the total electrical capacity of the dam to more than 50-MW. By Christmas 2015, the turbine should be complete, giving the Kajaki Dam 33 percent more electrical production, just as the fuel subsidies end for the diesel generators in Kandahar. Alternatively, the installation of the third turbine can allow the Afghans to bring one of the older turbines off-line for much needed maintenance without reduc­ing the current power generation.

USACE also is involved with upgrading and improving Kajaki Dam. The agency is installing new valves along with water intake gates and discharge nozzles to ensure peak performance, supporting adequate water flow through the dam. Because the nozzle valves are adjacent to the power­house, USACE is inextricably tied to USAID, ensuring the water discharge does not interfere with the new turbine installa­tion. This close coordination between U.S. federal agencies can be complicated. But it is essential to delivering a timely, compre­hensive power solution to Afghanistan.


Kajaki Dam water levels

There has been debate whether Kajaki Dam has the reservoir water capacity to provide both irrigation to farms and simultaneously run all three turbines. Irrigation is critical for growing crops in the desert of southern Afghanistan. If there is only enough water in the reservoir to drive three hydroelectric turbines then farmers would not have ample irrigation to grow crops. The chart above (updated January 2015) shows that the annual reservoir level exceeds holding capacity during the summer months and proves there is plenty of water to provide much needed irrigation for farmers in Helmand Valley, while simultaneously creating enough head pressure to run all three turbines at the dam. IMAGE BY JOHN HAZELTON, USACE WILMINGTON DISTRICT



While USAID and USACE upgrade the dam, other contractors, under USACE management, will stretch high voltage cable lines from Kajaki to Durai Junction, and then east and west to Laskar Gah and Kandahar respectively. The power lines will include substations along the way to deliver electricity to local cities and towns. Affordable power will help introduce government services to rural areas and, hopefully, encourage farmers to grow crops instead of poppies.

As the high voltage lines wind their way south from Kajaki through Helmand Province, the agricultural community will be able to refrigerate and store crops for extended times. Farmers in Helmand currently harvest their crops only to sell them to Pakistanis, who have the refrig­eration to store them in the off-season. Pakistanis then sell those same Afghan fruits and vegetables back to the Afghans later, at a hefty premium. With electricity from Kajaki Dam, farmers in Helmand will be able to harvest, store and then sell their own agricultural products without relying on the Pakistanis for refrigeration.

The Afghans will install the final leg of the electrical distribution system. This longest and most critical stretch of high voltage cable from Durai into Kandahar City will be installed primarily by Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat. Funded by USAID, this last part of the comprehensive system should be complete in 2016 and deliver clean energy to businesses in Afghanistan’s second largest city. Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat also will fund and upgrade the high voltage lines from Kajaki south to Sangin, in the most dangerous part of the country. 



 Delivering electricity to the southern Afghanistan region is critical to the coali­tion counterinsurgency strategy and will help secure Afghanistan’s stability in the years to come.



Completing this comprehensive program will require considerable time, but the work is worth the effort. As the subsidies for the Kandahar generators run out in 2015, clean, renewable energy should be available from Kajaki Dam. Keeping the lights on in Helmand and Kandahar means engineers are keeping the citizens gainfully employed and able to build a better life for themselves and future generations.

A secondary electrical connection will augment Kajaki Dam’s renewable power source north through Afghanistan to the Turkmenistan Dam. Between the two hydroelectric sources, renewable energy will power much of southern Afghanistan. That is a significant achievement even in the most advanced western countries.



Delivering electricity to the southern Afghanistan region is critical to the coali­tion counterinsurgency strategy and will help secure Afghanistan’s stability in the years to come. Some may trivialize the effects that engineering projects can have on this fledgling democracy—supporting instead more kinetic activities. While traditional military operations focus on destroying irreconcilables, our engineering efforts that are building schools, bridges, highways, power lines and renewable energy sources empower the indigenous population to earn a living, educate their children and secure their country for the future. Upgrading large hydroelectric projects, like Kajaki, is challenging in the best of circumstances and becomes much more difficult in a combat zone. But, if we can expand renew­able energy sources in Afghanistan, it can be done anywhere.

Through tenacity and perseverance, engineers from USACE, USAID and Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat will complete the Kajaki Dam upgrades and enable renew­able energy to be delivered to Helmand Province and the City of Kandahar. And in doing so, they will, perhaps unknow­ingly, energize the Afghan economy and effect the greatest impact on this war-torn country’s long-term stability, security and sustainability.

By delivering power, Kajaki Dam can deliver change.



Maj. Robert T. Moore, P.E., M.SAME, USAR, is Officer-in-Charge, Kandahar Resident Office, USACE Transatlantic Afghanistan District; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..