Afghan bottling plant wins contract to supply water to Coalition troops

Kabul, October 9, 2006 (US Armed Forces)- U. S. forces recently awarded Afghan Beverage Industries, a Kabul beverage bottling plant, a contract to provide bottled water to Coalition troops throughout Afghanistan.

This is the first contract for water to be awarded to a company within Afghanistan and marks a milestone in Coalition efforts to award military contracts to locally-owned and/or operated Afghan businesses under Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan's "Afghan First" economic initiative.

At the initial market price per bottle of water, the contract is estimated to be worth over $600,000 U.S. dollars per month.

"This is a landmark event," said Maj. David Van Bennekum, project officer for Afghan First. "This is the first time an Afghan-based company has met the stringent standards placed on vendors providing food goods to U.S. forces."

The ABI plant, a subsidiary of a Dubai, U.A.E. company, employs over 300 Afghans in positions ranging from security to bottling production to sales and marketing.

ABI was subject to rigorous force protection requirements, as well as sanitary laboratory testing, dictated by U.S. Federal Regulations and Department of Defense policies.

"ABI passed its inspections with flying colors and now stands as an example of the potential for foreign investment in the infrastructure of this recovering country," said Van Bennekum.

Prior to the contract award to ABI, the Coalition was importing 100 percent of its water and other food items from outside Afghanistan.

"At the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, it was absolutely imperative that we carefully monitor and protect our food supplies," said Lt. Col. Robert Maurio, deputy director of logistics for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan. "Of course, protection of our food sources is still a priority; however, we're now making a conscience effort to embrace the private marketplace here while providing goods and services to U.S. forces as allowed by applicable laws and regulations."

Since the inception of Afghan First in March 2006, contracts awarded by the Coalition to Afghans have increased, from 58 percent of the total number of contracts awarded in March to 86 percent in September.

"Purchasing goods locally not only improves the Afghan economy but also saves significant transportation costs for the Coalition," said Van Bennekum.

An estimated $58 million is spent annually on shipments of bottled water into Afghanistan alone. Factors such as temporary border closures through Pakistan and Uzbekistan, harsh weather conditions through mountain passes in the winter months, and security challenges can sometimes slow shipments of highly critical commodities such as food and water.

Afghan First was conceived and established by Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of CFC-A. The program, which requires U.S. forces to seek Afghan vendors as the first source for providing services, aims to stimulate the local economy and develop skill sets for local workers that can be used in the private marketplace.

"The program is much more than a contracting effort," said Lt. Col. Frank Eubanks, director of logistics for CFC-A. "Rather, it focuses on educating Afghan businesses and their laborers who desire to contract with us while it assists them in reaching high standards."

Base support functions are now largely serviced by Afghan citizens. Over 60 percent of the base support personnel at Camp Eggers, the home of CFC-Afghanistan, are Afghans. "The company, Kellogg Brown and Root, has developed training programs for local citizens teaching courses in carpentry, generator repair and food service, and they have embraced the Afghan First program with vigor," Eubanks said.

"We're focused on making decisions that truly invest in Afghan citizens' futures and keeping the money inside Afghanistan," stressed Van Bennekum.

To help the project, a working group of military, governmental and non-government organizations fostered the concept of the project. A Canadian-based NGO called "Peace Dividend Trust" promotes local businesses, helps Afghan workers develop skills and trades, and maintains a vendor database that contracting offices can access when searching for specific goods, products and services offered by Afghan businesses.

The NGO has been especially instrumental in matching Afghan companies with Coalition needs. So far, over 2,500 vendors have been listed on the website, www.procurementdirectory.af .

Peace Dividend Trust has also established a solid working relationship with the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce to aid in awarding contracts to locals, according to their website.

The project has the added support of the U.S. Embassy's Afghan Reconstruction Group, United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Army Afghan Engineering District and other organizations that provide expertise in several areas.

"We want the Afghan people to be self-sufficient and to be able to provide a solid life for their families." said Van Bennekum.

Afghan Beverage Industries is one of four bottled water plants within Kabul. A fifth is under construction just outside Bagram Air Base.

"We'd like to be able to contract with each and every one of them," said Van Bennekum. "Some of the companies are farther along than others in meeting the criteria to contract with the Coalition, however, all of them show a strong desire to achieve a contract."

In some cases, the company owners are Afghan-Americans who have returned to their homeland to help their fellow countrymen and their society as a whole, said Van Bennekum.

ABI is equipped similar to any western bottling plant. It is considered to be a "state of the art facility." One of the special touches built into Afghan Beverage Industries is that the facility has a Mosque on site for its Afghan workers, said Van Bennekum.

The company has also met all equal opportunity requirements imposed by U.S. organizations like the DoD. The managers have made a significant effort to employ Afghan women, said Van Bennekum.

It is currently estimated that Coalition forces will be purchasing close to 35,000 cases of water per week for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen throughout Afghanistan as part of the overall requirement to sustain the force.

Afghan Beverage Industries is already a thriving business within Kabul, and just recently sponsored a local 10K road race for which they provided all the water, company officials said.