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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Earlier this month, ice cream mogul Waisuddin Jamalya stopped by the cart of one of his street sellers.
"Are all the ice packs cold?" he asked. "Let me see. It’s melted."
The boy assured him they were still frozen, but Jamalya has to stay vigilant. Keeping things cold is a challenge in Afghanistan's second-largest city, where summer temperatures routinely rise above 100 degrees.
It's made all the harder now that the power is running out.
Jamalya once employed 300 people and his factory produced 10,000 cartons of ice cream a day. Now, he's had to lay off 100 workers and thinks he may have to shutter his factory in two or three months.
Providing electricity was a key strategy of the Americans in Kandahar, the seat of the Taliban government that was ousted in late 2001.
"Electricity is key to a developing the economy. Electricity is key to industry," John Sopko, the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction, told America Tonight. "In Kandahar, in particular, because that was a hotbed of terrorist activity, we wanted to win over the hearts and minds of the people."
Four years ago, Jamalya decided go into ice cream, because he knew his construction work would dry up when U.S. forces left in 2014. He wanted to employ as many Afghans as possible and the timing seemed right. The Americans had just spent $7.8 million building the Shurandam Industrial Park in Kandahar province, with a power station across the street.
Times were good. In the industrial park, Jamalya's factory had electricity day and night, and the company was profitable within two years. Then, the Americans left, taking their fuel subsidies with them.
"When Americans first came there was lots of money and the people here didn’t have money, there were no expectations," Jamalya said. "Then, money came and people had big expectations. Now, there is no money, but people still want the same standard of living."
The U.S. installed diesel generators, which are too expensive for the Afghans to run. At first the Americans paid for all the fuel, and businesses in the industrial park had full-time power. But after most U.S. forces left, the aid budget dwindled and so did U.S.-subsidized fuel.
At another diesel power plant built with U.S. funds across town, the generators are silent. Last year, USAID provided 300,000 liters of diesel fuel to one of Kandahar's three diesel plants, according to Rasoul Balkhi, the director of power for the province. This year, he said, they've received nothing.
"Only one bunch of fuel came in last year, nine, ten, months ago," he said. "We burned [it], we used [it] and then stop and no more fuel."
Running that one plant at full capacity would give the people of Kandahar eight hours of electricity a day. (They currently get about four, in two two-hour blocks.) But power officials say it just doesn’t make financial sense. At the rates they charge, they can only cover 10 percent of the cost of fuel.
"The problem with the diesel generators is that they are very expensive and not sustainable," Sopko said. "Now, the lights are going to go off in Kandahar, because the Afghans can no longer afford to keep the generators operating."
The Afghan government provides the Shurandam Industrial Park with eight hours of electricity a day. That's more power than most places in Kandahar, but Jamalya says it's not enough to keep his ice cream cold and his machinery running. When the city doesn't supply power, Jamalya has to use his own generators. Since March, fuel has cost him $240,000.
"We are still talking with the government about how to solve the electricity problem," Jamalya said. "They keep promising to fix it, to find a way to get more power for Kandahar. So far, we are using our own money to continue working here. We don’t want to stop working."
Poor diesel fuel and short circuits along Kandahar’s aging power grid mean the power often goes off and on with little notice, suddenly shutting the machines down and often corrupting the software that runs them. That means a lot of thrown-away ice cream. On the day we visited his plant, the electricity coming from the city was intermittent, causing one of the ice cream manufacturing machines to break down. The engineers frantically tried to get all the parts working again.
The factory's chief engineer Darwish, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, says all the factory's problems come down to power.
The United States' original idea to power Kandahar was to upgrade the Kajaki Dam and power plant in neighboring Helmand province. Built by the U.S. in the 1970s at the height of the Cold War, much of the equipment is from that era. And the 34 megawatts of power it generates with its two giant turbines is only about a third of what Kandahar needs.
The Afghan government also only gets about a half of that electricity. The other half, as well as half the revenues, are siphoned away by the Taliban. And because the power lines run through districts and towns where the Taliban is fighting the government, the power is often disrupted.
In 2006, a convoy brought the pieces of a third turbine, which would generate 15 megawatts of power. The parts arrived, and for seven years, they sat rusting in a yard near the plant.
"A number of Americans died moving the turbine up this winding one lane road," said Sopko, the inspector general. "And a number of brave soldiers died and a lot of contractors got hurt and killed doing that. And it’s still not finished and the answer is nobody has been held accountable."
The third turbine is finally being installed, but it’s not expected to start generating electricity until next year. That’s a long time to be running on generators.
There’s another closer dam, Dahla, where a power plant could be installed, but the government can’t afford it, said the power director. Balkhi said the electricity company is contemplating a large-scale solar plant, but that would also be expensive to install. There’s no current plan to build a solar farm.
Jamalya says solar power isn't an option for his ice cream factory, because it wouldn't provide enough power. So, he has no choice but to wait for the government to come up with a solution. He believes the Americans missed a golden opportunity to help his country. By all estimates, the U.S. power project to win hearts and minds in Kandahar has failed.
"When Americans came they promised us many things to solve our problems, but unfortunately but they had their own aims and goals and they deceived us," Jamalya said. "…The money they spent on generators and fuel, we could have rebuilt Kajaki Dam twice."