The Afghan Mapping Initiative, a cooperative relationship between NGA and the Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office (AGCHO), has roots going back to 2006. In February of that year, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Commander of the Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan (CFC-A), approached retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., who was then NGA's Director, and asked for the agency's support to modernize Afghanistan's national mapping agency.
NGA sent its first technical assessment team to AGCHO in April 2006. The team determined that AGCHO personnel had the requisite scientific knowledge to satisfy Afghanistan's national mapping requirements. AGCHO had already started on the path to digital remote sensing and GISs and had even established a Remote Sensing and GIS Institute. The team concluded, however, that AGCHO lacked the hardware and software infrastructure to support digital mapping and did not have an understanding of modern digital production processes.
In September 2006, NGA's current director, Navy Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, visited AGCHO headquarters in Afghanistan. While there, he met his counterpart, the General President of AGCHO, Engineer Abdul Raouf Yari. Raouf has been Director of AGCHO since the fall of the Taliban regime. The staff of AGCHO nominated Raouf to the interim, post-Taliban government to guide the development of AGCHO into a modern mapping agency. During the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s, many AGCHO officials fled to Pakistan or Iran. Only now are they beginning to come home, having been asked by the current government to resume their careers.
After returning from his visit to AGCHO, Murrett committed $1 million in NGA funding to jump-start what was now being called the Afghan Mapping Initiative. But that commitment was just the beginning. To support AGCHO through this initiative, NGA had to conclude a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with AGCHO. This turned out to be a yearlong process that included drafting the BECA documentation, coordinating the effort within NGA and with the Department of Defense and getting concurrence from AGCHO. NGA also established requirements, planned the activities, and garnered support from NGA organizations. Most of this early work was formalized through NGA country team meetings, composed of members of NGA stakeholder organizations and the International Affairs Steering Group, the office director-level group that guides international activities within NGA.
What the Future Holds for the Afghan Mapping Initiative
The Afghan Mapping Initiative plans to support the development of a modest mapping capability at AGCHO. As part of the initiative, NGA will install a nationwide geodetic network, procure and install a basic map production system, provide training and conduct joint AGCHO-NGA projects.
Additional NGA support in the planning and development of the Afghan Mapping Initiative came from the Office of International Acquisition, the National Geospatial-Intelligence College, the Office of International Affairs and Policy, the Office of Political Geography, the Source Global Foundation Office, the Office of Geodetic Sciences and many others within the organization.
NGA's representative to the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), the successor agency to CFC-A, plays an important role in the initiative by providing CSTC-A requirements to NGA and day-to-day interface with AGCHO and the Afghan National Army. NGA is also coordinating its activities with the International Security Assistance Force.
At first glance, the AGCHO project is unlike anything NGA has done in the past because NGA does not normally enter into reconstruction projects. But the Afghan Mapping Initiative is similar to the rebuilding that NGA supported in Eastern Europe in the mid-1990s. Today the geospatial partnerships in Eastern Europe, most notably with Poland and the Czech Republic, represent some of NGA's most significant collaborations. The Afghan Mapping Initiative presents an opportunity for yet another winning partnership.