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Big turbine delivered to Afghan aid project
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    KABUL, Afghanistan — It was a weeklong journey through Afghanistan’s most dangerous Taliban territory, dodging persistent attacks by insurgents and bumping over rough desert terrain riddled with mines.
    But a snaking convoy of 4,000 coalition forces, guarded by dozens of attack helicopters and fighter jets, arrived successfully with its cargo: a turbine for a U.S.-funded dam project that could provide more than 6 percent of the country’s electricity.
    More than 200 Taliban militants were killed by forces protecting the convoy, British officials told a reporter from the Times of London who traveled with the group. No deaths were reported among coalition forces but a British soldier had his pelvis crushed as he tried to repair a broken down vehicle, reporter Jeremy Page wrote.
    Western officials had long fretted they would not be able to deliver the much-needed turbine safely through the Taliban-held land.
    British, U.S. and Canadian troops escorted the hulking machine as it traveled 110 miles from Kandahar city to the site of the Kajaki dam project — the largest American aid project in Afghanistan — in neighboring Helmand province. The province is the most violent region in the country.
    The troops fended off countless attacks and disabled scores of improvised explosive devices during the weeklong journey.
    ‘‘The result of the operation will be a much needed increase in capacity to generate electrical power, which will create a better quality of life for Afghan people in southern Afghanistan,’’ NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
    Troops from Denmark, Australia and Afghanistan also took part. The turbine arrived in Kajaki on Tuesday.
    Maj. Gen. J. G. M. Lessard, the commander of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, said the security mission to protect the turbine ‘‘clearly demonstrated’’ NATO’s and the Afghan government’s commitment to reconstruction.
    ‘‘Despite the disruptive effort from the insurgents, we achieved our goal and delivered the new turbine,’’ Lessard said. ‘‘The insurgents efforts have not been successful. They will not win and are not winning in the southern region.’’
    Kajaki is an American-built hydroelectric dam project with the potential to provide Afghanistan with 6 percent of its power. It is the largest American aid project in Afghanistan.
    The dam was originally built in the 1950s to help Afghan farmers irrigate their fields. It lies in Helmand province in southwest Afghanistan, which grows more opium poppies than any place in the world. And, thanks to an influx of Taliban fighters the last two years, it is one of the most dangerous regions in the country.
    U.S. crews returned to Kajaki in the 1970s and installed two turbines. In recent months, one turbine has been working but a second has been off line for repairs. A hole sat in between those two turbines where the third is to be installed.
    The U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government aid arm, has said the cost for refurbishing the two turbines and the purchase of the third is $51 million. But a lot of other work remains.
    The region also needs new transmission lines that can carry the new, increased power to Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. That will cost more than $77 million.
    At full capacity, the three turbines together can provide southern Afghanistan with 51 megawatts of power, said John Shepard, an engineer from Tucson, Ariz., who has been working on the Kajaki project since 2004.
    In total, Afghanistan has the potential to create about 770 megawatts of power on small, individual power grids that service local communities. That means the Kajaki Dam could provide more than 6 percent of the country’s total electricity.
    By Western standards, though, 50 megawatts is a modest amount — nearly enough electricity for a town the size of Burlington, Vt., which has about 160,000 people.

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