KAJAKI DAM, Afghanistan - Five shipping containers marked with the Afghan flag, some of them still wrapped in plastic, now sit in the construction camp at Kajaki Dam, Afghanistan's biggest hydroelectric project, according to an International Herald Tribune report. They hold the US government's largest single gift to Afghanistan of the past seven years: massive pieces of a 200-ton hydroelectric turbine that, when installed, will double the electricity supply to the towns and districts of southern Afghanistan. The $180m project, which includes distribution lines and substations, is intended to reach 1.8m people and provide jobs and economic renewal to the most troubled and violent part of the country. The governor of Helmand Province, Gulab Mangal, paid a brief visit by helicopter to the dam in his province in Oct to emphasize its importance. Speaking to reporters over the roar of the water, he said that even if the immediate benefits were not apparent, future generations would appreciate the assistance coming into Afghanistan. "The children of Afghanistan will not forget the work done for this power station," he said. The Chinese-made turbine remains in its packing cases, and it will not be installed and working for perhaps a year. But its arrival in this isolated camp, deep inside Taliban territory, was one of the great feats of Nato forces in southern Afghanistan this year. It has been a rare instance of a fulfilled promise in the effort to build up Afghanistan's infrastructure. But even with the step forward, the improvements to the dam, in an inaccessible area of northern Helmand Province, are still being held hostage by the Taliban's growing ability to mount offensives in recent years. The overall power project has been repeatedly delayed because of the difficulty of security and logistics. And the rest of the original $500 million proposal to augment the capacity of the dam itself has not been approved, cast in doubt by the Taliban's gains. "In the case of the Kajaki Dam or others, the security situation impedes the delivery of the service," the US ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, said in Washington in June. "The reason that there isn't more light at night and more warmth in winter for south Afghanistan is because the Taliban has not let us do everything, work as effectively as we'd like to on the Kajaki Dam." This has been the deadliest year for Nato and Afghan forces in Afghanistan since the invasion in late 2001, as Taliban insurgents have attacked persistently, in particular with ambushes and roadside bombs. The offensive has severely curtailed efforts by Nato and the Afghan government to expand their control from towns into the countryside. As the summer fighting dragged on, it became clear that 19,000 foreign troops deployed in the southern provinces, alongside thousands more Afghan soldiers and police officers, were in a stalemate with the insurgents, as one senior Nato commander put it. It looked as if USAID's project to develop the Kajaki Dam would be put on hold for yet another year. Then in late August, Nato exercised some muscle. More than 4,000 British, American, Canadian, Danish, Australian and Afghan troops combined forces to cut and secure a road through 160km of hostile territory to move the equipment and turbine parts that were too heavy to be airlifted up to Kajaki. The cargo convoy, which included 100 vehicles and carried the turbine in seven containers weighing up to 30 tons each, took five days to struggle through the mountains amid a strict news blackout. Heavy fighting took place in villages south of the dam, including aerial bombardment, but the convoy took a different route and arrived in early September without damage. The huge operation was criticised in the British news media, which questioned the exposure of British soldiers to such high risk to save a US government assistance project. Yet for the Afghans employed here, and the frustrated residents of cities like Kandahar, who have lived with barely a few hours of electricity a day for the past seven years, Nato was belatedly meeting its commitment to bring development to southern Afghanistan. "It is slow," said Sayed Rasoul, 52, an employee at the Kajaki power plant for 28 years and now its chief engineer. "We have a difficulty with transport." Rasoul is now in charge of the next stage, with a US engineer, George Wilder, 62, who works for the American contractors in charge of the project, the Louis Berger Group. They work and live in a small construction camp next to the dam, protected by a battalion of British and Afghan soldiers who keep the Taliban, who hold the surrounding villages, at bay. Everything the workers and soldiers need comes by helicopters that fly high over the brown, barren mountains and then spiral down over the green-blue reservoir into the camp to avoid enemy fire. Yet Wilder, who said he was pulled out of retirement to do the job at Kajaki, vowed he would stay until the new turbine was up and running. If all goes well, that should be by next August, he said. "Of course, security will be humongous," he said. "But we will drive on with it one way or another." The British troops have pushed the Taliban back far enough that the rocket attacks that forced the foreign contractors to pull out in 2006 are now rare, Wilder said. "We have good nights and bad nights," he said, saying the worst were when British troops on night patrol fired mortars from the camp to cover their movements as they pulled back from a fight. The camp itself rarely comes under fire anymore, he said. "There is no danger here," he added. Extraordinarily, Afghan workers have kept the power station running throughout the past 30 years of war and upheaval, and even now have negotiated with the Taliban so they can travel to work from their villages. Rasoul leads a team of 43 workers, most of whom are white-bearded older men who have been working at the dam since it was built in 1975. The Taliban hold sway in the countryside around the dam and even charge people for electricity, so they can be persuaded to let the workers keep the power plant running, the workers said. "We do not have a problem with anyone," Rasoul said. "We tell them we are working and producing electricity for everyone in the villages and towns." The work in the months ahead involves repairing one of the existing American Westinghouse turbines and installing the new Chinese one. But workers also need to survey and lay new transmission lines through Taliban-controlled country to Kandahar. Mangal said he was confident that could be done through a mixture of force and persuasion. "Firstly, we will extend the security with the support of the brave soldiers of our national forces," he said. "But secondly, we will try to win the hearts and minds of the people and tell them how important this power station is. I am sure they will support us."