Education & ANA Discussion – Part Two:

Attentive ANA classroom.

My conversation with the ANA soldiers continued.  I relayed a conversation I had yesterday with the ANA Mullah about Taliban Mullahs; the ANA Mullah had told me the Taliban Mullahs are not really Mullahs and use this title to their advantage to control the uneducated followers and villagers.  As such, out of fear and respect for the title, the people are easily influenced.  Every week, coalition forces are capturing or killing Taliban Mullahs who are often serving as Taliban commanders or province shadow governors.  Even the Pashtun ANA soldier I asked about agreed with this fact and said, “They are not Mullahs, they are only using the name of mullahs.”

ANA platoons practicing marching drills and learning discipline.

Running out of time, I opened up the floor so the ANA soldiers could address questions to me.  Admittedly, it’s much easier to ask the questions than it is to answer them.  But I was feeling self-confident and I was curious to see what they had on their minds.  The first question asked of me was concerning whether or not we [Americans] are trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.  I explained my country and other foreign nations have donated millions and billions of dollars for this purpose to build up the ANA and ANP so they can take back the national security of their country.  I also remarked that “We can’t do this by ourselves and it’s important we work together as a strong team and together we can beat the Taliban.”  I explained how important it is for them as soldiers to learn about tactics, weapons, and education so the Taliban can be defeated.

The last soldier I interviewed wanted to know my opinion about the Taliban since I had asked the classroom so many questions about them.  “The Taliban are extremist Muslims and trying to take over your country and want to implement their own Sharia law” I responded.  I explained that I can’t “look at an Afghan and tell whether they are Taliban unless they point a weapon at me and shoot at me.”  I also explained the importance of talking to the villagers so they will tell us who the Taliban are and the location of the IEDs.  I made it clear that IEDs are not just killing US and NATO soldiers, but they are killing the ANA and ANP as well.  In fact, more ANA and ANP soldiers have been killed by IEDs than coalition forces.  Lastly, I shared with the class my personal experiences of being exposed to enemy gunfire, mortars, rockets, and RPGs, but how that hasn’t deterred me from helping.  And  then I  reiterated: “Together as a strong team, we can defeat the Taliban.”

Attentive ANA classroom.

The questioning session was over and the Religious Officer thanked me for my time and for everything that Americans have done for them.  Now it was time to hand out the notebooks, pens, pencils, and sharpeners to the ANA soldiers.  At first it was an orderly process, but then it turned chaotic.  Some of the soldiers thought we were going to run out, so they started swarming around the Mullah and the Religious Officer handing out the supplies.  At one point until they got order, I backed away and stood behind the table using it as a barricade to keep my distance from the unruly crowd.  After a few barking commands from some officers and others, the students returned to their seats and we personally handed out the supplies ensuring everyone got an equal share.

ANA Mullah passing out pens before the class converged on him.

We left the classroom and returned to the Religious Officer’s office.  There was still a large bag of pencils and pens left over and he was handing them out to other soldiers like candy.  He also shared with me about my conversation the other day with the ANA Mullah.  The Mullah thanked him for helping to answer my questions, because apparently I make him nervous at times with the difficulty of my questions.  I had suspected that, but now I had confirmation.  I just hope this doesn’t deter the Mullah from attending future conversations, because our dialogue is always educational.

Fat Boy is trying to climb out, while Runt Runt and Bonnie sit inside their box.

Upon returning to camp, I stopped to get an update on the puppies.  The interpreters returned Fat Boy, so now all three of them including Runt Runt and Bonnie were in the box together.  As you can see by the size of Fat Boy, it’s understandable where he got his nickname.

If you would like to hear the full audio from the meeting click here ANA Education Discussion

If you you would like to hear the radio story about this meeting with the ANA soldiers/students by WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien, click here My Last Tour: Educating Afghan soldiers


10 Responses

  1. Thank you for your service.

    Wonder if any of the ANA who get to know and like you ask if you would like to become a Muslim; and how you respond to that?

    Do they ask questions about Jews, Christians, other religions, other countries?

    Do they all know about 9/11? It might be worth showing the young ones a short video clip; if they don’t know about it.

  2. I wasn’t aware of the fact that the Taliban are now our enemies. They are certainly completely unlikeable, of course, but they have not invaded our country and we have not declared war on the Taliban. I thought we were in Afghanistan to find Osama bin Laden, who is our enemy? How, when and why did we lose that focus? I would think the aim of the military would be to befriend the Afghanis and diplomatically and otherwise convince them that it worth their while to become an ally of the USA in the search for bin Laden. The events of 9/11 were horrific, but not likely to greatly affect the average Afghani (it didn’t happen to them) But what do i know.

    I do think that your approach in these continuing conversations is the very best means to this end and I congratulate you on your thoughtful handling of these “talks”. Please be careful. You are a hero, Rex.

  3. Paula Dowling, what is the difference between OBL, Zawahiri, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Hekmatyur, Lashkar e Jhanvi/Sipah e Sahaba/Jundullah, Jaish e Mohammed/Lashkar e Taiba, the Chechan militants, the 2 Uzbek groups (IMU and IJU), Iyas Kashmiri’s Brigade 313, Lashkar al Zil, Hakimullah’s TTP, TNSM, and the Uighur terrorists?

    They are one inter-related network.

    Remember how 15 global organizations declared OBL to be their supreme leader or Emir in 1998? Al Qaeda was only one of them.

    This said, perhaps you think you can separate Mullah Omar from the rest. If you think that you can Paula; how would you go about doing it?

    Let’s say that Mullah Omar really wanted to make a clean break with the international militant Takfiris. How would you protect Mullah Omar from them? How long do you think Mullah Omar would live if he turned against his long time allies in an attempt to reach out to you?

    Paula Dowling, to make peace with any of the AQ linked terrorists; the necessary but insufficient requirement is to be able to protect them from other AQ linked militants.

    What is your plan to achieve this?

    Paula, I would really like to tear away some of OBL’s allies away from him (Hekmatyur, Mullah Omar, some Local Taliban groups); but it isn’t easy. The deep alliance between the Taliban (which is itself a confederacy of militant groups) and AQ will be very difficult to break.

    BTW, Mullah Omar knowingly supported OBL in many of his global terrorist attacks. He is guilty with the bloods of tens of thousands of civilians around the world that he helped kill. However, America has already made friends with some of the people who helped bring the towers down on 9/11. We should be open to making friends with terrorists as long as they agree to no longer commit terrorism.

  4. […] more here: Education & ANA Discussion – Part Two: « Afghanistan My Last Tour Share and […]

  5. Hi Anan,

    You have an interesting viewpoint. It doesn’t appear that you are Afghani, perhaps you work for the government or armed forces of a conservative middle eastern country?

    Many Afghani’s view the USA as an invader and would be just as happy to see us gone. I know that you don’t share this view. The ostensible reason that we are in Afghanistan is to fight Al Queda and now the Taliban because they are harboring Al Queda. There are perhaps now only a handful of Al Queda situate in Afghanistan. They are instead in sanctuaries in Pakisan, Yemen Somaila and other countries . Should we not also invade these countries to attack Al Queda?

    This kind of foreign policy would have us fight endless wars, which Americans would soon tire of. I see no good end to our fight in Afghanistan.

    I fully support Rex’s efforts and the thousands of other coalition soldiers who are trying to do the right thing in Afghanistan.

    Your comments were very interesting. Thank you.

    Paula Dowling
    North Salem
    New York

  6. Paula is correct—No one wants a foreign force on their land—no matter how helpful—and this would be the case if Americans had foreign troops on their soil, occupying their country.

    How to tell the difference between various groups?—by their political motivations. Taliban’s motivation is to control Afghanistan politically. Al-Qaeda wants U.S. troops out of “Muslim lands” including Saudi Arabia and Iraq—-other groups also have their own political agenda—Pakistani groups have their eye on the Kashmir issue, for example.

    Much of the answers seemed like “U.S. propaganda”–for example, Monies may be “pouring” into Afghanistan, but the Afghans themselves don’t see much of it. If the U.S. wants to retain credibility, it should treat these questions with more respect—give more facts/figures—something more concrete than “nice words”…….

    Also, classes on democracy, its principles, how it works and the responsibilities of the citizens should be helpful as well as classes on enterpreneurship and trade….that is, if the U.S. is sincerely interested in the long-term stability of Afghanistan………….otherwise, it is simply playing at soldiering……

  7. If only we’d taken your approach directly after the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, the GWB administration lost its focus and made war on iraq. i guess we went to war with the Secretary of Defense we had…..

    But now we have squandered our reputation abroad and the american people are no longer of one opinion because our economy is in the toilet along with our self esteem and we can no longer count on a blank check from either the American public or our closest european allies.

    In the end it will be up to the Afghanistan people to shape their own destiny, just as we did during the American Revolution. If Rex and others can continue these motivational conversations with the ANP, we may have some impact on Afghanistan’s future. But there will always be those Afghanis who see us as invader and focus on us as the bad guys…. and not on their uncle who happens to be taliban.

    Interesting conversation.

  8. @Paula
    You have summarized the situation very well—Which is why the U.S. “exit strategy” should focus on generating “goodwill” that will benifit in the future rather than “blowing up the taliban” as it is doing now and generating ill-will towards U.S. forces because of the civilian casualities—Let the Aghans figure out who is the Taliban and who is not and how to deal with them—As pointed out—Americans can’t tell the difference anyway. But what the Americans can do, is set up systems—Not in Kabul—-but in the provinces, that will create longterm benefit for the U.S. There is already a tribal system in place—use this system to create oppurtunities for bussiness/enterprenuership, education, and security.—-that is what the young Afghan soldier previously suggested and it is a good idea. —-each tribe will compete against the other to be the best, most progressive, most enterprenurial…etc and the added benefit will be that the U.S. will have gotten rid of the taliban and gained the goodwill of the Afghans. You can’t fight ideology with guns—you have to fight ideology with ideology.

  9. Paula, how familiar are you with Afghanistan? In all of the twenty or so public opinion polls taken in Afghanistan since 2001, at least 88% of Afghan opposed the Taliban; in most polls more than 90% opposed the Taliban.

    In every public opinion poll, the ANA (Afghan National Army) is the most popular public institution.

    If you care about Afghans Paula, then support them. Support their ANA. Help them improve the ANP. Help them with civilian governance and economic growth.

    Afghanistan has many great challenges and will need a lot of global help.

    The biggest problem is long term economic growth. Currently the GIRoA (Gov Islamic Rep of Afghanistan) has annual revenues of $600 million/year and annual long term steady state expenditures of $10,000 million/year.

    How can Afghanistan balance its huge budget deficit?

    Forget the ANA and ANP budget. Look at the education budget. Afghanistan spends far more on education per year than total GIRoA annual revenues. The education system is completely unsustainable and is paid for by foreigners.

    Personally, I think the world should completely pay for the ANA, ANP, and education budgets for 20 years. Why isn’t the world pledging funding for these institutions?

    Another problem is that the Taliban get several billion dollars per year in revenue (orders of magnitudes higher than total GIRoA revenue.) Much of this is grants from the Arab world and Pakistan.

    Paula, what is your strategy to convince Arabs and Pakistanis to stop giving the Taliban and Al Qaeda money?

    Many Afghans who oppose and fight the Taliban are furious with ISAF and the international community. You know why Paula? Because many, maybe even most, Afghans believe that ISAF backs the Taliban against the Afghan people, GIRoA, ANA and ANP.

    Many Afghans ask how could the Taliban murder 2120 ANP in the first 11 months of 2009 alone, unless ISAF was helping them? Many Afghans ask how could the Taliban kill so many of their beloved ANA; unless ISAF was backing the Taliban.

    Paula, how would you answer the Afghan people? Do you think America backs Al Qaeda and the Taliban against the Afghan people? Do you support the Taliban?

  10. interesting question anan……..

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