My Personal Perspective

Judging by the influx of comments lately, my blog entries have caused some academic debate and flow of ideas.  Due to lack of time, seldom do I ever get a chance to respond to reader’s comments or questions.  But tonight I am going to make time and provide some feedback and opinion.  My opinions are solely mine and based on what I see, hear, read, and experience.  I take a chance in doing this, because certain people will cherry-pick my comments or take them out of context and publish them.  But since I started this blog almost a year ago, I stand by everything I have written.

First, we are here to seek out the Al Qaeda. They are not nearly as numerous as the Taliban, but they are present and active in this country.  They just keep a much lower profile than the Taliban and allow them to do all the dirty work.  I am convinced if the Taliban wins this war, the Al Qaeda would have a sanctuary to plot attacks against the United States and other European countries.  Although my ANA counterparts think the Al Qaeda has been defeated, I respectfully disagree with them.

Who are the Taliban or insurgents?  I think of them synonymously, because as a combatant or soldier, they are the enemy.  Anyone who raises arms and plots attacks against me or my brothers in arms is the enemy.  I don’t have the ability to distinguish the difference, but when they choose to attack our forces, it really doesn’t matter; quite simply they are the enemy and a target of opportunity.  I understand most of the insurgents are not doing this for an ideological cause.  Instead, they do it for money or other causes.  But this still doesn’t change the equation, because they are making a personal choice with consequences.  As such, when they make the wrong choice, then they become a target.  The Taliban is also composed of or allied with various terrorist organizations, splinter groups and thugs to include the Haqqani network, Hekmatyur, and others who help promote the poppy and opium trade.

The dynamics of this war and country are so diverse and complex; I could probably write an encyclopedia by exploring the various aspects.  Trying to understand the cultural diversities of the tribes and various ethnicities is perplexing in itself.  Then throw in the mix of the central government trying to establish itself and appear legitimate, coupled with training the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) so that one day they will be responsible for the national security of their country only adds to the perplexity.  I might also point out that the central government has an insurmountable task to appear legitimate without the corruption.  The endemic corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and fraud of the central government are only adding fuel to the Taliban’s acceptance by the citizens.  In all fairness, the people aren’t given much of a choice, because the Taliban rule by force and fear.  Lastly, the enemies we are fighting aren’t just indigenous to Afghanistan, but travel from Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and other neighboring countries because they have been brainwashed in madrassas or misguided by imams, mullahs, or clerics.

Much of the blame for the current state of affairs can be attributed to the lack of education. Due to lack of education, people are unable to make decisions and blindly follow the promulgations of these warped ideological miscreants who take advantage of the citizens’ weaknesses.  The Taliban are acutely aware of the value of an education and this is why they have made a concerted effort to destroy the schools we repair and build.  Bottom line, they would have a much harder time controlling educated people who are able to make a decision or question the legitimacy of what is being asked.  Since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, thousands of schools have reopened their doors and hundreds of new ones are being built.  The children are thirsty for an education and want to learn.  Unfortunately, there still exists a whole generation who were not given this opportunity and are easily swayed or manipulated.

As an Embedded Training Team (ETT) member, I have seen the results of this tragedy.  Even in my limited travels, I have seen enough of the tip of the iceberg to formulate an educated opinion.  I can’t imagine living here and growing up with 30 years of war.  Peace is a foreign concept and whether or not Darwinism applies, I don’t know.  But what I have witnessed it the resilience of the Afghan people to overcome even when the odds are stacked against them.

It is my hope and my prayer, that one day the children of Afghanistan will be able to appreciate peace and prosperity.  In the interim, the war continues.  Operation Mushtarak appears to be a success and now the media is openly reporting about similar plans for Kandahar and other major cities.  My hat is off to General McChrystal and his strategic planners.  The only barometer of success I have is reading the local paper and soliciting opinions from my ANA counterparts.  My own personal litmus test is when I visit the villages and see the reactions of the local citizens.  Until then, my wife Liisa and I are still collecting school supplies to distribute to the poor children who can’t afford these items.  In the near future, I will have a chance to deliver them and perhaps then I will be able to render an updated opinion.

Student volunteers (from left) Brian Garland, Ashley Hawley and Jenna McMahon of University of Tampa's Peace Center with 150 boxes of donated school supplies they helped pack for shipping today in Tampa for the School Supplies for Afghan Children project.

Update:  Not long ago, I read about a village where all the of citizens were displaced by the Taliban.  The government labels them as IDP or “internally displaced person” and provides them shelter.  This was the same village where I met an 8-year-old boy who inspired my decision to collect school supplies. Whether he was one of the several hundred IDP, I will never know.

Tomorrow … I will catch up on the last 2 days, all the pictures and the mission we went on today.  I will also detail some new “Armyisms”, but first, I want to get my facts straight before I write about them.  I promise you, they are doozies!

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5 Responses

  1. SMSGT Temple
    Im so glad to see that every one is doing well there! I really miss you guys alot and there’s hardly a day when I don’t talk about or think of “My Team”. I know the guys at work here are getting sick of hearing all the stories! It really was hard leaving there for me! I’m proud of you guys and proud of my time serving with you there!

  2. Thankyou for an indepth and intellegent point of view and analysis.

    Your analysis about Al-Qaeda and Taliban is likely correct as history will tell us. Yet, killing a member of Al-Qaeda/Taliban won’t make the U.S. “safe” ….as everyone in the rest of the world already knows— The U.S. cannot stay in Afghanistan forever and these guys only have to wait until the U.S. leaves to “take control” again. —like history tells us!!! —not to mention, ideology does not need “borders”. To fight ideology–the U.S. needs a different weapon (one which it already has—ideology). But this ideology won’t succeed if the U.S. sees everyone as “enemies”—simply because one doesn’t bother to pursuade an enemy—you simply “kill an enemy”.

    There are many ways to “pursuade and educate’. schools are one way—radio is another. But another powerful and often overlooked rescource is women—if you educate the woman—you educate the whole family.—if you give them the way to interpret the Quran in the manner “mainstream” Muslims do—-you will have another way to fight the Al-Qaeda/Taliban ideology. (Men may be off fighting—but the women are there–ready to be educated)

    If the “foreign” forces split up the “management” of the country—then each would only need to know the complexity of their own section ?—might make the “exit strategy” faster rather than managing the whole country at once? (In fact—the “federation” (states)concept of the U.S. political system might actually be suited to the diversity of Afghanistan…..?)

    lastly—-U said—“Anyone who raises arms and plots attacks against me or my brothers in arms is the enemy. I don’t have the ability to distinguish the difference, but when they choose to attack our forces, it really doesn’t matter; quite simply they are the enemy and a target of opportunity”
    —I could not help but see the irony of this statement…..I mean, the “foreign” forces are attacking innocent civilians in Afghanistan—ensuring that the very people they are helping have exactly the same feeling you are expressing!.—basically the U.S. has 2 choices—they can either be an unwelcome “guest” or an unwelcome enemy—it is upto their attitudes and strategy.

    Thankyou again for a thought provoking, intelligent post that summarized well the frustrations as well as the hopes and dissapointments of people.

  3. Hi Rex,

    A few thoughts regarding your interesting comments. I have no doubt that the US and coalition forces will be somewhat successful militarily in the short run. However, I have my doubts as to how effective this strategy might be in the long run.

    You stated that the only way to tell who the enemy is is by seeing who is shooting at you. You are right, there doesn’t seem to be anyway we can be proactive in seeking out the Taliban using the element of surprise because we don’t know who or where they are. The Taliban will then escape to fight another day. Think of Vietnam, the British in colonial America, etc.

    I do think that the biggest problem that we will encounter is the lack of a strong central government and a national army and police force. Historically, Afghanistan has been a feudal country made up of tribes and different ethnic groups with no sense of a national identity. Afghans do not have a national political and democratic system such as the US has. President Karzai has borrowed the worst of our political system by stuffing the ballot boxes in the last national election. I don’t see the central government getting stronger, I see it getting more corrupt and thereby losing the respect of the Afghan people.

    Without a strong central government /army and national police and as well as a system of democracy, I do not see how we can become victorious in the long run. I see nothing in the McCrystal plan that will change this. The bottom line is that the Afghanistan people will have to do for themselves.

    Rex, I thank you for your perspective. I also agree with Anon’s comments regarding this matter. Thank you both for such a interesting discussion.

  4. “Afghan people will have to do for themselves”—It is true that the U.S. and other forces can only do so much …and the future of Afghanistan depends on the Afghan people.—I also agree that “strong systems” need to be in place—-but the civilians also need to understand these systems and how they work–and what are the rights and responsibilities of a civilian—without this understanding—there will be a vacuum and corruption will occur.
    There is one point I may differ on,—while a strong “system” is needed—it need not be a “strong central government” system—what is really needed is a system of “checks and balances”—where the various “power players” are controlled. The secret to what makes democracy work, is that the West has been able to evolve a system of checks and balances over a long period of time—-this is not a luxury new democracies have—unfortunately—and you can analyse any of the young democracies in Asia to see, it was a struggle…. with a lot of growing pains.
    India is another democracy that has to manage diversity and can be used as an example….?

    The last time the Taliban came into power was because there was a political vacuum. It would be wise not to make the same mistake again.

    Maybe a lesson that these new wars are teaching us is that for todays modern soldier—it is not enough “to kill” but they also need to “build”.?—simply because it is in the “building” that security really rests…..

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by AllMilitaryNews: (AFG: Last Tour) My Personal Perspective: Judging by the influx of comments lately, my blog entries have cause… http://bit.ly/94lfHb #SOT…

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