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
Filed under: Mentoring ANA, Radio interviews | Tagged: Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghanistan, ANA, ANP, camp puppies, Deployment, education, ETT, IED, Mullah, news, Religious Officer, Taliban, U.S. Air Force, war, WUSF | 10 Comments »