Mujahedeen Revisited

After yesterday’s interview with a former Mujahedeen commander, I was inspired to revisit him.  I was prepared to meet the ANA Brigade surgeon but I couldn’t locate Mir Wais, the interpreter.  I wanted to get his side of the story before confronting the ANA officer.  Since he wasn’t available I opted to visit the garrison Religious Officer.  He

ANA Brigade surgeon during the school supplies drop after some ANA soldiers say the convoy first dropped off some of the donations at the Surgeon's house.

agreed to bring in his revolver that was presented to him by his former commander Massoud.

As Omid and I walked to the RO’s office, I thought about the Brigade Surgeon and the allegations of him stealing the children’s school supplies.  As much as I want to confront him with these allegations, I also want to leave this country in peace and not be distressed during my final days here.  Last night it really bothered me, but my wife and some friends responded with some comforting words and support.  As such, I will leave this chapter unfinished and go forward with my journey because there would be no just resolution.  I will chalk it up to another case of corruption that is sadly destroying this country.

Major Shah and his assistant religious officer were in their office and must have been waiting on me because on the table was some Naan bread, Afghan- made cake, and empty chai glasses.  He asked Omid and I to sit down and they would join us.  Another soldier filled our glasses with some hot green chai.  It’s called green tea due to the leaves, but it has a yellow color in appearance.  In the corner, another ANA officer sat busy reading a book.  Major Shah introduced him and revealed this officer was also a former Mujahedeen commander who served under the Massoud the Lion of Panjshir.  I was rather excited to have two former Mujahedeen commanders in the same room.

Before we started eating, Major Shah presented his pistol to me.  I could tell by the way he gingerly handled it, this gift meant a lot to him.  By him placing it into my hands was a true gesture of friendship and trust.  As for the weapon, it wasn’t really anything special to look at.  It was a Spanish-made LLama, .32 caliber pistol and the pistol handgrip was severely worn.  But it held sentimental significance, because Massoud presented this to Major Shah shortly after his Mujahedeen fighters destroyed 5 Soviet Commando helicopters.  I found it ironic they used Soviet made Zeko 1 mortars to destroy the Soviet aircraft.

Pistol presented to Major by Massoud.

When I inquired about Massoud’s leadership traits, the Major could only praise his former commander.  He said, “Massoud was a devout Muslim who prayed 5 times a day” and he was not only known as a military strategist, but equally known for his kindness and forgiveness.  These personal characteristics also played an important role in his battle successes.  When the Mujahedeen would capture Soviet-Afghan soldiers, they were treated as detainees and given an option.  They could remain a detainee or they could return to the Soviet-Afghan Army and provide intelligence on the Soviet movements.  The Major referred to these former detainees as “friends” inside the Soviet Army.  Much of their plans for ambushing relied heavily on good intelligence reports from these “friends.”

Me with 2 former Mujahedeen commanders.

As I presumed, the turning point in the conflict with the Soviets was when the Mujahedeen acquired the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles.  This weapon system was an equalizer to the Soviet MI-24 gunship helicopters.  The rebels nicknamed this helo “Satan’s Chariot” due to its awesome firepower and bombing capabilities.  NATO refers to it as the Hind.  After the introduction of this heat seeking system and the downing of 270 aircraft, the Soviets were less reluctant to fly them into battle and by 1989, the Soviets completely withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen declared victory.

After the Soviets departed, there was a vacuum of power and the Mujahedeen factions were fighting among each other in attempt to gain power and control of the country.  This allowed the Taliban to rise to power and Pakistan unleashed thousands of brain-washed Wahhabism students from the Saudi Arabian- financed madrassas to fill the void.  When asked, Major Shah said the Taliban are a much tougher opponent than the Soviets.   The Taliban coincidentally is also composed of former Mujahedeen fighters.  They are still employing the same tactics against the coalition forces as they did fighting the Russians.

In order to defeat the Taliban, Major Shah listed several criteria.  First, the endemic corruption must be removed from all sectors of government to include the ANA.  He felt there is still too much nepotism and cronyism based on ethnic tribe origin, i.e.Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun.  The second factor is the people are not satisfied with the current government and they must unify.  Unity is the key and he repeated this theme several times.  Then he shocked me with his next statement.  He alleged Britain was supporting the Taliban.  I found this preposterous and gave him an opportunity to explain.

Maj Shah alleged Britain is playing both sides because they are supporting the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan.  The ISI in turn is supporting the Taliban.  For the next 20 minutes I defended Britain and the Religious Officer never answered my questions directly.  He claimed the security situation is worse in Herat because of the Brits and that they don’t suffer many casualties.  I strongly objected because Britain has the second highest casualty rate behind the United States.  He also mentioned something about revenge against the United States that didn’t make sense to me.  (Note:  After the interview I tried to discuss this in more detail with Omid and I got the impression what he was inferring that Britain wanted the United States to lose the war, the same way the Soviets did.  I recall a snippet from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates memoirs, “From the Shadows”, the United States saw an opportunity “give the Soviets their Vietnam” and they took the bait and invaded Afghanistan.)

I am still perplexed over this whole issue.  There were rumors that Britain used their helicopters and dropped off the Taliban fighters in the Mazir Sharif province.  But I explained to Major Shah, this is an example of how the Taliban spread rumors in the same way they allege American soldiers intentionally burn the Koran.  These rumors are propaganda and only incite violence, demonstrations and infuriate the Afghan citizens.  However, due to the high illiteracy rate, the people believe their religious mullahs and the rumors.

Our conversation continued and the other former Mujahedeen commander decided to join in this spirited conversation.  His father was a Mujahedeen who was killed during the Soviet occupation and this seemed to inspire his fight against the Soviets.  Seeing that our conversation was at a stalemate, he shifted the topic and directed his blame toward Pakistan’s interference.  He detailed how Pakistan arrested the two Taliban leaders who were going to meet with Karzai to discuss possible reconciliation.  He alleged Pakistan arrested them to prevent them from discussing peace propositions with President Karzai.  He said, Karzai asked Pakistan to release them, but they didn’t.

So I decided to dig further to understand the political ramifications of Pakistan’s alleged involvement.  This is when this commander informed me it’s not really political as it is economical.  Pakistan is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in support to fight the Taliban and their country is being used as an avenue to transport fuel, food, equipment, etc. to the coalition forces in Afghanistan.  As such, they make a large profit off this venue.  The commander also said Pakistan did the same thing when the United States was covertly supporting the Mujahedeen.  He said Pakistan would take their share of profit before giving money to the Mujahedeen.  So basically Pakistan doesn’t want this war to end because they don’t want to lose the millions of dollars being provided by the United States.  “Pakistan has no motivation to stop the war or the money would dry up,” he said.  This same theme has come up in other conversations, except instead of Pakistan, it is Afghanistan who doesn’t want this war to end.  The corrupt war lords and government officials enjoy receiving million dollar contracts which they subcontract out for pennies on the dollar and in turn, they become wealthy.  So if the Taliban can be kept at a stalemate, the millions and billions of dollars in aid will continue to flow in, subsequently making government officials extremely rich.

I’m glad I went back for the 2nd interview, but still puzzled about the allegations against Britain. This time I can’t attribute the misinformation due to lack of education, because the people who I conversed with are educated and seem to be very well informed.  To my British friends and brothers in arms, I don’t believe this allegation for a minute.  So please don’t be upset with my entry, because I am only reporting information from an interview.  Surprisingly, this is the 4th or 5th person who has made this same claim.

Corruption – My Last Straw

Me loading a big roll of HA blankets.

It started off as a perfect morning.  I had some extra time for breakfast and enjoyed a fluffy egg omelet, fresh fruit, and washed it down with some mediocre tasting coffee.  Omid and I loaded the truck with large bags of clothing, blankets, and first aid kits.  In addition, I had some boxes of hygiene items and some other gifts to present to my ANA counterparts as parting gifts.

Our first stop was the Kandak Religious Officer (RO) and Mullah’s office.  We ran into the ANA Sergeant Major and I asked him to boil some water for chai because we would visit his office next.  The Mullah was in the RO’s office and I didn’t have to chase him down.  They were both happy to see me and more so when they saw I had some gifts.  Previously the Mullah was having trouble with his cell phone and asked if I could find one for him.  At my previous camp, the ANA Sergeant Major gave me two cell phones to use, even though I rarely used them.  I suspect he felt guilty about gouging me on the contracts I gave him, he would reciprocate a little.  So instead of giving the phone away to another soldier, I gave this phone to the Mullah.  His eyes really lit up when I presented it to him.  The RO also had a request.  He had a problem with his memory stick, so I replaced it with a new one.  He too, was very happy with his gift.

The Mullah and RO were sad to see me go and thanked me for everything I did in supporting the literacy class and for distributing humanitarian assistance in the villages.  I joked, “I’m not ready to be converted to the Muslim faith and that I was going to remain with my book (Bible).”  The Mullah, a man of few words, “Wished me the best with my travels back to the United States and happiness to my family.  They will be sad to see me go.” Before leaving, we took a picture together and I thanked them for teaching me about Afghanistan and the Koran.

Saying goodbye to Kandak Religious Officer and Mullah.

Our next stop was the ANA Sergeant Major’s office.  We walked into his room and the teapot was boiling water and bubbling over the sides on to the table.  He was still using the same bag of tea leaves that I previously gave him as a gift.  Since the SGM is supporting 12 children, I presented him several boxes of hygiene items for his family to use.  I also gave him an opportunity to pick through some of the clothes that were loaded on the back of the pick-up truck.

While sipping our chai, he revealed some information about the ANA school supply distribution.  Some of his soldiers participated on this mission.  According to his soldiers, after the school supplies were loaded on the back of a truck, they made a detour before arriving at the school.  The truck stopped at the ANA Brigade Surgeon’s house and he had the soldiers off load several boxes of school supplies and a portion of the Beanie Babies.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  Here was a man I entrusted and to save face and keep our promises, I divided the school supplies and Beanie Babies for distribution to the village school.  This is the same village where the ANA surgeon was born at.  Now I find out he deprived his own people of goods only to enrich himself.  I was livid and still am!!  Interestingly enough, he is not a real doctor either and apparently knew someone to get his position and title of ANA Brigade Surgeon!  Furthermore, we already suspected him of taking medicines from the pharmacy along with some of the other medics.  Coincidentally, they all own pharmacies in Kabul city.  After this school supply thievery, I would not be surprised he is also stealing medicines from the ANA medical warehouse to resupply his privately owned pharmacy.

ANA Brigade surgeon who allegedly had school supplies dropped off at his house.

Note:  I am still contemplating what to do.  I have no real proof and a soldier will not provide testimony against an officer.  Even if he did, there would be little ramifications due to a weak and inadequate justice system.  Somehow I want him to know that I know what he did. I will have to sleep on this one and determine my course of action.

The ANA SGM still wants to give me a gift too.  He wanted to take me to his house and eat a home-cooked Afghan meal together.  But he knew for security reasons this wouldn’t be possible.  Instead, he is going to bring the food and offered to make me lunch tomorrow.  This will be his parting gift to me.  I am not sure if the man knows how to cook, but tomorrow I will find out.  It’s the thought that counts.

Our next stop was at the ANA Family Support Center.  The garrison Religious Officer and his assistant were waiting on me and the truckload of supplies.  I tried to assist with offloading the truck, but the RO insisted the soldiers do it and for Omid and I to come into his office to chat.  This is the officer who formerly served as a Mujahedeen commander under Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban.  To be cont’d…..

WUSF Radio interview for March 30

This week’s conversation with WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien covered our mission to a girls school to drop off donated school supplies and President Obama’s visit to Afghanistan. The story aired Monday during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and will run again this morning in the Tampa Bay area during “Morning Edition.” Or you can click on a link to the audio and the transcript here.

What Happened To The Brakes?

Left side is new brake rotor and pads. Right side is what was on ANA HMMVW.

After our morning meeting I went to see my ANA PBO.  I am starting to think he is purposely avoiding me.  So I used this opportunity to visit the vehicle maintenance compound.  Some of our US soldiers are conducting additional mechanics courses and for good reason.  First, I am not a trained mechanic, but I am able to discern when something looks broken or worn out.  Look at the first picture with the brake rotors and pads.  Notice how scarred the rotor drum (pictured on the right) is.  The brake pads are missing too.  These items allegedly came off of an ANA HMMVW that killed 3 innocent pedestrians because the driver had no brakes.  Not only did he have no brakes, there was no brake fluid in the reservoir.  The Afghan government will probably make a condolence payment of $2,000 or $3,000 dollars to the deceased family members for the accident.  The driver of the vehicle abandoned it and hasn’t been seen since.  But the real tragedy is the ANA mechanics frequently inspect and repair these vehicles.  How could they not seen how worn out these brakes were, the brake pads are completely gone?  Now here is the real shocker, our soldiers caught the mechanics reinstalling the same rotor and what is left of the pad back on the vehicle!  Although they acknowledged the rotors should be replaced or ground down and new pads installed, they claimed they couldn’t get the parts.

Notice how tire is helping to support weight of up-armored HMMVW.

We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for spare vehicle parts and the ANA is still unable to get them through the supply system or the parts are allegedly being stolen and resold in the bazaar.  But there is more to this tragedy.  We pay even more money to a US contractor who trains these mechanics so the ANA will have the organic capability to repair their own vehicles.  If you have been a regular reader, recall my observations of engine oil being placed in the power steering reservoir or substituted for hydraulic fluid.  Now here is the real kick in the teeth.  The contractor is also responsible for training these mechanics so eventually the contractor’s services won’t be required anymore. In the military, we call this “train the trainer”.  The new person being trained will train others and as a result the contractor is no longer needed.  Admittedly, this is good in theory.  Coincidentally, after an ANA soldier completes the year long class, they are hired by this same contractor who doubles or triples their current salary and pays approximately $700 a month.  Or the trained mechanic will leave the ANA and work for a

ANA mechanics receiving mentoring and training.

local garage for the same amount of money.  I don’t even want to guess how much they are charging the US taxpayer.  Because of this “coincidence”, the ANA has few qualified mechanics.  As a result, the contractor gets a lot of the repair jobs too and orders supplies through their logistic system, which I am sure costs US taxpayers another pretty penny.  Oh, I might also point out this contractor really didn’t work itself out of a job, because the ANA still has a shortage of trained mechanics and their contract was extended for a nice tidy sum.  I suppose from a business perspective in maximizing profits, this is a great business model.  I must have slept through or not attended these college sessions when they taught business courses on ripping off the taxpayers, because surely I would remember this.  Yet I have seen so much of it here, it’s no longer shocking.  Maybe I am completely wrong and it’s all coincidental or isolated.  Take a look at the half shaft that was recently removed from a vehicle.  Yup, coincidence!

Left side is good half shaft and right side is bad one.

The next part of my day was spent with the Religious Officer Assistant (ROA) and the ANA Mullah was present too.  We always have lively discussions or should I say interesting discussions.  I was purposely going to refrain from asking any intimidating questions, so not to scare him off.  The Mullah looked a bit dejected today.  He wants to have a second wife, but he doesn’t have the finances to afford her.  According to him, Muslims are permitted to have 4 wives.  He was quick to point out that he is a devout Muslim and hasn’t siphoned off so much as 5 gallons of diesel fuel to resale in the bazaar, nor has he or the RAO stolen anything from the ANA.  Because of their integrity, they both remain poor and struggle to support their families…Inshallah..(God Willing).  After my observation at the garage, I wasn’t in a mood to discuss corruption.  But something the RAO said caught my attention.  He referred to the 32 provinces of Afghanistan, even though I know there are 34.  But in the ANA and I have seen it published in the local newspapers as 32 provinces.  I haven’t had a chance to research the validity of this, but by their explanation, these other provinces were created out of established provinces.  One of the newest ones is Nurestan, which was derived from Badakhshan and has something to do with President Karzai.  The other province is Daykundi which originated from the Bamyan province.  I was also surprised to learn before the Taliban era, there were even fewer provinces.  They joked if they were a warlord, they would also create their own province, similar to the way infamous warlord Massoud created the Panjshir province which was carved from the Parwan province.

We sipped our tea and discussed a bit more about polygamy in the US along with some other topics. They informed me about 2 ANA officers who served as Mujahedeen under the warlord Massoud.  I am hoping to get an interview with both of them as I continue my historical studies of the Soviet-Taliban era.  I was also invited back to the ANA literacy class for the graduation ceremony.  Perhaps they will give me an opportunity to speak and motivate the ANA troops again.

Note:  The schools in Afghanistan have reopened their doors for business.  Before long, I hope to put some smiles on children faces when they receive some new school supplies that were generously donated by US donors.

This week’s radio interview

Here is this week’s conversation with WUSF Radio’s reporter Bobbie O’Brien, which aired yesterday during “All Things Considered” and will air again today during “Morning Edition“; the conversation focused on more corruption with the ANA and the lack of consequences for it. 3-2 MLT Bad Water Flows

If you want to read the transcript of the entire radio presentation, click on this link

My Last Tour: An Old Dari Proverb

Bad Water Flows From The Spring

ANA soldier with NATO M-249 machine gun.

Today during my mentoring session, the topic of corruption surfaced again.  An ANA officer who I don’t mentor summed it up with an Afghan proverb, “Bad water flows from the spring”.  He was inferring that corruption starts at the very top and then flows down through the various levels.  This officer used to be an inspector or auditor ensuring the ANA soldiers got paid.   Previously the commanders would receive the pay for the soldiers assigned to their units.  Quite frequently soldiers would go AWOL and not return, but the soldier’s name was not removed from the pay roster.  Instead the commanders would allegedly pocket this money.  This officer (who seemed to have integrity) complained to the Minister of Defense.  He found out this was a common practice and his complaint was ignored.  Not wanting to have any part of this corruption, he resigned from this duty and took another position.

ANA soldier with NATO M-16 rifle.

Now the pay system has been replaced with an automated bank card.  It takes several weeks to accomplish the paperwork, but each ANA soldier is given a bank card after filling out a request form.  The other day I looked at the Kabul Bank form.  It was in English.  According to my interpreter translating, the bank does not give out forms in Dari or Pashto.  Considering the high illiteracy rate in this country, this really shocked me.  The soldiers blindly sign their name to the form and affix their thumbprint to validate it.  But after closer inspection, I noticed the currency block was marked to be paid in US dollars.  When I inquired further, they explained the bank then converts the dollars to Afghanis and then they can receive their money.  So now I have grown suspicious since reading a local article about Kabul Bank doing something fishy with their exchange rate.  The difference in the exchange is about 9 cents to the dollar.  So if I am correct in my assumption, the bank is making quite a penny off the ANA and ANP multi-million dollar payroll.   This is also the same bank that the bank manager is signing his name for the million dollar properties in Dubai for the Karzai family, Vice-President, and other powerful people.  I found it interesting on the Kabul bank’s web site; they talked about their bank services.  The first one was entitled “deposit schemes”.  I’m not sure they are aware of the bad translation or perhaps they are advertising their bank strategy of making money.

Team prayer before mission.

The officer then turned to me and asked my opinion about the corruption in relation to ANA.  This was an opportunity I had been waiting on for a long time to reveal some information.   I have been quiet too long and let them know we are aware of the ANA stealing firewood, gasoline, etc and selling it at the bazaar.  I also explained my awareness of how after missions; the ANA trucks pull off at the bazaar area and siphon out the remaining fuel from the mission while our convoys return to camp.  This is no coincidence.  During one of our missions, the ANA truck driver bragged to my interpreter about having 120 liters left in fuel and the extra money he was going to make.  Diesel fuel is about 90 cents a liter here.  So this would put over a hundred dollars or 1/3 of a month’s salary into his pocket.  At my last camp, these same bazaar gas stations were coincidentally owned by the ANA generals or family members.

When asked for additional opinion, I made a point to say if I was in charge, I wouldn’t allow the ANA vehicles to be taken home at night by the officers.  Even in the United States, very few officers are allowed to take their vehicles home.  Here it is a nightly practice and for officers assigned several vehicles, they allegedly let their family members drive them too.  But as usual, the blame is also directed at my government for not having checks and balances with the millions and billions of dollars flowing into this country.  I read a local newspaper article recently discussing the future budget and one government official was demanding from the donors to allow the Afghans to spend the money their way.

He's back!!

My team is out on a mission as I decided to stay behind and catch up on some administrative paperwork.  One of our original teammates has returned to join the team.  He spent the past 5 months training the ANA soldiers at FOB Maiwand.  The AF Captain recently returned from leave and is now the proud father of a little baby girl.  He has a great sense of humor and always keeps us in stitches.

While at ANA land, I took some pictures of ANA soldiers practicing their tactics with NATO weapons.  Most of the soldiers I saw were armed with NATO M-16 rifles, while some members in the platoon were carrying M-249 machine guns.  The soldiers are also being trained and issued .50 caliber and

ANA soldiers transporting large wooden container.

M-240 machine guns to be mounted on their up-armored vehicles.  Note:  these are the same caliber weapons we use.

I also saw something rather funny.  An ANA Ford Ranger was being used to transport a wooden container.  It might be an old guard shack, but I’m unsure.  An ANA soldier was hanging off the truck on each side trying to balance it and keep it from falling out of the truck.

When I returned to camp, Runt Runt and Bonnie were taking puppy naps.  Fat Boy has found a new home with a contractor.  The puppies no longer have to sleep in a cardboard box.  Instead they like to sleep on the steps of the guard shack.  Runt Runt often likes to hide under a piece of plywood that provides her shade.  Bonnie, the one with the bad leg, enjoys sunning herself.  They don’t venture far either and have a voracious appetite for beef jerky.  Apparently the beef jerky has a tendency of falling out of the bag in the vicinity of the hungry puppies and soy milk mysteriously appears in their saucers …. lol.  I don’t know if these mysteries will ever be resolved.

Runt Runt and Bonnie taking a nap.

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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