Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reflections from 36,000ft

Afghanistan – September & October 2008

It would be easy to say that the war in Afghanistan is simply that a war between good and evil or a matter of faith depending on how you worship. How does one define victory, there will be no peace accord signed or will we watch two sides will try and rebuild there nations as in previous wars.

The cold hard reality is that no one cares about Afghanistan and never will. Afghans did not directly blow up the twin towers on 911. So the question they ask all the time is why are there still foreign troops on their soil. The enemy is there but is not seen.

After nearly a month in Afghanistan, I look back and see nothing positive. The role of the American soldier cannot be questioned each and everyone I met was that of caring. But we did meet soldiers with the look of defeat who openly questioned the effectiveness of the current strategy. The look in his eyes was the best mirror to the current situation there. And that reflection is the look of pointlessness.

Hard cold facts are never pleasant and the reality in Afghanistan is that corruption is pandemic. It is in and at every level of society and this cancer feeds on itself and the more money that is poured into Afghanistan every day, lines the pockets of the corrupt, twenty families now effectively control Afghanistan according to a recent British fact finding mission to Afghanistan.

Fact, you want to become a Police Chief, with a profitable narcotics route through your district - going rate is $150,000 and you get the badge, keep paying those above and take without mercy from those below.

Fact, In Southern Afghanistan, being a farmer, from Lashkar Gar and taking your crop and trying to bring your crop to Kandahar, to sell has become pointless. Police and Bandits set up roadblocks on almost all roads and by paying all the bribes there is no money to be made. So why grow crops when if you grow Opium you will have the protection of the local Warlord who in turn controls the Authorities. The farmer can now feed his family and have safety.

Fact, Statistics were quoted ad nausem to us, complete with power point presentations, which at times are more boring than death by paper cuts. Close to 250 International soldiers have been killed this year, the most since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Civilian casualties have tripled to more than 4,500. Highways that Generals point out of helicopters at 1000 ft and speak with pride of rebuilding a nation are void of traffic. No one dares to drive on them. Private companies supplying the ISAF forces in the South are reportedly now being known to be paying nearly $4000 for a tanker of water or fuel to get thru and onto the main base at Camp Bastion, of which a quarter of this amount goes to the Taliban.

Telephone companies operating cell networks in rural areas now turn them off in the evenings, at the request of the Taliban, according to an advisor to the Energy Minister four of the nineteen regional electricity companies are run by the Taliban.

It is not that the Afghan in the street wants the Taliban back, but the cause of the Taliban has been helped by the number of civilian deaths in the last year, killed in US air strikes. Operation Enduring Freedom can hardly claim success from the air. Nangahar, Farah and
Azizbad are not household words in the West but in Afghanistan mention these towns and everyone knows the death count of civilians and shares a sense of outrage.

Fact the Taliban will pay a soldier twice the pay he receives in the Afghan Army, fighting for the other side for $180 a month is often considered better than being shot at for $90 a month.

Fact the safest ring tone to have on your phone in Afghanistan is not a top 40 hit, but the Taliban favorite ringtone “Death to the Invader” a reference to foreign troops. Reality TV, forget Afghan Idol, that ran into trouble despite its popularity, a young woman just won a cash prize, a plastic sofa and a trip to Dubai for winning “Koran Idol” whereby contestants recite verses from the Koran in front of a judging panel of mullahs.

Fact The best business in Kabul is to run a security company and get a lucrative contract with a foreign company or aid agency. Thirty-six international security companies have established themselves in Kabul and eleven more are setting up. Cost for license $300,000, and that is the clean figure.

Add to this Afghanistan is facing a drought that has forced the price of wheat up fourfold, you will not see the hunger in Kabul but behind the mud walls in the countryside, women and children will pay the price.

Afghanistan is not a Military victory waiting to happen, the amounts of money flowing into Afghanistan are obscene. The obscenity is what happens when the money gets in country.

I started this trip expecting the dangers of any assignment in a war zone, we were shot at by RPG’s whilst in a helicopter, ran the gauntlet of driving on high profile roads and slept in some pretty average places. Yet after the month it comes down to two images that remain and best sum up the situation that we face in Afghanistan.

One the look on the face of a Marine who was heading home after a six month deployment in Helmand, we met him back in April on our last trip. They had expected the operation to last four to six days, six months later a dejected marine sat on the bench at Bagram Air Base and his eyes told the story of a unit that had been betrayed.

The second image a close up of a face of an Afghani Army Soldier and the way a shaft of light light up his hand on his weapon. His fear was that of probably his first helicopter ride and not of an enemy unseen.

I praise each and every person from the Military that is over in Afghanistan, for they believe in a cause that is directed by an Administration that was attacked back on that fateful day in 2001. Every soldier should be proud of what they have achieved, the issue is that very little has been achieved for the average Afghan and that is what needs to change.


Anonymous said...

The truth hurts sometimes. Thanks for telling it. You won't be popular for it. People, like you say, don't care about Afghanistan. But then people don't care much about anything except themselves any more. Maybe the whole world is becoming uncivilized and we'll all look like society in Afghanistan if we don't wake up. Our Military are about the only light out there and they get bad mouthed. Take care Mal and tell it like it is reguardless .....Thanks.

21stCenturyMom said...

You are wrong about nobody caring about Afghanistan. Many of us care way more about Afghanistan than Iraq a country that also had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact I suspect Afghanistan is far more complicit with respect to harboring terrorists than was Iraq.

You can't fight an enemy like the Taliban with guns. You have to fight them by educating the people and with economic sanctions that incent the government to get the Taliban out of power. They are thugs and warlords, not national leaders. Mere words cannot describe my disgust with Afghanistan and with the Bush administration for turning us from doing about it to putting all our resources in Iraq. That is such a hot topic in the US it can't even be discussed - it is the smoldering, stinking elephant in the room. Obama tries to bring it up be he has to tread very carefully because of all the misinformation, lies and propaganda about Iraq. It's criminal.

So please don't tell me no one cares about Afghanistan. It isn't that no one cares - it's that the Bush regime has turned a blind eye in favor of keeping Iraq and Iran in the forefront. Just a guess but I'm thinking it has something to do with oil.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if the US would develop their own energy sources, middle east oil wouldn't be a factor at all. But then we've been told another big lie that it's just impossible to be energy independent. Looks like their is propaganda on all sides. Has freedom come down to which propaganda we want to support? Be nice if we had some truth to support and vote for instead of politicians ideological and personal agendas. Thanks for giving us some truth Mal James. The MSM picks and chooses what they cover and what they don't all by themselves. Can't blame Bush for that. We appreciate Fox for the present coverage of both Afghanistan and Iraq. No propaganda on those reports from Iraq right now so ignorance of facts is no excuse. Keep up the good work Mal. We need truth and not lies, no matter what side of the isle they come from. Thanks and take care.

elfman2 said...

"Bush regime has turned a blind eye in favor of keeping Iraq and Iran in the forefront."

No, OBL and company made Iraq the primary battle in the WOT. They expected fools like this guy to win in 2004. And they thought his kind would pull the US out and give radical Islam an oil rich strategically located prize rather than an isolated dump inhabited by cave men.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Elfman2..."They expected fools like this guy to win in 2004. And they thought his kind would pull the US out and give radical Islam an oil rich strategically located prize rather than an isolated dump inhabited by cave men."
I want to make sure I understand you. You are saying that Iraq is much more important for the Terrorist to have and control than Afghanistan. I can see that. And do you mean the terrorists expected the liberals to win in 04 and surrender in Iraq....giving them what they really wanted and that Afghanistan isn't really important to us strategically? If so I agree with you. Why do you think we remain in Afghanistan then? To get OBL? After all it doesn't look like they are capable of democratic governance, do you think? Which brings us back to Mal's discouraging blog. Is he right in his observations? Thanks for the comment btw