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.