Monday, September 21, 2009

It Snows...

That's something I know about Afghanistan. And they have kite flying contests. I confess, most of what I actually think I know about real people living in Afghanistan I learned in Khaled Hosseini's book released in 2003 - The Kite Runner. Since most of the book actually takes place in California, I guess I'm about as far from an expert on the subject of Afghanistan's people and culture as a thinking person could be. I've tried to catch up today. In the spirit of peace. Because it is the International Day of Peace. Here's some of what I've learned: 33-million people live in Afghanistan - in a landlocked country of 250,000 square miles, which is divided into 34 provinces. The people are, for the most part, of Iranian descent. 24% of them are urban dwellers. 28% of them can read and write. 66% of them live on less than $2 a day. 99% of them are Muslim. Men spend, on average, 11 years in school. Women spend, on average, 4 years in school. The place is beautiful. And, the people are beautiful. Over the past century, these people have been governed by nearly every system of government imaginable, including: a monarchy, a republic, a theocracy, and a communist state. A democracy, apparently rife with corruption, is now the official system of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The United States military helped that one come into being when it overthrew the Taliban run system in 2001. This democracy is what the insurgents in Afghanistan are currently fighting. They are understandably unhappy with things because the government has yet to deliver on promises to protect, defend, or provide basic human services to the people of Afghanistan. Our military is still there, trying to help the government (GIRoA) resist the insurgent groups. There are, officially, three distinct and independent insurgent operations on the ground waging a mostly silent war of fear, intimidation, and persuasion among the Afghan people. This makes a Taliban shadow government possible. And this is why US involvement in Afghanistan continues to be of interest... Today, The Washington Post released an unclassified, partially redacted, 66-page pdf copy of General Stanley McChrystal's assessment of our war in Afghanistan. I have read the document this afternoon. I encourage you, in the interest of peace, to do the same. Here are a few of General McChrystal's observations:
Better force protection may be counterintuitive; it might come from less armor and less distance from the population. A foreign army cannot beat an insurgency. The insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. Conventional wisdom is not sacred. Security may not come from the barrel of a gun. International forces must redouble efforts to understand the social and political dynamics of all areas and regions of the country and take action that meets the needs of the people. We must change our operational culture - focus on protecting Afghan people - understand their environment, build relationships with them.
US troops have been in Afghanistan for almost 8 years. 837 Americans have died in the war. An estimated 3,000-12,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. We have not learned the people's language. We have not learned their customs. We have not penetrated their tribal mindset. We have not adequately fed their hungry. We have not given them shelter from their enemies. Instead, it seems, we have protected our own forces. In the process of doing that, we've killed some fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers of Afghanistan.
We must put the Afghan people first. The insurgency can lose fighters and leaders...but, it cannot lose control of the population. - General McChrystal
I hear it began snowing today in Colorado. I wonder when the hard winter begins in Afghanistan? May we be people who seek peace and pursue it.

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