People, not politics
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Sunday, 14 February 2010 17:08

Kandahar | Day 7 – When I face a challenge, I have no choice but to stand up, face it, acknowledge it and talk about it.

There’s no denying the fact there is a lot of politics surrounding Afghanistan. At the ground level, we are not a political entity; we are simply military service members from a bunch of different countries. With that said, it would be extremely easy to take our views and opinions and then attribute them, inappropriately, to the political will of an entire country.

I hope, over the course of these 30 Days, people across the world will understand that I and the people I’m talking to, have no desire to influence political opinions. I simply want to share the lives and perspective of the everyday service member.

I believe their views and opinions matter and

we can learn a great deal from them. Then, as normal everyday people, utilize their knowledge and experiences to make our own judgments. 30 Days is about learning and understanding, not politics.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I talked with troops today from Holland. While they haven’t had an opportunity to interact with Afghans, they have had a lot of Afghan cultural training before arriving here.

From what they told me, there have been a few terrorist cells found in Holland, but they haven’t faced a massive terrorist attack.

So one of my questions was why they felt it important to be over here fighting extremism and insurgents. They told me it was the right thing to do, and that a free and stable Afghanistan would be good for the world as a whole. But, they were also worried about when the Taliban are kicked out of Afghanistan, whether they will go some other place and there would be no end to the extremism.

I kept going and asked whether he would be willing to come back here time and time again if this lasted for 30-years and he told me that as long as we were seeing progress and this country was getting better, he would. He then talked about the Afghan National Army and the progress they have made and if that keeps going, the country would be able to take care of itself as long as the international community stood behind and supported them.

I’ve had this conversation before, and the basic consensu s at the ground level here, is this is going to take a lot longer than people think. Will it be to the same troop levels as we have now? Will it be as resource intensive as it has been? Those are questions no one at this level has any idea about. But I’ve met a lot of troops from many countries that believe it’s worth the cost. But then you talk with others who have been over here for year after year, have been through divorces, missed their firstborn’s birth, and understandably, they’re tired and a little disgruntled, especially when you consider they may not have a chance to be thanked by an Afghan personally like Ken and I have. The best thing about everyone I’ve talked to though, is they all keep their heads up, they press on with business and they get the mission done.

As I’ve traveled the country for the past four months, talked with the Afghans, learned a little bit about counter insurgency and then talked with the service members, I’m starting to see how incredibly personal this whole thing is.

For example, the troops from Holland felt bad for some of the insurgents. They felt that way because they knew a lot of the insurgents are simple farmers, fathers and brothers. Since many areas here lack solid employment opportunities, they need to do something to feed their families. The Taliban come through, offer them a lot of money to bury something next to the road, and they do it not because they hate the thought of peace, freedom and security, but because they need to buy some food for their families.

That’s why it irritates me so much to hear people talking about the “war in Afghanistan” and comparing it to Iraq and Vietnam. This is not Vietnam, this is not Iraq… this is Afghanistan’s counter insurgency. Just yesterday I read a report saying that people were comparing the operation in Marja to Falluja, Iraq. Nowhere did it say who was comparing the two or even the depth of the comparison. After being out here and talking with troops from different countries, who have seen combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is simply no comparison. I believe it’s ruining our abilities as normal people to understand what’s really happening here.

I’m no expert on the operation in Marja, but we’re hoping to get a little closer and talk with some people. I hope Ken and I will have the opportunity to learn more about it because I bet it’s similar in practice as other operations we’ve covered already. I hope to verify my understanding about why they broadcasted the mission early on – because they want the bad guys to throw down their arms and reintegrate into the communities, because we do not want to kill people … because killing people is bad and it makes more insurgents.

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Comments (7)add comment

kay said:

Just wanted to say thanks to all the troops for doing what you do over there... Thank you Sgt. Raimondi for posting the VBlog.. It's the only way for me to stay connected with what's going out there and makes me feel closer to my boyfriend who is there right now, even when we're not. We haven't been able to communicate much because, I was told that he is being sent to a hot zone (not sure what that means), but for sure it doesn't sound too good.. I miss him so much and I can't wait for him to come home end of June..!!! Keeping all of you in my thoughts and prayers everynight.. Thank you again for doing such an awesome job..!!!!!! God Bless all the men and women fighting this war..!!
February 16, 2010
Votes: +0

betsy said:

I love that you guys are doing this 30 days through Afgan. My son is in the Navy and will be leaving in August. As a mother (as I am sure your moms are) I am terrified! I am loving getting a little taste of it through you. Thanks for all you do for our country and be proud of this video!
Thank you
February 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Clydene Blocker said:

Is there anyway you two can turn this into a documentary when you are through the 30 days?
February 15, 2010
Votes: +0

Ken Snyder said:

People,Not Politica
Hi Nate. I hope you and Ken are well, and I hope you understand how excited many of us are about this mission.I think I'm going to start a notebook for my notes because each time I read the blog and watch Ken's videos, or read the questions and answers, I discover some thought provoking idea that I want to pursue further.Here in Ohio, we are in the midst of our third major snowstorm in three weeks, and as cabin fever begins to set in, believe me when I say I need some good intellectual stimulation.

One thing I appreciate so much about your work so far is the absence of partisan politics. I've tried to join other forums to learn about and discuss Afghanistan, but in most cases, the participants have very transparent partisan political agendas, and they use the discussions to further their cause and to belittle anyone who disagrees with them.I want to learn from the boots on the ground, and since I'm a big boy now, I can handle whatever they have to say....even if it does not square with my pre-conceived notions.Imagine! After 30 days with you guys, some of my prior conclusions are challenged and I have to do some real soul-searching.Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

I hope you and Ken will be able to return to the theme that Afghanistan is different from Iraq, and that COIN is different from Vietnamization. I've heard a number of folks make that latter comparison.

If we are in Afghanistan for a number of years to come, I hope that means we will have an opportunity to use the tribal approach to defeating the Taliban. The Afghans need jobs,jobs that pay a reasonable wage,jobs that don't destroy their traditional culture, and jobs that are compatible with their religion. For a great insight into the need for "good"jobs, may I suggest anyone reading this make an effort to read E.F. Schumacher's little book,"Small Is Beautiful." After all of these years, the little book still moves me.
February 15, 2010
Votes: +0

Parker Gyokeres said:

Thanks guys
This is an Amazing Project and it feels like a groundbreaking effort for the entire career field. I'm fascinated by the balance of candid discourse and honest portrayal of the real issues at stake in-theater. This project needs to be a benchmark for DoD PA news teams worldwide. It's the human face we often miss in AF news that is what makes this project so engaging and interactive. Keep up the good work in telling those real stories. The world is watching!!
February 15, 2010
Votes: +1

Maria said:

Some questions
Hi guys,
I'm reading your blog every are a doing an amazing job, and I really thank you for giving me the opportunity to understand and know more about this country! I'm not military, so I've never been in Afghanistan and probably I'll never be there!!!!

I have some questions...things that I don't understand from what I read on newspapers:
- do the people outside Kabul care of the government?
- in the rural areas do the people know the name of their regional governor?
- do they know what structures a State has (central government, regions, provinces, etc.)?
- do they trust the afghan security forces, or, I don't know, they are a little scared when they see them?
- the feel safe or they are worried when they meet security forces (afghan or Isaf ones)?

I would like to understand if the reconstruction that we are trying to carry on is changing also their tribe-oriented way of living....that of course is not wrong, but, according to me, a little incompatible with some of the goala international community is trying to reach...

Thank you so much...and have a nice day!!!

February 15, 2010
Votes: +1

Carmen Read said:

Afghanistan is certainly NOT Iraq
If you look at technology and literacy alone, you can see that the two countries are completely different, yet there are plenty who seem to assume that any two countries in the same part of the world are the same. It is not an issue of fault, just education. What I tell people who I run into with the same misconception is: Do you consider Texas and Massachusetts to be the same? I mean they are in the same country so why not? Our operations in Afghanistan have at times reflected this lack of education, but in my experience it seems that more people are coming around. And that gives me hope.

To anyone who thinks it can't be done, I would challenge them to look at US efforts in Central America. Among extreme violence associated with the drug trade, US forces have been there for over two decades now forging a partnership with host nations. All of the top priorities deal with humanitarian efforts and nation building. I believe we can accomplish the same in Afghanistan but yes, it will be several decades. At least.
February 15, 2010
Votes: +1

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