Leopards in Afghanistan
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 20:38

Camp Hasum Ghar| DAY 10 – We finally made it out of Kandahar yesterday and took a 20-minute Canadian Chinook flight here to Camp Hasum Ghar. This camp is nestled into the side of a mountain in the middle of the desert. I can tell security here is a lot different than in Kabul. This is a black out camp, meaning no lights are used at night. You can only use red lights to walk around because it’s too risky to use white light. Ken and I are starting to get closer to the bad guys, and you can really feel the difference. Good bye civilian clothes, it’s now time to armor up.

The reality here is, while it may be scary outside of the perimeter, I feel safe inside, especially when I look all around and see the weapons pointing away from me. Plus, there are more Leopard II A6M tanks around here then cars in a mall parking lot. Canadian tanks, like Afghan food, make

my body feel good.

The Canadians seem pretty comfortable here. They live in wooden buildings, surrounded by t-walls. They live two to a room and even get internet. One of the female tank crew members Ken interviewed in his vlog, showed me around. They get to have pets and she introduced me to Sketchy, their pet mongoose. I never knew mongoose lived in Afghanistan, so seeing one was suprising. They had a nice cage for it and fed it red licorice and other food. Her name was Sketchy because she is really shy.

We had a chance to sit around and talk with the soldiers and they all seemed in good spirits. They told me about their quick response missions they do out of there. If something happens, they go help. Imagine if you got into trouble back home, a police car would show up, but in this area a force of Leopard II tanks would come. We’ve entered a different world.

Seeing all of these tanks, I couldn’t help but feel this was a conventional war, where tanks upon tanks battle it out against other tanks. But this is a counter insurgency and it’s different. It’s a mindset, it’s about building relationships and trust with the Afghan people, and so together we can flush the bad guys out and eventually bring peace and stability to the country. How can you build relationships while sitting behind inches of armor and driving tanks through a farmer’s field?

I asked, and obviously, tanks fall into the security branch of counter insurgency and you can use them as on-the-ground show of force. Aircraft do the same thing in the air. If an aircraft buzzes the bad guys at 200 feet they tend to run away – same goes with tanks. Wh en you see one of these guys pushing through a village, the bad guys know what’s best for them, run.

They also said you have to be really careful with tanks, because you might create an insurgent when you drive it through a farmer’s field. That may sound weird at first, but what I’m learning is there are different levels of bad guys, active Taliban supporters, Taliban supporters, neutrals, government supporters and active government supporters. Bad guys can go from just supporting to actively supporting back to supporting in a week. All it takes is one tank to drive across a field and you make the farmer mad, they come and shoot at you a little bit and hold that grudge until the relationships are repaired. That’s why the Canadians are careful in their employment of armor.

Camp Hasum Ghar has more than tanks. The Canadians have artillery, engineers, infantry and others to support the mission. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be able to talk to more of them and find out what this area is like and how counter insurgency works here. We’ll be continuing our journey tomorrow to a place without internet, so Ken and I will not be able to update the Web site. I’ll continue to write while I’m out there and update the site as soon as we return. Wish us luck! We hope to have some great experiences to share with you.

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Nathan Gallahan said:

Forums
You should open up some topics on the forums Dad, so some of your thoughts can be discussed versus simply stated.
 
February 20, 2010
Votes: +0

Jim Gallahan said:

...
I know there are no easy answers. In theory there are answers but implementing them would be next to impossible.
More thoughts and I would love to hear what anybody else thinks.
In theory, the Afghany's tribal society seems pretty cool and, I'm no expert here, but it met the needs of the people and evolved as a great way of life. A central government would have been tough to implement considering the distances involved and the general wealth of the nation. So,small groups of people took care of themselves and these people were tough, proud people as well they should be, surviving in tough circumstances. The problem with this type of society is that it's easy to infiltrate and wreck from the inside seeing as how it's splintered by definition. The Taliban have had no problem exerting their will over the people. Indeed, many of the people may even like them.
Power is with the people but there has to be leaders who listen to the people, who do the will of the people. And, of course, the people have to be united with a common cause. I'm shooting from the hip, now, so I hope someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but what are some examples of tribal societies that prospered on a global scale? I can't think of any. As far as I can recall from my limited education, tribal societies last as long as some more powerful force let them.
Now this is all fine and well if I'm even remotely right but the real kicker is the fact that it has been stated that the Afghany people like their life the way it is. They are proud, have never been conquered and want only to live their lives. Of course their life is tough and will remain so with this frame of mind. They have nothing and will gain nothing because they have no national will to build the necessary infrastructures to pull the country together and begin to work as a country instead of a bunch of tribes. If this is their will, so be it. I can't make them want a better life for their children. And who is it to say that my vision of a better life suits them in the first place? Their vision of a better life may very well be the life they lead now without the Taliban screwing with them and without us running through their fields with tanks. Good luck with that one, guys. For that to happen you're going to have to throw out the Taliban yourselves, if you don't want outside forces in your country, and your track record on that issue sucks. Before we got there, as far as I know, the Taliban forbade your women getting an education and many other things that I wouldn't put up with. Without a strong national government standing up for the Afghan will and purpose you will continue to be over run. What are your national goals? Where do you stand in the world? What is YOUR vision? What IS the Afghan will?
How in the world can we help these people? I don't have a clue as long as their mindset is to remain as they are and wish things get better. As long as their mindset is all about getting revenge for some seemingly minor slight instead of uniting into a national force with a strong vision of purpose we will have to spend years and years propping them up and as soon as we leave they will regress back into their tribalism ways and fall again to the next extremist force that wants to exploit them.
We need to build schools and lots of them, fast, and fill them up with Afghany women. Educating the women is key. The men are in a revenge frame of mind and will stay there until the women wise them up. We should be bringing the smartest, most promising women out of Afghanistan and educate them in the best schools of the world. When they return they will build a new Afghanistan, one that has a chance.
I believe that is the first, most crucial step....educate the women. The men have made nothing but a mess of Afghanistan and they have no clue how to fix it.
 
February 20, 2010
Votes: +1

Nathan Gallahan said:

It's really hard
Your right Kristin, no one village is the same and no models can really be applied from what I've seen. I've seen lists upon lists of villages, needs and priorities. It's very very difficult to learn an entire country of 33.5 million with as many toops as we have hear. Then, we all rotate out so the minute you do get to know someone, your gone and a new person comes in and has to relearn all of it and build those friendships and trust again, just to leave again. So many challenges, but I really do think it's possible.

PLUS! I took some time to write responses to everyone's questions and I broke them all down by author in the forums. Sorry Dad, I didn't get to yours because I think I answered quite a few of them in other posts. Have a good night everyone!
~Nate
 
February 20, 2010
Votes: +1

Kristin Swanton said:

...
Jim,

All good questions and unfortunately with no simple answers. I think part of the problem of us finding common ground with the Afghan people is that each village, religious sect, and probably each individual, have their own opinion, needs, wants, motivations, etc. I'm sure there are overarching patterns, but I think one of the hardest parts is that these villages cannot be treated as though there are uniform beliefs. It takes time and patience to find their needs and meet them halfway, and sometimes with the Taliban, time is of the essence. I can't imagine what it is like sweeping from village to village, trying to do right by these people, and still bring the men and women next to you home. I'm sure as a civilian, I am asking a lot of the military, but I really believe it can be hone. Any thoughts Nathan?
 
February 19, 2010
Votes: +0

Nathan Gallahan said:

Great Posts!
Ok, I'm back to internet land. I must say, I'm a little overwhelemed with the amount of great thought and questions posed here. I'm not exactly sure how to approach all of the questions! I may take a day and just write up a massive Q&A blog smilies/smiley.gif

One teaser though, tank quick response forces are really fast. You'll learn all about that in the Day 12 blog for release tomorrow.
 
February 19, 2010
Votes: +1
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Jim Gallahan said:

...
Hmmm, I don't see how to edit my post, I meant "midst" instead of "mist":-).
 
February 19, 2010
Votes: +0

Jim Gallahan said:

...
This is a point I've struggled with for awhile.
If I was overcome by some force and needed help from an outside group and this group ran over my field with a tank helping me out, I would feel pretty bad about chewing the groups' butt about trying to help me, but maybe that's just me. If some of my cousins were accidentally killed by the group by, say, an airstrike gone awry, would I blame the group and swear revenge or would I realize that this is war and good people are going to get killed? Would I worry about people of the group who are getting killed helping me and would I think of their families? Or would I just swear revenge and switch sides for a day or two until I felt better?

Please don't get me wrong here. Of course we must respect these people and work with them to help them drive these extremist groups from their mist, by if you want my respect you will have to earn it and you will not earn it by switching sides on me because while I was risking my life and limb for you, I accidentally drove through your field.

Here's the way I see it. All these people have is their pride. They just want to be left alone living their traditional tribal way of life. But forces way bigger than they have ever had to confront are pushing on them from all sides and have been for years and years. And it's only getting worse. It is in no way their fault, that's the sad part. They have very little, nothing really worth fighting for except for endless miles of desolate country perfect for training extremist groups who are extremist because they have nothing worth fighting for so, for them, fighting is all they have. So they need a desolate place to train and Afghanistan is a perfect place, not much population except for a few tribes. They start training and pull off a biggy. Then, they have a brainstorm. We'll strap bombs to women and other disadvantaged folk who will believe anything we tell them and send them into marketplaces and blow the crap out of them! Well, it worked just as the extremist groups knew it would. It drew us into this mess, and the tribes are now stuck square in the middle. The tribes don't want help, they just want to be left alone and until and unless they can get some education to comprehend what is happening they will react to events in ways that make no sense to us. They hate the Taliban.....here's a question. Do they hate the Taliban? Do they realize that deep down the Taliban don't respect them and are only using them? Do the tribal people really really understand this? Or, are the tribal people devious enough or savvy enough to play the Taliban and the Nato forces against each other? You know, the Taliban will pay a certain amount for me to grow some opium and then I can make some money off the Nato forces to stop growing it.
Stuff like that. I'll play the devil's advocate here and ask that question. I hope the tribal folk are not like that, I don't know. I've lived awhile and I've been a few places and I know this. People are people and people with their backs against the wall..............
Ken and Nathan:
Do the tribal leaders truly understand what this is all about or do they see us as some conquering force that wants to play with guns in far off lands? Why do they think we are there in the first place? Has anybody ever asked them? Please ask them: If you understand that we are here to stop extremist groups from training to kill innocent people who mean them no harm while they go about their daily business and who are using you to gain this end, why do you swear revenge against us if we drive a tank through your field attempting to help you? Please tell them "We mourn the loss of your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles and friends that may die while we try to carry out these duties, especially if it's by our hand, just as we mourn the loss of our slain who are giving their lives to help you! Our families are split, fathers from children, mothers from children so they may give great amounts of time to your cause."
I suffer, Ken's family suffers, all the families of all the troops suffer when their loved ones are so far away living in harm's way.
I'm sorry for this long winded post. I understand, explicitly, this whole respect thing. If respect is so important to the tribal Afghany people then they surely know respect is earned. As soon as we're all on the same page on this very important issue we can sit down as human beings and talk these things out instead of swearing revenge against the people who are there to help us.
 
February 19, 2010
Votes: +2

Kristin Swanton said:

...
Sarah,

I hope I may be able to clarify some of your concerns. As for a tank driving through the field, it can sometimes be one of many actions that the coalition troops have done that inadvertantly cause destruction to Afghan livelihoods. It is becoming more common that we are giving war reparations per square acre burned, per goat killed, etc. Yet for some individuals, they are extremely bitter about American/Western presence in their country and do see this as secondwave colonialism. I agree and disagree with this statement, but the actions of our troops can influence their feelings. The Taliban does restrict many freedoms which we take for granted, but sometimes they provide employment opportunities, as well as a sense of unity and identity, a cause in which one can fight for. I believe that with more training for soldiers/marines to understand the needs of various Afghan communities, a stronger, healthier relationship will develop.
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0

Sarah said:

...
That statement seems so harsh now. I understand that a farmer's field is how he would support his family and is obviously important, but that creates an insurgent? Is there no forgiveness? No understanding that this act isn't malicious (correct me if it is, please), but what the Taliban does by denying freedom, choices, options, personal safety--that is malicious and shouldn't be tolerated?
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0
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