Winning over Afghanistan, one village at a time
May 21, 2009
The abrupt firing last week of Gen. David McKierman, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was a significant event. Time Magazine noted that it was the first time a civilian (Defense Secretary Gates) had fired a general since President Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951.
The official line was that McKierman did not have the disposition to fight using the new counter insurgent strategy. He was too steeped in old warfare and not enough disposed to the political and military strategies of fighting the special operations type of combat that the administration felt was needed at this time. He was replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded special forces in Iraq that were credited with finding Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The firing without kind words and its timing made me wonder if there was a connection between the tone of his firing and the death of more than 100 civilians in a raid conducted by our forces. It may have been the last straw in a string of civilian deaths that make it harder for the United States to win the hearts and minds of the local population, though the administration claims the decision was made weeks before. At least wiser use of special ops troops might provide the intelligence to avoid the death of civilians. One thing is certain, whatever tactics the United States was using was not working since the Taliban had continued to gain ground.
There is a needed change in strategy, according to James W.D. Frasche of the Denver area. He has traveled in and out of Afghanistan over the past 37 years. He is currently in Denver and has been speaking to groups lately. Frasche has been chief operating officer of a water bottling company in Kabul and Deputy Director of the charitable organization International Foundation of Hope in Jalalabad, which operates a large tree farm in the Afghanistan.
Frasche has returned to Denver because the security situation has deteriorated so much. Lawlessness and gangs undertaking kidnapping for ransom have increased dramatically in the past year. He has put together a working paper, “Tough Love For Washington and Kabul,” which is reproduced on my Web site.
Since the Soviet occupation began 30 years ago, the traditional political, tribal, and economic structure of Afghanistan has been destroyed. It has been replaced by illegal power brokers, the breakdown of the rule of law, poppy harvesting fueling drug trade, and the lack of respect and credibility of the central government.
One of the many accusations levied by Afghanis themselves, according to Frasche, is that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother is actually heavily involved in the illegal poppy growing drug trade . I heard Fareed Zakaria on a CNN Sunday talk show last month ask Karzai about that and he sidestepped a direct answer. The Time magazine article cites an official on the Joint Chiefs of Staff expecting Gen. McChrystal “to warn President Hamid Karzai to shut down drug running operations.”
The poppy growing problem should be of interest to those engaged in agriculture in Colorado. . About 80 percent of the Afghanistan population is engaged in agriculture. According to Frasche, the climate in much of Afghanistan is similar to Colorado’s, and to grow many of the traditional crops, such as fruit, nuts and wheat, requires irrigation. Irrigation was used in the past, but much of the infrastructure has been destroyed in the past 30 years of conflict. Cattle and sheep are also raised. A lack of roads limits the farmers’ ability to transport crops or livestock to a major market, forcing much of the rural the population to depend on their meager local markets. Many farmers have turned to poppy cultivation to make up the difference.
It is easy to grow in dryland conditions and the drug traders provide the transportation. The central government has responded by burning their crops, not exactly the way to win hearts and minds. Farmers untouched by poppy field destruction are mostly those with connections to the government. There have been attempts to try to improve non-poppy agriculture, but the lack of respect for any government, ours or Kabul’s, has hindered it and the security situation has worsened. Providing security for aid and ag workers should be a priority for our U.S. forces until they can train Afghan forces to take over and a reformed central government gets some respect.
Afghanistan is a country of 40,000 villages. Our assisting them to return to their traditional agriculture and governance structure will not only help win hearts and minds, but it will be a “win” for the people of Afghanistan, one irrigation gate, one farmer, one village at a time.
” To read more commentary by Felicia Muftic, visit her blog at http://www.skyhidailynews.com (featured topic: Pelosi: voodoo doll; GOP squid juice) or visit her Web site, http://www.mufticforum.com for more by Frasche on Afghanistan
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