War on Terrorism

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan: Weight on their shoulders – Day 22

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs

March 3, 2010 - We’re still in Kabul, fighting to escape, calling all sources and pulling all strings to try and get out to the next regional command. Today we watched a bunch of helicopters come and go and we waved bye-bye as they left. The mission continues though! We’ll be out there again! We never give up.

If you missed yesterday’s blog, we talked with the black hat man in the air terminal in northern Afghanistan. He is a U.S. State Department employee who couldn’t talk with us because it takes forever to gain the approvals to do so. So there Ken and I was, chatting it up with a man who has been in this country and doing all the things Ken and I dream about every night.

We asked him how he travels around and I jokingly asked if he moved within massive convoys armed to the teeth with enough fire power to flatten large cities. He looked at me as if I was crazy and told me he just jumps in his car with one of his coworkers and drives. He works in the middle of a city talking with and mentoring various Afghan government offices, including the Afghan National Police. He makes his morning commute at least five days a week, the other two days he’s stuck checking e-mail.

He wears local cloths and he has a big beard so he fits in. His been in country so long, he considers a lot of the Afghans friends, and you could tell he really enjoys what he does for a living.

We told him about our project and told him about how frustrated we were that we never had enough time to sit and talk with the Afghan people to really get to know them. We told him how jealous we were that he has such an incredible opportunity to learn their culture and learn who they are and what they believe in and how frustrated we were to pass by all of these incredibly interesting stories while trapped behind inches of plated armor and reinforced glass.

He understood and explained that we may never get a chance to truly know the Afghan people, because the relationships take forever to build upon. The best part about the conversation is when he shed some light on what some of the local elders said of coalition forces. He said the elders believe ISAF isn’t committed to them. They told him they believe ISAF would abandon them because the countries weren’t patient enough. The worst part was they told him since they knew this was going to happen, it was their responsibility as elders to try and get as much out of the Afghan government and international forces as they could, before they all left.

How horrible is that? I felt really bad, because it’s believable. Who knows how long this counter insurgency is going to take. You hear so much about the world’s frustrations with Afghanistan taking so long and everyone screaming for a troop withdrawal date how can you blame the village elders for thinking that? I tie this into the school “corruption” example and the examples I wrote about in the “Securing Governance” blog and unfortunately, I can understand why the elders are taking bits off of the top or using school projects to resolve tribal disputes. It’s not a good thing and it needs to be fixed, but I don’t fault them morally or ethically for making the tough decisions.

The black hat man really opened my eyes during the course of our conversation. I can only hope to run into more like himhat men because there are a lot of people out there like him, if you look for them in random air terminals.

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