Monday, March 01, 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan: Your Questions Answered – Day 20

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

March 1, 2010 - Stuck again! We tried to catch a flight out of northern Afghanistan this morning and it was canceled. The Germans who are helping us did everything they could but we couldn’t get out. It’s life here and the real challenge is overcoming issues like this.

The great news is this gives me an opportunity to catch up on some of the great questions we’ve received via the comments. Before I jump into them, I want to thank everyone so much for commenting! Going through and reading them is the highlight of Ken and my day. There are a lot of reasons we wanted to do this and one of the biggest is the direct interaction with all of you.

Merle Hower asked what do the Afghans do for water?

I’ve seen a lot of little streams they get their water from, which is why sanitation is so important. I’ve also heard of the Afghans digging man-made streams all the way from the mountains to their villages. Also, there are tons of wells that have been dug for the Afghans by NGOs and ISAF. Water is a huge concern for these people.

Basinah asked what do the Afghan people think “success” and “Winning this war” will look like and what does that mean for their daily lives?

It’s hard to hold in-depth conversations with Afghans because the translation can be very difficult and you really do need to spend hours upon hours drinking tea with them to really make a connection. I wish Ken and I had opportunities like this, but it seems we’re always on the move. When I’ve asked Afghans these questions, success looks like peace and jobs and winning is kicking the Taliban out of their country.

Jan Stephan asked three questions:

1) About half of the German people do not support the mission in Afghanistan. What are the soldiers thinking about their deployment?

Ken received some good answers to this question in his vlog, but I also conducted my own “undercover” interviews with German troops when I was out and about without my camera. The key to understanding views of military personnel is to know we’re a community of human beings just like any community. Some people support and some people don’t. Some people see great work being accomplished while others don’t. The German perspective ranged from loving the deployment to really wanting to go home, just like any other country’s soldiers.

2) Are the men motivated to do their job? Unfortunately, most Germans don’t care about our troops and their experiences (some even hate them), how do our soldiers deal with this?

Every German I talked to was very motivated to do their job, regardless of the debates back home. They said they dealt with the feelings back home by understanding that some German people may not understand what Afghanistan is really like and what the soldiers are doing.

3) The German parliament is about to decide to send more troops (about 850). Do our soldiers support this decision or are we sending too little?

The soldiers I talked to support the decision, saying they could accomplish more with them out here.

4) What are the Afghan people thinking about the Bundeswehr?

I admit, I first had to ask what a Bundeswehr was before asking the question and found out that’s the name of the German Army. The soldiers said the Afghans here are very friendly and nice to them, but think they’re Americans…

William asked what’s happening in Northern Afghanistan? Is the insurgency there? Will any part of the surge be deployed up there?

Oh yes, the insurgency is here, but it’s different than in the south. In the south, military maps showed the insurgency everywhere with pockets of security. In the north, the military maps show security everywhere with pockets of insurgency. I’ve heard the 10th Mountain Division is deploying in this area but I’m not sure if that’s a normal rotation or whether it’s part of the surge. The Germans have talked about how their arrival is really going to help with the hotspots such as Kunduz.

Kristin Swanton asked whether the situation in the North really improved that much?

I’m not sure Kristin, since this is the first time I’ve been in Afghanistan, I can’t speak from personal knowledge, and I couldn’t find anyone that has deployed to the north multiple times. I’m sorry.

She also asked about improvements in hospitals, schools, etc?

Hospital improvement is right up there with building schools. You hear about these types of projects everywhere you go. It’s happening all across the country. The bad side of all of this is that sometimes once a school is built, the Taliban come in and blow it up. Also, I’ve heard of some corruption around the money being used to build these types of projects, which I briefly covered in my securing governance blog. The one story that comes to mind is one PRT giving money to a village, so the village could build a school. To resolve a dispute, the first village used the money to build the school in the second village. Then the first village came back and asked for more money to “complete” their school and when the PRT went to inspect the progress to determine the funding need, there was no school to be found there.

She also asked whether we had any opportunities to interact with the nomadic communities and whether they will be included in decisions about tourism?

Well, I’m not sure if the nomadic-looking tents were owned by Nomads, and unfortunately we drove right past them and couldn’t stop. Ken and I are unfortunately passengers and can only request brief stops every now and then. The Germans we were with were on a mission, and we couldn’t stop to chat with the local Afghans. About four days before we started 30 Days, Ken read about a nomadic tribe in Afghanistan we’ve been really wishing to talk with. Ken’s book say the Taliban have left them alone over the years. It would be so interesting to get a chance to talk with them. It’s definitely on our to-do list. As for the tourism, we heard of a tourism video about an area east of us aimed at hikers. While we didn’t get a chance to watch the video, I would love to come back here some day and walk through these mountains.

Memetalker asked about the types of media in the villages? What is the usual “above the fold” content? Is it free or government driven?

I asked the ANP chief we talked to on Day 18 and he said the best they have are these hand crank radios, since most of the villages don’t have electricity. Also, Illiteracy is a huge problem in Afghanistan, so newspapers are scarce and also logistically difficult to distribute to those villages. He said the media is free, but I know that ISAF also has its own newspaper and radio stations around the country. As for the above the fold content, he said it was mostly religious news, but Afghans are like everyone else they like to hear politics, sports, etc.

JurĨek asked about the pass Ken and I visited and whether it was a strategic point and why?

I would say the pass is very strategic, because the huge problem with smuggling here. Whether the warlords are smuggling weapons or opium, it’s a huge problem in Afghanistan right up there with the insurgents.

He also asked whether we can get some of the NGOs perspective about the Afghan story?

I would absolutely love to! Unfortunately, it’s a gamble whether we will see any of them. The NGOs are operating on their own out there, and I have yet to see a military mode of transportation to go find them. If we ever see them, I’m definitely going to corner one of them and ask them a bunch of questions!

Have you seen any displaced or Afghan refugees? Have you talked with them?

Yes, we’ve seen them, but no, we haven’t had an opportunity to talk with them. As mentioned before, we’re restricted to military movements and we haven’t seen any military movement to refugee camps yet. Ken and I have talked extensively about how much we could go talk with all of these various people, but we’re going to have to wait until we aren’t in the military to be able to do it.

Well, I know I haven’t been able to answer everyone’s questions, but this is a start. It helps us if you post your questions via the forums so we can track them a lot easier. Since we’re usually on very slow internet, it’s really hard for us to search through pages of comments. Thanks again everyone! Wish us luck getting to the next location and please keep the questions pouring in.

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