By Tech Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs
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 servicemembers 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 servicemember.
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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 consensus 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 servicemembers, 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.
30 Days Through Afghanistan
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