Saturday, November 20, 2004

Quiet time for reflection

Ah, rested now, but it is after 2 in the morning. Times zones are a bitch.

A blisteringly fast (relatively speaking of course) trip into the 'Stan this time. Much has improved but there are endless details that will need attending to before we can RIP. And in a few months time everything can change. A few thoughts, thrown together in no particular order:

* Security and stability are the key issues there right now- very few incidents at all after the election and it seems like the enemy is licking his wounds and waiting for the parlamentary elections. Construction is everywhere in downtown Kandahar, Bagram and all bases. Cell phones advertised. DVDs hawked. A Textile plant going up. Real progress. A real sense of permanence. We are here to stay until Afghanistan gets back up on it's feet.

* Most people are happy that the coalition forces are there. Went on a patrol with some MPs in downtown Kandahar and kids ran to see us....the thumbs up evident everywhere. We are not seen as the oppressor. The roads are now paved, unlike when I was last here, and people notice. A few kids throwing rocks, but not bad overall. Just remember, Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, eat your heart out. And 6 hours in an uparmor HMMWV sucks, even with air conditioning. I like to feel the wind in my face, armor or no. I went 300km in an unarmored HMMWV on convoys twice last tour. No freedom in an uparmor. You can't taste the enviornment, you're not connected to it. Armor is more prevalent now than last tour, but it is mostly not needed. It is nice to have though.

*A better effort at integrating the civil reconstruction and combat operations is going on. More work needs to be done so we are truly "gung-ho" or striving towards harmony. But it is getting better, and money is available. As a military we are reaching out towards any populace available as long as we can provide the correct forces and proper security. A lot of land and too few of those forces. The 'Stan is the a black hole for military forces. I could dump the entire US Army in there and we would still find more to do. Rest assured we are doing the best with what we have and it will be enough.

*ANA. Afghan National Army. The surprise hit of the season. The locals love them and with some good trainers they are heading down the right path. Last time I was here we had a couple companies and none down south. Now they have several battalions worth down south and growing every day. A drive through Kandahar on the 16 Nov showed no weapons in the hands of anyone other than ANA or police. Definately progress. The warlords, as long as they are rolled into the money and power scheme provide some tense moments but nothing terrible. When shown superior (or even not so superior) force they back down. Counter-drug will be the next big effort.

* Drug eradication. Karzai has said drugs ar illegal and they will wipe them out. This will cause most of the big unrest in the next couple of years. The ANA will have to do it, and this is an issue because it is a cash crop. Drug lords will not be happy. We must find some crop or industry to take the place of opium or this could be a black hole. The Afghan people want to survive and they want an economy- they just can't base it on drugs. Subsidize the opium crop for a few years and then replace it with something else we subsidize I suppose. We shall see. The Taliban/AQ could take advantage of this and the upcoming national assembly elections. They are mostly punks, but this could give them some leverage.

All told a very useful trip but I devolve now into endless numbers of niggling little details preparing our paratroopers to train for their individual and section missions. No high speed romance or glamor for me this tour (or last tour come to think of it). I must plan to establish a headquarters and get systems in place to fiX howitzers and HMMWVs, and feed mail, and howitzer ammunition to our boys. As our president says, it will be hard work and often unappreciated. But no US Artillery unit has ever run out of ammunition, and none will while I am responsible for it. We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there. Busy now. The frustrations I feel are normal to make sure we get this right. Because we have to. It is too important to fail.

Rest assured we are succeeding. Afghanistan is improving. But they cannot be left on their own right now. Thw work we do is important and our Soldiers and Marines are important in doing that mission. Please take the time to remember them. You can even give a few thanks to the USAF Movement Control Teams whose Chinese Fire Drill attempts at move people by strategic and intra-theater air are probably well intentioned if a bit misguided.

I leave you with a little John Stuart Mill (1806-1873):
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made so and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

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