Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Afghanistan -- as we begin year nine
NATO forces at work

Tim Lynch retired from the U.S. Marines and heads a private security consulting business that works in Afghanistan. He likes Afghans, has learned a bit of the local languages and insists that "in a majority of this country it is completely safe for foreigners, especially Americans." He supports the U.S. war there -- but he also tells it as he sees it, with photos to go with the words like the one above. Here's part of a vivid description of a day in his life from his personal blog:

Earlier in the week I had one of those trips from hell which make being in Afghanistan such a drag. The drive between Jalalabad and Kabul takes less than 2 hours on a good day. Last Sunday the drive took over 12 hours – 9 of them spent sitting in a traffic jam just outside the the Poli Charki pass. The reason I was stuck with thousands and thousands of Afghans is that the French army had closed the road between Kabul and Jalalabad.

They had (again second time in a week about the 50th time this year) rolled one of their armored vehicles and insisting that no traffic pass the accident scene until it had been recovered. The vehicle went over the side of the road into a ravine so the recovery required an industrial size crane which did not even arrive on scene until around five hours after the accident. That is five hours worth of traffic which should have been flowing freely but ISAF [the NATO military command] does not think that way. Whatever impact their actions have on the Afghans seems to be irrelevant to ISAF commanders ....

The problem is that the focus of the French (and every other unit here except the US Marines) is completely internal.

Closing the most important route in Afghanistan for an entire day is too stupid for words. When that happens all the traffic jams up every bit of lane and shoulder on either side of the accident scene. The Afghans trapped in this scrum cannot get food or water or turn around and leave. The woman cannot get out of their vehicles and enjoy a bit of fresh air – they are stuck packed (and I mean packed) into small cars or vans where they must sit and bake in the sun unless a male relative happens to be there and agrees to walk them off to a side ditch somewhere to go to the bathroom.

That observation about the Afghan women caught my attention because it reminded me of what I learned from my partner's account of life in Nicaragua during the 1980s. Because of the terrorist war that U.S.-backed opponents of the government were waging, gas was scarce and transport iffy. Packed buses would lurch along, half their human cargo standing, men, women, children and chickens. Temperatures were sweltering. The bus would pull into some crossroads. All the men would get off and go behind the nearest bush, then perhaps buy a drink in a plastic bag. All the women would stay on the bus, crossing their legs and hoping the trip would resume soon. Central America was a less oppressive place for women than traditional Afghanistan, but there were social constraints ...

The dislocations of war hit women differently --and often more painfully -- than they hit men.

And despite Lynch's support for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, it is impossible to imagine how something so oblivious to the elementary needs of the population is every going to "succeed" -- whatever that means.

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