173rd Airborne Commander’s Cup

ANA recruits conducting push-ups.

I don’t know if the winter is over, but it seems like everyone is taking advantage of the warmer weather.  ANA land seems to be bursting at the seams with new recruits being trained to become ANA soldiers.  Today I took some pictures of them conducting push-ups.  Most of these recruits didn’t know what a push-up was until they enlisted in the Afghan national Army.  It’s a bit humorous to see the various styles of them practicing this exercise.  Notice in the picture how many soldiers aren’t keeping their back straight, while others are doing dips, and some of them just gave up.  It will only be a matter of time before they are able to pump out 50 extensions the proper way.  These recruits start their calisthenics early in the morning and finish with a late evening run.  I hear their war whoops every day.

Joint teams receiving instructions.

The ANA weren’t the only ones who were training.  The ANA camp hosted the Commander’s Cup competition for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) out of FOB Shank.  These companies were having a friendly contest.  Each team consisted of 2 ANA soldiers and 3 US soldiers, which included one female on each

Female soldier provides cover while teammates treat victim.

squad.  The schedule of events would test their physical, mental and training skills.  More importantly, this was a chance to show the joint partnership with the ANA soldiers.  I decided to follow them around with my camera and observe the events.  The only difference, they would wear all of their protective gear and I would not.

Removing victim from field of fire.

After everyone received detailed instructions, the first team lined up by the timekeeper’s table.  My ANA Sergeant Major was there and he was barking at his troops in his loud boisterous voice.  The first event was a simulated fire fight and they would have to run to a designated location and then provide first aid to a wounded teammate.   After diagnosing and

Army soldier prepares victim for transport.

treating the wound, the victim was then strapped to a litter.  The team would have to carry their teammate and litter for two hundred yards where they would get their next set of instructions.  The teams were already breathing hard from the litter carry, but they would have to reserve their energy because now they would climb the steep curvy hill leading up to the former Russian Officer Club.  This is no easy feat without heavy gear.

My interpreter Omid and I went up the hill ahead of the teams so we could take pictures.  My cross-training on the treadmill is paying off and I kept a fast steady pace.  Omid being 23 years younger would jog ahead of me and

Joint team effort with carrying victim on litter.

then rest.  “Walking was too hard,” he said. Notice the steepness of the incline in the picture.  One of the ANA soldiers told Omid, “The Americans are too slow and we should run up the hill.”  But if you notice, he is not wearing any of the 40 lb protective gear.

Team climbing hill to Russian O-club.

At the top of the hill, the teams were given a black plastic box of disassembled weapons parts.  Included in the disassemblies were an AK-47 rifle, M-4 rifle, M-240 and M-249 machine gun, and an M-9 pistol.  The ANA were lightning fast at assembling their

Box of disassembled weapons.

Soviet-made AK-47 rifles while some of the soldiers struggled to assemble their weapons.  Some of the visiting Army personnel were chiding the Air Force, so I made a point to defend my service.  I explained that as an ETT member, we go outside the wire a lot and when people inquire where the Army personnel are, I enlighten them that the Army stays at

Weapons being assembled by team.

the FOB and changes the oil on our vehicles, guards the compound, runs the garrison and creates a ton of unnecessary paperwork.  I also saw an opportunity to rub in the fact that most Air Force personnel are not accustomed to Army weapons, gear, training, etc., yet an Air Force team still holds the record for the fastest time and greatest number of

New ANA recruits out for a run.

points achieved at Fort Riley for MITT and ETT teams.  This boasting quieted their jesting in a hurry.

While at the top of the Russian O-club hill, a company of ANA recruits was running up the hill.  Not all of them ran the entire distance.  The further they climbed the hill, the more spread out they become.  One of the ANA recruits was in a festive mood, because after reaching the top and where the ground levels out, he started skipping the next 1/8th of a mile.  To be cont’d ……

What Happened To The Brakes?

Left side is new brake rotor and pads. Right side is what was on ANA HMMVW.

After our morning meeting I went to see my ANA PBO.  I am starting to think he is purposely avoiding me.  So I used this opportunity to visit the vehicle maintenance compound.  Some of our US soldiers are conducting additional mechanics courses and for good reason.  First, I am not a trained mechanic, but I am able to discern when something looks broken or worn out.  Look at the first picture with the brake rotors and pads.  Notice how scarred the rotor drum (pictured on the right) is.  The brake pads are missing too.  These items allegedly came off of an ANA HMMVW that killed 3 innocent pedestrians because the driver had no brakes.  Not only did he have no brakes, there was no brake fluid in the reservoir.  The Afghan government will probably make a condolence payment of $2,000 or $3,000 dollars to the deceased family members for the accident.  The driver of the vehicle abandoned it and hasn’t been seen since.  But the real tragedy is the ANA mechanics frequently inspect and repair these vehicles.  How could they not seen how worn out these brakes were, the brake pads are completely gone?  Now here is the real shocker, our soldiers caught the mechanics reinstalling the same rotor and what is left of the pad back on the vehicle!  Although they acknowledged the rotors should be replaced or ground down and new pads installed, they claimed they couldn’t get the parts.

Notice how tire is helping to support weight of up-armored HMMVW.

We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for spare vehicle parts and the ANA is still unable to get them through the supply system or the parts are allegedly being stolen and resold in the bazaar.  But there is more to this tragedy.  We pay even more money to a US contractor who trains these mechanics so the ANA will have the organic capability to repair their own vehicles.  If you have been a regular reader, recall my observations of engine oil being placed in the power steering reservoir or substituted for hydraulic fluid.  Now here is the real kick in the teeth.  The contractor is also responsible for training these mechanics so eventually the contractor’s services won’t be required anymore. In the military, we call this “train the trainer”.  The new person being trained will train others and as a result the contractor is no longer needed.  Admittedly, this is good in theory.  Coincidentally, after an ANA soldier completes the year long class, they are hired by this same contractor who doubles or triples their current salary and pays approximately $700 a month.  Or the trained mechanic will leave the ANA and work for a

ANA mechanics receiving mentoring and training.

local garage for the same amount of money.  I don’t even want to guess how much they are charging the US taxpayer.  Because of this “coincidence”, the ANA has few qualified mechanics.  As a result, the contractor gets a lot of the repair jobs too and orders supplies through their logistic system, which I am sure costs US taxpayers another pretty penny.  Oh, I might also point out this contractor really didn’t work itself out of a job, because the ANA still has a shortage of trained mechanics and their contract was extended for a nice tidy sum.  I suppose from a business perspective in maximizing profits, this is a great business model.  I must have slept through or not attended these college sessions when they taught business courses on ripping off the taxpayers, because surely I would remember this.  Yet I have seen so much of it here, it’s no longer shocking.  Maybe I am completely wrong and it’s all coincidental or isolated.  Take a look at the half shaft that was recently removed from a vehicle.  Yup, coincidence!

Left side is good half shaft and right side is bad one.

The next part of my day was spent with the Religious Officer Assistant (ROA) and the ANA Mullah was present too.  We always have lively discussions or should I say interesting discussions.  I was purposely going to refrain from asking any intimidating questions, so not to scare him off.  The Mullah looked a bit dejected today.  He wants to have a second wife, but he doesn’t have the finances to afford her.  According to him, Muslims are permitted to have 4 wives.  He was quick to point out that he is a devout Muslim and hasn’t siphoned off so much as 5 gallons of diesel fuel to resale in the bazaar, nor has he or the RAO stolen anything from the ANA.  Because of their integrity, they both remain poor and struggle to support their families…Inshallah..(God Willing).  After my observation at the garage, I wasn’t in a mood to discuss corruption.  But something the RAO said caught my attention.  He referred to the 32 provinces of Afghanistan, even though I know there are 34.  But in the ANA and I have seen it published in the local newspapers as 32 provinces.  I haven’t had a chance to research the validity of this, but by their explanation, these other provinces were created out of established provinces.  One of the newest ones is Nurestan, which was derived from Badakhshan and has something to do with President Karzai.  The other province is Daykundi which originated from the Bamyan province.  I was also surprised to learn before the Taliban era, there were even fewer provinces.  They joked if they were a warlord, they would also create their own province, similar to the way infamous warlord Massoud created the Panjshir province which was carved from the Parwan province.

We sipped our tea and discussed a bit more about polygamy in the US along with some other topics. They informed me about 2 ANA officers who served as Mujahedeen under the warlord Massoud.  I am hoping to get an interview with both of them as I continue my historical studies of the Soviet-Taliban era.  I was also invited back to the ANA literacy class for the graduation ceremony.  Perhaps they will give me an opportunity to speak and motivate the ANA troops again.

Note:  The schools in Afghanistan have reopened their doors for business.  Before long, I hope to put some smiles on children faces when they receive some new school supplies that were generously donated by US donors.

Need More Ink Cartridges

Yesterday I spent the day inside the Joint Tactical Command Post and was unable to mentor or do much of anything.  It was deathly quiet and I used this opportunity to finish reading Doug Stanton’s book, “Horse Soldiers.”  This book details the riveting account of a small group of Special Forces soldiers who secretly entered Afghanistan following 9/11.  To travel around the countryside, they painstakingly rode horses through some perilous mountains.  Seldom will you ever find testimonials about the “Quiet Professionals”, but this one was very revealing.  For me, it filled in some of the historical void about the competing Afghan warlords and provided more insight to the atrocities committed by the Taliban even as they retreated.  It also gave a detailed account about CIA agent Mike Spann’s tragic death and more about US Muslim terrorist John Walker Lindh’s capture at the Qala-i-Janghi Fortress.  Due to some of the adult language used in the book, I don’t recommend this to young readers.

The dreaded ink cartridges.

This morning I played Santa Claus and delivered more printer ink cartridges to my ANA counterparts.  Our Task Force wants information, reports, etc., but my ANA counterparts have no ink cartridges or paper to produce these reports.  I really sense their aggravation with the ANA supply system.  Even when they fill out the paperwork correctly and get the ANA General’s signature and approval, they still can’t get the supplies they need.  As mentors, we have tried to intervene by working with other mentors to no avail.  The supply depots have the items sitting in the shelf, but getting the right approvals and paperwork has become so cumbersome, many of the ANA have just given up.  Even at our morning meetings, the ANA General advises his commanders to ask their mentors for items and assistance.  Paper is so thinly rationed; each office gets a dozen sheets.  This explains why they write on the back of paper and I never see paper being thrown away.   This made me recall a conversation I had with an ANA logistician at my former camp.  He said the Minister of Defense personnel told them to get whatever they can from the US mentors.  It’s almost like they don’t want to spend the MOD money to support their soldiers, other than fuel, food, firewood, etc.   Yet our government gives them millions of dollars for this purpose.  I have been here 10 months battling and trying to understand this supply system, but now I am feeling my counterpart’s frustrations.  Surely after eight years, there has to be a better solution.

Bonnie, the camp puppy, is actually a boy.

I also had another surprise when I returned to camp.  The camp puppies were playing and Runt Runt rolled Bonnie over on her back.  Upon closer examination, Bonnie is not a girl but a boy!  Since we are not allowed to touch the puppies, I never saw underneath Bonnie and took the word of the gate guard that the puppies were both females.  I think he is rather embarrassed now at this revelation …. lol.  So until he comes up with another name, I will still call him Bonnie.  His dislocated leg seems to be improving too and he is able to walk around much easier now.

Local news:

KABUL – A US general in charge of negotiating with the Afghan Taliban has estimated that there are nearly 36,000 insurgents in Afghanistan. “There are probably 900 in the leadership, counting very junior to very senior, and there are between 25,000 and 36,000 people who would call themselves fighters,” The Times quoted Major-General Richard Barrons, as saying. “Some are ideological full-time jihadis, some are linked to the insurgency for localized reasons, local grievances; some because it’s a way to make a living; some because they like to fight; some because their communities are hedging their bets between the Government and the insurgency,” he added. Pointing out those finding jobs for insurgents was the key to ending the Afghanistan war, General Barrons said that the Karzai Government had done little to earn the trust of its people, while the Taliban had in some cases provided better basic governance. “People have found the local representatives predatory, corrupt and incapable of improving their lives,” he said. Instead of simply fighting the Taliban, General Barrons runs a NATO “reintegration cell” trying to understand what motivates the militants to fight and using that information to help Afghan officials to tempt them to swap sides. The incentives for peace is expected to cost about 1 billion dollars over the next five years, and it includes jobs, money, training and sustainable development. Despite 17 billion dollars spent on aid since 2001, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries on earth, with 850 children under 5 dying every day, according to Save the Children. Literacy and unemployment run at roughly 30 per cent. (ANI)

LONDON – Nearly 70 per cent of Afghan police recruits drop out during training, the top US army officer in charge of shaping the new Afghan security forces said. Lieutenant General William Caldwell said the 67-per cent “attrition rate” among police recruits was “far too high” and revamping the way the police works to avoid burn-out was one of his main priorities. The high drop-out rate meant that in order to grow the Afghan police and army from their current level of about 200,000 to 300,000, far more than 100,000 recruits would be required because many would fall by the wayside. Caldwell, the Commander of the Nato Training Mission and Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, told an audience in London that building a new police force was the biggest challenge his team faced. The task involved with the police was “significantly greater” than for the Afghan army, he told the Royal United Services Institute defense think-tank. Many Afghans are deeply distrustful of the police which they accuse of being driven by corruption, but Caldwell blamed the fact that until recently just 30 percent of recruits received any training at all. “How can you expect people to do a job you have never trained them to do?” he asked. He said he hoped the introduction of new working methods for police recruits to allow them more leave after what was now “extremely intensive” training would prevent so many dropping out. He admitted that when he saw the unforgiving training and working schedule the police had faced before his appointment, he was not surprised so many were failing to complete the course. “If you did to my army what we are doing to them, you would break it too,” he said. But Caldwell said he was encouraged by a surge in the number of recruits.

This week’s radio interview

Here is this week’s conversation with WUSF Radio’s reporter Bobbie O’Brien, which aired yesterday during “All Things Considered” and will air again today during “Morning Edition“; the conversation focused on more corruption with the ANA and the lack of consequences for it. 3-2 MLT Bad Water Flows

If you want to read the transcript of the entire radio presentation, click on this link

My Last Tour: An Old Dari Proverb

Bad Water Flows From The Spring

ANA soldier with NATO M-249 machine gun.

Today during my mentoring session, the topic of corruption surfaced again.  An ANA officer who I don’t mentor summed it up with an Afghan proverb, “Bad water flows from the spring”.  He was inferring that corruption starts at the very top and then flows down through the various levels.  This officer used to be an inspector or auditor ensuring the ANA soldiers got paid.   Previously the commanders would receive the pay for the soldiers assigned to their units.  Quite frequently soldiers would go AWOL and not return, but the soldier’s name was not removed from the pay roster.  Instead the commanders would allegedly pocket this money.  This officer (who seemed to have integrity) complained to the Minister of Defense.  He found out this was a common practice and his complaint was ignored.  Not wanting to have any part of this corruption, he resigned from this duty and took another position.

ANA soldier with NATO M-16 rifle.

Now the pay system has been replaced with an automated bank card.  It takes several weeks to accomplish the paperwork, but each ANA soldier is given a bank card after filling out a request form.  The other day I looked at the Kabul Bank form.  It was in English.  According to my interpreter translating, the bank does not give out forms in Dari or Pashto.  Considering the high illiteracy rate in this country, this really shocked me.  The soldiers blindly sign their name to the form and affix their thumbprint to validate it.  But after closer inspection, I noticed the currency block was marked to be paid in US dollars.  When I inquired further, they explained the bank then converts the dollars to Afghanis and then they can receive their money.  So now I have grown suspicious since reading a local article about Kabul Bank doing something fishy with their exchange rate.  The difference in the exchange is about 9 cents to the dollar.  So if I am correct in my assumption, the bank is making quite a penny off the ANA and ANP multi-million dollar payroll.   This is also the same bank that the bank manager is signing his name for the million dollar properties in Dubai for the Karzai family, Vice-President, and other powerful people.  I found it interesting on the Kabul bank’s web site; they talked about their bank services.  The first one was entitled “deposit schemes”.  I’m not sure they are aware of the bad translation or perhaps they are advertising their bank strategy of making money.

Team prayer before mission.

The officer then turned to me and asked my opinion about the corruption in relation to ANA.  This was an opportunity I had been waiting on for a long time to reveal some information.   I have been quiet too long and let them know we are aware of the ANA stealing firewood, gasoline, etc and selling it at the bazaar.  I also explained my awareness of how after missions; the ANA trucks pull off at the bazaar area and siphon out the remaining fuel from the mission while our convoys return to camp.  This is no coincidence.  During one of our missions, the ANA truck driver bragged to my interpreter about having 120 liters left in fuel and the extra money he was going to make.  Diesel fuel is about 90 cents a liter here.  So this would put over a hundred dollars or 1/3 of a month’s salary into his pocket.  At my last camp, these same bazaar gas stations were coincidentally owned by the ANA generals or family members.

When asked for additional opinion, I made a point to say if I was in charge, I wouldn’t allow the ANA vehicles to be taken home at night by the officers.  Even in the United States, very few officers are allowed to take their vehicles home.  Here it is a nightly practice and for officers assigned several vehicles, they allegedly let their family members drive them too.  But as usual, the blame is also directed at my government for not having checks and balances with the millions and billions of dollars flowing into this country.  I read a local newspaper article recently discussing the future budget and one government official was demanding from the donors to allow the Afghans to spend the money their way.

He's back!!

My team is out on a mission as I decided to stay behind and catch up on some administrative paperwork.  One of our original teammates has returned to join the team.  He spent the past 5 months training the ANA soldiers at FOB Maiwand.  The AF Captain recently returned from leave and is now the proud father of a little baby girl.  He has a great sense of humor and always keeps us in stitches.

While at ANA land, I took some pictures of ANA soldiers practicing their tactics with NATO weapons.  Most of the soldiers I saw were armed with NATO M-16 rifles, while some members in the platoon were carrying M-249 machine guns.  The soldiers are also being trained and issued .50 caliber and

ANA soldiers transporting large wooden container.

M-240 machine guns to be mounted on their up-armored vehicles.  Note:  these are the same caliber weapons we use.

I also saw something rather funny.  An ANA Ford Ranger was being used to transport a wooden container.  It might be an old guard shack, but I’m unsure.  An ANA soldier was hanging off the truck on each side trying to balance it and keep it from falling out of the truck.

When I returned to camp, Runt Runt and Bonnie were taking puppy naps.  Fat Boy has found a new home with a contractor.  The puppies no longer have to sleep in a cardboard box.  Instead they like to sleep on the steps of the guard shack.  Runt Runt often likes to hide under a piece of plywood that provides her shade.  Bonnie, the one with the bad leg, enjoys sunning herself.  They don’t venture far either and have a voracious appetite for beef jerky.  Apparently the beef jerky has a tendency of falling out of the bag in the vicinity of the hungry puppies and soy milk mysteriously appears in their saucers …. lol.  I don’t know if these mysteries will ever be resolved.

Runt Runt and Bonnie taking a nap.

Education & ANA Discussion – Part Two:

Attentive ANA classroom.

My conversation with the ANA soldiers continued.  I relayed a conversation I had yesterday with the ANA Mullah about Taliban Mullahs; the ANA Mullah had told me the Taliban Mullahs are not really Mullahs and use this title to their advantage to control the uneducated followers and villagers.  As such, out of fear and respect for the title, the people are easily influenced.  Every week, coalition forces are capturing or killing Taliban Mullahs who are often serving as Taliban commanders or province shadow governors.  Even the Pashtun ANA soldier I asked about agreed with this fact and said, “They are not Mullahs, they are only using the name of mullahs.”

ANA platoons practicing marching drills and learning discipline.

Running out of time, I opened up the floor so the ANA soldiers could address questions to me.  Admittedly, it’s much easier to ask the questions than it is to answer them.  But I was feeling self-confident and I was curious to see what they had on their minds.  The first question asked of me was concerning whether or not we [Americans] are trying to help rebuild Afghanistan.  I explained my country and other foreign nations have donated millions and billions of dollars for this purpose to build up the ANA and ANP so they can take back the national security of their country.  I also remarked that “We can’t do this by ourselves and it’s important we work together as a strong team and together we can beat the Taliban.”  I explained how important it is for them as soldiers to learn about tactics, weapons, and education so the Taliban can be defeated.

The last soldier I interviewed wanted to know my opinion about the Taliban since I had asked the classroom so many questions about them.  “The Taliban are extremist Muslims and trying to take over your country and want to implement their own Sharia law” I responded.  I explained that I can’t “look at an Afghan and tell whether they are Taliban unless they point a weapon at me and shoot at me.”  I also explained the importance of talking to the villagers so they will tell us who the Taliban are and the location of the IEDs.  I made it clear that IEDs are not just killing US and NATO soldiers, but they are killing the ANA and ANP as well.  In fact, more ANA and ANP soldiers have been killed by IEDs than coalition forces.  Lastly, I shared with the class my personal experiences of being exposed to enemy gunfire, mortars, rockets, and RPGs, but how that hasn’t deterred me from helping.  And  then I  reiterated: “Together as a strong team, we can defeat the Taliban.”

Attentive ANA classroom.

The questioning session was over and the Religious Officer thanked me for my time and for everything that Americans have done for them.  Now it was time to hand out the notebooks, pens, pencils, and sharpeners to the ANA soldiers.  At first it was an orderly process, but then it turned chaotic.  Some of the soldiers thought we were going to run out, so they started swarming around the Mullah and the Religious Officer handing out the supplies.  At one point until they got order, I backed away and stood behind the table using it as a barricade to keep my distance from the unruly crowd.  After a few barking commands from some officers and others, the students returned to their seats and we personally handed out the supplies ensuring everyone got an equal share.

ANA Mullah passing out pens before the class converged on him.

We left the classroom and returned to the Religious Officer’s office.  There was still a large bag of pencils and pens left over and he was handing them out to other soldiers like candy.  He also shared with me about my conversation the other day with the ANA Mullah.  The Mullah thanked him for helping to answer my questions, because apparently I make him nervous at times with the difficulty of my questions.  I had suspected that, but now I had confirmation.  I just hope this doesn’t deter the Mullah from attending future conversations, because our dialogue is always educational.

Fat Boy is trying to climb out, while Runt Runt and Bonnie sit inside their box.

Upon returning to camp, I stopped to get an update on the puppies.  The interpreters returned Fat Boy, so now all three of them including Runt Runt and Bonnie were in the box together.  As you can see by the size of Fat Boy, it’s understandable where he got his nickname.

If you would like to hear the full audio from the meeting click here ANA Education Discussion

If you you would like to hear the radio story about this meeting with the ANA soldiers/students by WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien, click here My Last Tour: Educating Afghan soldiers

Education & ANA Discussion – Part 1

ANA classroom.

Famous playwright and poet, William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  Today I returned to the ANA literacy classroom for another interactive exchange of information.  This time I was bearing gifts that included notebooks, pens, and pencils for the students.  This immediately got the ANA soldiers attention when I entered the classroom.

The class just finished conducting a religious ceremony celebrating their Prophet’s birthday and commemorating his death, which happened on the same day but 62 years later.  Omid, my interpreter, said it would be appropriate to say “Maloot Sharif” to the class during my introduction out of respect for their Prophet who is responsible for giving Muslims their Holy Quran.  So in my best Dari pronunciation, I practiced my Dari and started my interaction with the class.  Today’s classroom was filled with more than 100 students/ANA soldiers.  Almost every chair was filled and they were lined against the walls.  All eyes were upon me as they listened to my questions.  Ten minutes before going to the classroom, I jotted down some questions concerning education.  Although I am pretty self-confident and comfortable speaking to them, I am not ready to engage in a theological discussion with them as I did yesterday with the ANA Mullah and Religious Officer.  Instead I am trying to stay with non-threatening themes so I do not upset them or endanger myself.  I don’t think this is the right forum to have a religious debate, nor do I care to.  Instead, I want to focus on topics that I can learn about their viewpoints and perhaps I can resolve some of their burning curiosities too.

ANA Mullah and Religious Officer hand out notebooks, pens, and pencils.

I approached the first soldier and inquired on whether he had had a chance to graduate from school.  Due to the many years of war, he said his village was destroyed and he was unable to finish school.  For an instant, I was silent trying to imagine what this soldier lived through in having his village destroyed.  It’s so hard to comprehend these tragedies and sometimes I am at a loss for words.  We can read about it in books, but to experience it first-hand is incomprehensible.  Despite not being educated, he still seemed to understand the importance of a formal education.  Through the interpreter, he said: “If we have knowledge, we are going to have eyes, we can see everything.  If we don’t, then we are going to be like blind.”  He also surprised me when he agreed that everyone was entitled to an education including females.  I really thought there would be some participants who disagreed with the idea of females attending school.  But this was not the case today.  Prior to class, I had jotted this question down and was prepared to make the argument of why females should be allowed to attend.  I was going to detail the importance of having midwives to help with one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates at birth along with having female doctors, teachers, etc.  But I couldn’t help thinking about this man’s village being destroyed and it was distracting me from my thoughts.  I also recalled a proverb or a variant of it, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”  This was so true with this soldier.  His eyes were pale and dull looking and lacked any luster or sparkle, almost to the point of hopelessness.  It’s the same look I have seen many times on the faces of the Afghan villagers.  Is this what happens after enduring 30 years of war?

I directed my next line of questioning to another soldier concerning their thoughts about the Taliban burning down the schools and preventing people from being educated.  In response, he said: “The real Taliban aren’t the ones who are doing this.  Instead, it’s the people who train in Iran and Pakistan” who are burning down the schools.  He also added: “A real person, a real Muslim, a real Afghan, would not do that.”   In this class, this seems to be a recurring theme where the students say the neighboring countries are training Taliban and insurgents who are responsible for the destruction of Afghanistan.  To be cont’d …….

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