It was a war we thought we’d won. But after eight years of escalating violence, the Afghanistan conflict has morphed into something perhaps unwinnable. U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda, a goal we’ve largely achieved. But in years of occupation, Washington has apparently conflated counter-terrorism with nation-building. Now the U.S., NATO and their allies are struggling to destroy a deeply-rooted insurgency in country with a corrupt, ineffective government, poor infrastructure and few prospects for everyday people, but to fight. David Axe visits U.S. forces to see for himself.
by DAVID AXE
It’s easy to slam America’s NATO allies in Afghanistan. According to stereotype, the Brits are hamstrung by stingy politicians who refuse to give them the gear they need. Likewise, the Canadians fight like wolverines but don’t have the political backing to stay more than another year or so. The Germans are lazy, scared and spoiled. The Dutch lose a couple guys and slip into a deep, institutional funk.
But our NATO allies all have something useful to contribute to the war effort. Sometimes they just need to be enabled by the bigger, wealthier, more experienced U.S. military. Take the 275-strong Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar. “They’re better than any American PRT I’ve worked with,” says Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gukeisen, commander of the 3rd Squadron of the 71st Cav, deployed to Forward Operating Base Altimur, in Logar province. He points out the Czech team’s unusual skillfulness. The team is led by nine highly-experienced civilian engineers “motivated by altruism,” Gukeisen says.
The Czechs, who arrived more than a year ago, weren’t making much progress in Logar’s restive Kherwar district when Gukeisen took command in July. That’s not necessarily their fault. “They needed security and a plan,” Gukeisen said. 3rd Squadron probed Kherwar by ground and air and scripted a plan: identify friendly villages, offer them small infrastructure projects in exchange for their cooperation. Today, the Czechs clambered into their up-armored Humvees and rolled into Kherwar for the first time.
Elsewhere in Logar, the Czechs are collaborating with 3rd Squadron on an ambitious project to turn one district’s weakness into a strength. In Charkh district, the roads are hemmed in by water rushing down from the mountains. The Americans and Czechs have drafted a plan to divert the water away from the roads and channel it into fields for growing animal fodder. Plus, they want to add small hydro-electric generators to the irrigation canals, to feed the local power grid.
In addition to boosting the district economy, the project should wrest control of Charkh’s water resources away from the corrupt district sub-governor, who has been known to divvy up water to score political points.
(Photo: via www.mzv.cz)
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