Vision, Mission, and Strategy

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Daily Archives: December 11, 2007

KARAWADDIN, Afghanistan: The Afghan boy crouched near a wall in this remote village. His pupils were coated by an opaque yellow sheath.

But we’re the enemy.

Sergeant Nick Graham, a U.S. Army medic, approached. The villagers crowded around. They said the boy’s name was Hayatullah. He was 10 years old and had developed an eye disease six years ago. “Can you help him?” a man asked.

Graham examined the boy. He was blind. There was nothing the medic could do.

A second man appeared pushing a wheelbarrow that held a hunched child with purplish lips and twisted feet. He had the growth and circulatory problems associated with severe congenital heart disease. Graham listened to his heart. Without surgery, he said, this stunted boy would probably die.

A third man turned the corner from an alley, leading a girl, Baratbibi, by the arm. She was 7 years old. She turned her ruined eyes toward the afternoon sun without blinking. Her pupils were more heavily coated than Hayatullah’s. Graham sighed.

“We could use an entire hospital here,” he said.

The afflictions in Karawaddin were of a type. Throughout early December a company of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division had patrolled throughout the Nawa district of Ghazni Province, an isolated region near Pakistan where the Taliban’s influence remains strong and the Afghan government’s presence is almost nonexistent.

Each patrol was a foray into villages regarded as Taliban sanctuaries. Each began with tension and the possibility of violence. But the Taliban did not confront the heavily-armed paratroopers, and within minutes the mood of the patrols shifted.

Once the villagers realized that the platoons were accompanied by medics, they pushed forward sick children and pleaded for help. […]

So much for the pillaging, looting, and raping that the left keeps telling us about. These are the stories our own media ignores.

[…]  “The Taliban has made it abundantly clear that no outside doctors, no outside medical help, can work in this district,” DeMure said. (emphasis mine)

But, we’re the enemy, right?

Before late 2001, a few international aid organizations worked in the area with the consent of the Taliban. They dug wells, built clinics, distributed small amounts of aid and administered vaccines. Now few outsiders venture here; the area is considered too dangerous.

Its degree of poverty is complete. The villages have no electricity. Many people use the same ditches to wash, clean their plates and butcher meat, brush their teeth and drink. The canals are lined with animal waste. Few of the children are seen wearing winter clothes.

The only known doctor in the district, the American officers said, is a man named Dr. Nasibullah, who, according to several intelligence reports, almost exclusively treats Taliban fighters.

But we’re the enemy, right?

One patrol entered Petaw, the village where Dr. Nasibullah lives. The doctor greeted the officers, served tea and denied assisting the Taliban. DeMure told the doctor and a gathering of elders that the Afghan government had a plan to bring services to Nawa, but would need the villagers’ help.

“We have a long-term vision to make this a better place,” he said, including opening a school near the American firebase in Nawa, where the teachers could be protected. “We see a very, very bright future for this area of Ghazni.”

But the captain added that security must improve before many other forms of help and governance can arrive. Until the villages help stand against the Taliban, he said, it would be difficult to build roads or clinics, or provide electricity.

But we’re the enemy, right?

On each patrol, the officers made similar presentations. Almost invariably, a similar scene unfolded.

Once the meetings ended, the people brought forward sick children. The American medics, who conducted examinations in front of mosques, were the only modern health care many of the villagers had seen in years.

Sometimes the medics were able to help, quickly cleaning wounds and dispensing simple medicines. Much of what they saw was beyond their reach.

During his recent patrols, the medic for B Company’s 2nd Platoon, Private First Class Corey Ball, was asked to treat not only infected cuts and persistent colds, but also retardation, blindness, autism, deafness and epilepsy.

“We are medics,” he said. “They want us to be miracle workers.” […]

But, we’re the enemy, right?

The captain said the government and the military planned to travel in the region soon with doctors and assess the problems and try to distribute aid and administer vaccinations. After leaving Zarinkhel, he sent requests to the battalion headquarters for vaccines.

He also had arranged for several recent patrols, including the patrol to Karawaddin, to distribute winter coats and gloves to the children. In many villages some children were barefoot and wearing a single layer of clothes. The temperature dips well below freezing each night.

But the officers said the strength of the Taliban in the district has made fuller, long-term health care impossible for now.

On one patrol, in Salamkhel, First Lieutenant Brian Kitching, who leads 2nd Platoon, asked the villagers to meet at a mosque and discuss their problems. He suspected many villagers supported the Taliban, and wanted to tell them their choices were counterproductive.

One villager, Rahmatullah, 35, said the Taliban were here because the Afghan government was weak, and that the villagers were afraid. Whenever the military or government distributes aid, he said, including blankets, children’s notebooks or winter clothes, the Taliban enter the village, collects the aid and sets it on fire.

“We would like to support the coalition forces but if we do that the Taliban will come at night and cut off our heads,” Rahmatullah said. (emphasis mine)

But we’re the enemy, right?

Another man, Ghulam Wali, 71, expressed dismay.

“I know we are supposed to stand up against the Taliban, but we are poor people,” he said. “We do not have the ability to do that.”

Kitching urged the village to resist.

“The truth is that you have the ability to make a change,” he said. “You are just not willing to do it.”

Later, back at one of B Company’s firebases, in Nawa, DeMure briefed his officers and senior noncommissioned officers for the next day’s missions, and discussed the intelligence that had been collected during the day.

Among the items was a report that the Taliban had moved into Karawaddin after aid had been handed out, and taken the children’s gloves and winter jackets and made a bonfire. In the game of move and countermove for popular loyalty in the villages of Nawa, the aid had vanished again.

“I am confident we can make a difference down here,” DeMure said. “But it is going to take time.”

But we’re the enemy, right?

With friends like the Taliban, I’d rather have enemies.  Read the entire article which is both dismaying and uplifting. Dismaying because those conditions exist and uplifting because of our military’s courage and capacity for kindness.

December 2007


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