Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obama's Speech

I was asked by several people to give my thoughts on last night's Presidential speech at West Point.  Here is something I sent to an old friend.  We can call it an Open Letter on Obama's Speech by an Afghan American:

First and foremost, Afghanistan needs security in order to function fully. Security means troops and flushing out the bad guys.  Obama sending 30,000 more troops, in my humble opinion, is a good thing if its done right.  Done right is the key.  The biggest concern is the continuation of the status quo - money going into Kabul to NGO's, etc. with no oversight or accountability which ultimately leads to corruption (who can help it with all that money?).  Also, there is a great concern for civilian casualties, of course.  I worry that if the timeframe is so short, we might be more willing to sacrifice a few women, children and innocent bystanders in order to complete the mission post haste.

I think that the spelling out the 2011 deadline was a mistake.  I understand why he said it (to make those Dems and others who believe we've really been 'fighting' this war for 8 years feel better) but it undermines the
confidence the Afghan people will have about the US's committment to the mission.  A while back I read an article where an Army commander asked a village elder "What do you want from us"  and the elder said "Build a building. Let us know you are staying.  When you stay in a tent we know you aren't staying long.  We can't help you if you are going to leave because they will kill us for helping you."  It is impossible to
hand over security to an army when less than 30% of them can read or write their own name, much less do it in 18 months. 

I think the increase in troops is good.  It's good if it goes to Kandahar and Helmand and if they are truly going to train and build capacity.  I think it is good if we can teach our men (by our now I mean U.S.) and women cultural sensitivity, to build long term relationships.  I think its good if we can have local buy-in on reconstruction projects, roads, electricity and  education.  I think its good if our soldiers sit and have tea with the villagers and get to know them so that there is trust, then the villagers might be willing to tell them "there are taliban in that house".  I think its good if we keep our killing to the true enemy and not to the people who have done nothing but live in Afghanistan, and live where Taliban are part of the fabric of their day to day existence.

I am disturbed by people who claim that this war has gone on too long. We started fighting this war in October 2001 and ended in 2003.  Since then we've let our soldiers carry on with limited support and supplies. It's about time we gave them the tools they need to complete their mission and to come home safely after their job is done.

Then its probably off to Yemen and Somalia - sigh.

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