Megan Ortagus is reporting from Afghanistan and her first piece is for our readers here. She thinks a lot of our audience and I think she does an excellent job of cutting through the BS.
Jalalabad, Afghanistan – Once your boots hit the ground in Afghanistan, the mission becomes glaringly self-evident. As most Blackfive readers who have deployed in war time can attest, gone are the political distractions and beltway noise that tend to exalt trivial matters. No one is hyperventilating over Arlen Specter’s party switch or the outcome of the Minnesota Senate race. Rather, in the time I have spent reporting from both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a surprising calm and focus I feel once entering the theater. My blackberry doesn’t work and the internet is painfully slow but I am surrounded by America’s finest soldiers and their perseverance humbles me.
I’m currently writing from FOB Fenty, home to Task Force Duke in Jalalabad located in RC East. It’s the coordination hub for the 101st Airborne, 3rd BCT, 1st Infantry division. I’m told later this afternoon I’ll travel to FOB Joyce in Kunar, just south of the Korengal Valley to visit with the 10th Mountain Division who recently made the Serkani district their home in January.
Kinetic activity has risen 40% from this time last year and is trending slightly higher than violence levels in Iraq. (For a visual comparison, see http://www.understandingwar.org/press-media/graphsandstat/afghanistan-attacks-iraq-perspective) Most military officials I have spoken with explain the violent incidents increases are due to an influx of U.S. Forces moving into territory not previously ventured into by American soldiers and a renewed union between Islamist terrorist networks, like Al Qaeda, Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Hez-e Islami, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The rhetoric among terrorist groups has shifted from claiming Iraq as the central battle front to ramping up jihadist efforts in the Af/Pak Theater. It’s a very convenient change considering the beating AQI has taken from the U.S and Iraqi security forces during the height of the Surge.
The Islamist insurgent groups are up to their typical tactics – mostly which we had seen in Iraq – to intimidate the population and turn them against the Afghan government and the NATO coalition. I was given a copy of recent night letter propaganda I believe was left at homes in Wardak Province. Part of the translation reads:
…the person who works for the enemy and the slave who invites Jews and Christians both will be punished to death….it means the person will be beheaded and there will be no funeral because he will be hanging at the time.
Although senior military officials argue that much of the lower level insurgency here in Eastern Afghanistan is motivated out of economics, the figureheads are lethal ideologues that manipulate the poor and indoctrinate the young with hate. In fact, it was recently reported that radical madrassas in Pakistan churn out approximately 2 million Islamist zombies each year; a host of uneducated and unemployed recruits for Al Qaeda. Many of the terrorists groups actively coordinate and train with Al Qaeda, so much so that military officials believe the groups are becoming inseparable. Whether their ambitions remain local or global is still yet to be determined. What can be surmised is that letting these insurgent groups fester in Afghanistan and Pakistan is an imminent threat to American national security and something we cannot afford to ignore. Those questioning the current mission in Afghanistan would do well to note the period of neglect we paid to this region in the 1990’s. America should not be blamed for the attacks we suffered on 9/11, but we would be wise to learn from our past mistakes and get about the business of supporting those who are endeavoring to win this war.