Tera Dahl has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan for the American Red Cross. She will soon be heading back to Afghanistan to report on military-civilian operations for BLACKFIVE. This piece is based on her experience with trying to improve the quality of life in both countries.
The current strategy of building a central government in Afghanistan is only part of the solution. The other half is building the rural areas of Afghanistan and investing in the local villagers. We need to shift our focus from the central government and start giving the people a better quality of life.
The technique of building the central government by giving money directly to Afghan leaders has allowed these officials to benefit mostly themselves. One could say the majority of Afghan officials have misused the funds that the U.S. has been directly giving to them. Instead of investing that money, they are taking that money and using it towards their own personal gain.
When the villages are asked about the projects and money that was intended for them, they have not seen any of the money or benefits of it. This is the wrong way to go about building the trust of the Afghan people. The Afghan people do not trust the central government, nor do they have a reason to. Because of this, we must change our tactics and start empowering the local villagers to defend and protect their own villages.
An example of this is being done by the Marines in Afghanistan. The Marines live with the villagers and work alongside them and this has proven to be successful. They share the sacrifice and danger with the villagers and thus gain their trust.
What we should be doing is giving the money directly to the villagers. By giving the money directly to the Afghan government officials, we are creating a welfare state mentality. This is contrary to our American core values. We are a capitalist country and our success has come because we were taught not to be dependent on the government but individual responsibility. This should also be our foreign policy. We do not want to create a society where the people think the government needs to take care of them. The Afghan people are not concerned about the central government, they care about if they have enough food to feed their family. Many Afghans do not know that there is a central government in Kabul; they do not know what happens outside of their village. They care about whether or not they can eat tomorrow.
That is why the Special Ops and the Marines do so well; they deal with the villagers directly and not the government. The Special Ops program creates a neighborhood watch system that empowers the villagers to protect and take care of their village. We need to start going directly to the elders of the villagers and not the government officials. The government officials are the middle man. Instead of using a top down strategy, we need to implement a bottom up strategy. It is the local villagers who we need to start building up and paying them to watch the area around their villages so they are the ones protecting their families and village. One story I heard from a soldier in Afghanistan was how their unit in Iraq would ask the villagers to each take a section of the road that went through their village and watch for any foreigner that would come in and plant an IED on the road. Americans would reward them for reporting it or would arm them to take care of the situation themselves. This tactic worked.
In 2001, in the initial invasion of Afghanistan and in less than three months, a team of 100 CIA, 350 Special Forces soldiers, and 15,000 Afghans were able to defeat 50,000-60,000 Taliban members. This is remarkable and shows the incredible abilities of our service members and also how the war can be won. Afghanistan is a little smaller than the size of Texas, although the saying goes “everything is bigger in Texas”, but when you think of all of NATO being in Texas, Texas is not that big. It's not the size of the footprint, it is where those feet are. They need to be out with the Afghan people.