Thursday, March 24, 2011

The "why?" behind our conflict in Afghanistan....The real reason why we are there...

Like many who have been in Afghanistan, I have been asked by people back home, " WHY ?"

WHY are we spending all our blood & treasure there??? WHY are we still there after 10 years ? WHY ? WHY ? WHY ?

Here is the " WHY "....This is why the Marines of the 3/5 were glad to win the battles in Sangin. They were doing it for others, not themselves.

I was able to witness this same progress in person while I was there and I am glad to share the words of a female reporter from the Sandy Eggo Trib.....She brings the reason " why ?" into the clearest, you know "why "

Afghanistan war diary: the girls of Sangin
By Gretel C. Kovach
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 5:27 p.m.

SANGIN, Afghanistan — Many Marines stationed in Sangin have a soft spot for the little girls who scamper after them on patrol. Knowing there is no chance that these bright-eyed little lasses will join the insurgency after they are grown and shoot at them is one reason, but the young Afghan girls are also simply adorable.

Despite the decline in power of the Taliban, female teenagers and women are still rarely seen in public in southern Afghanistan outside the provincial capital -- not even in the peacock blue burqas the Kabulis wear or the dark shroud more common to this area that lacks an eye-slit or grille. But young girls dressed in bright red or green shifts trimmed in sparkling thread play alongside their brothers in streets and fields, or tote babies with kohl-streaked eyes on their narrow hips. (The eyeliner is thought to improve the infants’ eyesight.) If the Marines don’t stop giving these girls so much candy, there will not be a woman left in Helmand province in 20 years who has any teeth.

Under the Taliban’s fanatical interpretation of Islam, girls were not allowed to attend school, or boys for that matter unless it was one of the militants’ cultish madrasas. Women couldn’t work outside the home, and their access to quality medical care was limited since there were no women doctors. Ten years into the U.S. war against al-Qaeda and their onetime hosts in Afghanistan, the Taliban fighters that had reemerged like a poisonous weed are being rooted out from the heartland of their movement once again. But some of the old ways based in patriarchal tribal culture remain. Social mores still force girls indoors at adolescence, where they have few opportunities in life other than to marry and raise their children hidden behind high mud walls. Knowing what sort of claustrophobic existence awaits her in a few years makes the sight of a little girl running freely in the open air all the more joyous.

The Marines say they are not trying to impose American culture on Afghanistan (which is why the U.S. military builds mosques here, since almost everyone is Muslim and quite pious.) But the expansion of women’s rights and opportunities seems to be a fortunate side-effect of the war, and one that is fully in-line with mainstream Islamic beliefs. The Prophet Mohammed was married to a businesswoman afterall. Now some fathers in this ultra-conservative Pashtun region are sending their young girls to school in the classrooms popping up in tents and new buildings throughout the region. Disparities are still pronounced, even when it comes to the education of very young female students. During our visit to a new school the Marines established in Marjah, we saw several hundred male students but only about 40 girls. But the FETs, the Female Engagement Team of women Marines, recruited each of those girls one by one, including the first they literally pulled off the street. So it was a good start, if a modest one.

During our last visit to Afghanistan in August and September, photographer Nelvin Cepeda and I spent some time in the Laki area of Garmser district, a hinterlands community of farmers and shepherds. We listened to infantry Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment stationed there at the time as they tried to convince local tribal elders to allow their daughters to attend school. The negotiations were delicate, and the education of all Laki children, girls and boys, hung in the balance as the Marines solicited the local power brokers for help organizing new schools. But the Marines succeeded in the end, because there is a girl’s school today in Laki.

It is easy for the Marines to push too far and too fast and alienate the Afghan people they are trying to win over, and they have on occasion. For instance, the FET Marines in Sangin have been quite successful in gaining access to the other half of the population in one of Afghanistan’s most violent areas. Some Afghan women have adopted them as second daughters of sorts or pointed out hidden bombs. But one of their biggest disappointments involved the only female doctor in Sangin, not counting the midwives. Hundreds of Afghans had started showing up to the FET’s health initiatives in Sangin, when they teach parents about basic hygiene and health care, such as the need to hydrate children suffering from diarrhea instead of the local custom of depriving them of liquids. But when they urged the sole female doctor practicing in Sangin to attend their next health outreach, the woman removed the sign outside her office and skipped town.

A recent women’s shura meeting was also something of a bust because of low attendance, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, the senior Marine in command of NATO troops in southwestern Afghanistan, told me. In time, even the most remote and battle-scarred corners of Helmand province will nurture women leaders. For now, in an area of the country where roughly 10 percent of the men can read and write and perhaps one percent of the women, according to the Marines’ estimates, a sixth-grade education is a major accomplishment for a girl.

As a woman journalist who works with Marines in combat, I find a bit of delicious irony in the fact that infantry grunts -- that macho testosterone-fueled bunch of trained killers -- are on the front lines of this campaign to teach the daughters of Afghanistan to read. Many of these young riflemen are fathers as well as fighters. When their own daughters learn of what they’ve done, I think they will be proud.

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