Afghanistan: We No Longer Give Pens and Stationary Away

BY Herschel Smith
4 years ago

We recently discussed one officer lamenting the tactic of wearing body armor and carrying grenades on patrol.  Presumably, he wants to jettison those tactical advantages when confronted by Taliban insurgents, though not even the mayor of Kandahar feels safe from insurgent violence.  Now comes the latest in fine thinking concerning the campaign.

MARAWARA DISTRICT, Afghanistan –  After nine years of reconstruction efforts that have cost billions of dollars, U.S. military and civilian experts are trying a different strategy in this remote corner of eastern Afghanistan: doing more by doing less.

“We’ve been like Santa Claus, going through money, whatever you need,” said Navy Cmdr. William B. Goss, who commands the 100-person reconstruction team at Forward Operating Base Wright, near the Kunar provincial capital of Asadabad.

The funding for U.S. projects wasn’t always steady, nor was the oversight, and the planning was often criticized. Now there’s a change of focus.

Goss and his contingent, who arrived here in late October, still oversee the construction of desperately needed infrastructure and promote the role of women in this deeply conservative region, but the focus is on tutoring local officials.

Development projects now are running on Afghan, rather than American, schedules, even if it takes longer to build a road or school. Fewer projects are started, and only those with the prospect of continuing after foreign troops leave.

This is a real makeover: U.S. troops here have even stopped handing out candy and pens to the young boys who gather whenever they leave the base.

Kunar is a test ground for Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration last month that it’s time for the United States “to start to take the training wheels off” in Afghanistan.

Whether the strategy succeeds in Kunar and elsewhere in Afghanistan will determine – along with combat operations – whether the United States leaves behind even a minimally stable country.

Biden’s philosophy was on display in November when Goss and his team visited the U.S.-funded Lahore Dag Middle School to inspect the moss green and white structure, which opened in late October to 206 students.

Headmaster Faiz Mohammed was happy with his clean, new 14-room school. The electricity and plumbing worked as promised. His students no longer would have to study in tents or outdoors under trees. But Mohammed was hoping for a little more American largesse.

“If it’s possible … to receive any stationery?” he asked. The answer was a polite “no.”

Whether jettisoning our body armor or withholding pens and stationary, there you have it.  The Captain’s Journal.  Keeping you apprised of the best that American strategic minds has to offer.  We’re in the very best of hands.



  • TS Alfabet

    This is the quote I particularly love:

    “Whether the strategy succeeds in Kunar and elsewhere in Afghanistan will determine – along with combat operations – whether the United States leaves behind even a minimally stable country.”

    Catch the unstated premise in this sentence? We *are* leaving. The only question is whether we leave the place in shambles or leave it “minimally stable.”

    Now THERE’s commitment to victory for you. That should inspire all of those undecided Afghans who have yet to make up their minds about the reliability of the United States.

    It makes me wonder how the Arab/Gulf States can be so dense? According to the latest Wikileaks dump — an appropriate descriptor if I ever heard one– the Arabs have been urging the U.S. to take military action against Iran to stop its nascent nuclear weapons program. Surely they have already learned the lesson that Afghans are now learning: that the U.S. is only as reliable as the President in office. They are S.O.L.

    Sadly, as are we.

  • davod

    I forget the exact phrase but it goes something like “but for the want of a …. a kingdom was lost” Maybe the principal should wait until his students have filled up the walls, then asked for slates.

  • jj

    We wouldn’t have Navy officers in charge of infantry troops if we had a “commitment to victory”.

  • TS Alfabet

    Great point, JJ.

    And before anyone else piles on, let me here and now apologize for using that horrible, dirty, imperialist word that begins with “v” and heretofore had marked the end of U.S. military engagements. The C-in-C disapproves of that sort of thing.

  • DirtyMick

    I was on the previous two PRTs in Kunar. They need to jettison the navy element and make it an army effort. Previous two Navy commanders (especially the one with the Nevada National guard in 2009/2010) focused too much on the soft aspect of coin, were in overall charge of the army manuever element at camp wright (like army running a ship), had a hard on for wanting to take non essential navy personnel (ie anybody not engineers) into places like the pech river valley and north of asadabad, and passing out badges and awards like candy on Halloween (so navy guys can be just as stacked as an 0311 marine cpl.). Torwards the end of this summer did my higher chain of command do things like cancel projects in the pech only after many months of us getting shot up in the pech. Why build a school for assholes when they’re shooting RPGs at us? I will never work on a PRT again.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency and was published December 6th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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