Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Monday, April 5, 2010
"By making a six-hour unannounced trip to Afghanistan ..., Obama proved that his military strategy and surge of 30,000 troops, his morale-boosting propaganda, have all failed to make a dent" Taliban websiteEven if we set aside the group's obvious anti-war bias, the message might have a point. By appearing before troops stationed at Bagram air base, President Obama both brings a smile to troops' faces and shows that he's still interested in the situation in Afghanistan. This point was echoed by New York Times photojournalist Stephen Crowley:
"The president’s six-hour visit was intended in part to shore up morale as American and Afghan forces prepare for an all-out assault on Taliban militants in the southern province of Kandahar" Stephen CrowleyAnd finally, here's what The New York Times had to say:
"Mr. Obama’s visit... included a boisterous pep rally with American troops. It was his first trip as president to the scene of an eight-year-old war he has stamped as his own" The New York TimesIt seems fairly evident that Obama's visit was a sort of PR stunt intended to rally support around the war both for Americans at home and troops stationed in Afghanistan. By talking to troops and showing he's willing to travel to the war-torn country, Obama shows he is interested in the war that he has "stamped as his own."
Eight years on and the war in Afghanistan doesn't look like it's coming to a close. It's tough to keep Americans interested—few other American conflicts have lasted so long. More important still is keeping American soliders motivated as the conflict continues to be extremely deadly. As Penelope wrote in her blog post, the number of troops killed in Afghanistan is about double what it was at this point in 2009.
There's another benefit: it got the U.S. (and world!) media to cover Afghanistan. As the war drags on, news from Afghanistan has definitely dropped off the front page and the nightly news. In fact, Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) ranted against the U.S. media's apparent lack of interest in the war. He was angry that the press hadn't shown up to cover a Congressional debate over a resolution to withdraw troops from Afghanistan:
"It's despicable, the national press corps right now... We're talking about war and peace, three billion dollars, 1,000 lives and no press! No press!" Patrick KennedyInstead, Kennedy said the media were voraciously covering allegations of sexual abuse by Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY). Once again, the press had chosen to focus on a timely scandal rather than on the ongoing war that's killing hundreds of Americans every year. The sex scandal is breaking news that's happening now; the war is eight years old with little new information. And in the web-connected, 24-hour news cycle, the newest buzz always wins out.
So President Obama's trip most likely had two goals. Firstly, to raise morale and support for the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Secondly, to make people pay attention to the war. And we really should pay attention, because we're sending millions of dollars and scores of young Americans there every single day.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
From the clip, it seems apparent that after the billions of dollars spent on the war, the focus of the war needs to shift from this whole “in it to win it” to a more substantial future for the country. Robert Greenwald brings up a great point that “war is not free”; spending 2.5 million dollars itself while President Obama was giving his speech is astounding. Moreover, there seems to be inherent flaws in the system being used in Afghanistan. Six billion dollars have spent on security including police forces, arsenal, etc. in Afghanistan but it still seems that the Taliban are well in control of the population.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The article, “Karzai Meets Delegation from Taliban-Linked Group,” discusses preliminary talks of peace negotiations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban and other insurgent group leaders. The main meeting prompting this article took place on Monday morning, when Karzai met with leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent movement, the second biggest militant group in the country after the Taliban.
Though the two insurgent groups have many similar aims and have previously been allied, the Hizb-i-Islami is actually less linked to the Taliban than the title of the article may imply, as the two groups have recently opposed each other in addition to Afghan forces. The article describes violent conflicts taking place earlier this month between the Hizb-i-Islami, whose fighters are greatly concentrated in the east and north of Afghanistan, and the Taliban, which has led the insurgency in the south. Hizb-i-Islami militiamen were said to have fought the Taliban “with rocket-propelled granades and heavy machine guns” in the Baghlan province, eventually leading dozens of Hizb-i-Islami fighters to join government forces. While insurgent groups are generally thought of as only fighting against the ruling government, it is interesting that this article highlights the additional conflicts taking place between groups and the implications these may have.
Karzai’s meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar covered a 15-point delegation proposed by the Hizb-i-Islami, under which all foreign troops would have to leave Afghanistan within the six months following July and new government elections would need to be held within a year. Although Karzai has not yet agreed to any of the conditions of this proposal, he is planning a “peace jirga,” or assembly, extended to a number of insurgent groups for the end of April. This effort is referred to as “a step towards national reconciliation” and as laying “the groundwork for a peace initiative,” though many feel a concrete agreement is still a long way off.
The significance of Monday’s meeting is also realized in this article through the background information it provides about Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister and current leader of Hizb-i-Islami. The article explains how Hekmatyar was “a major recipient of U.S. military aid” during the war against the Soviets in the 1980s but lost support from Washington because of “his role in the fighting among “mujahideen factions” which killed more than 25,000 civilians in the early 1990s. The article continues to describe how Hekmatyar was declared a “global terrorist” by the U.S. government in 2003 because he was said to have “participated in and supported terror acts committed by al-Qaida and the Taliban.” This contextual information is vital because it is predicted to have major implications regarding the willingness of the U.S. to participate in these peace proposals.
Regarding the delegation’s hope to also discuss agreements with Taliban leaders, the U.S. Embassy said that “there would be no meetings with U.S. officials.” This lack of willingness to negotiate demonstrates the military-based approach that the U.S. has maintained towards addressing the conflicts that plague the stability and security of Afghanistan.
Last month, news reports confirming the arrest of the prominent Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, conveyed a reassuring message of progress made by U.S. military efforts and made the idea of “success” in Afghanistan more tangible to many Americans. In a New York Times article, this arrest was even describes as “a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort.”
According to the recent NPR article, however, President Karzai’s view of this arrest was quite the opposite because the government had been holding “secret talks with the Taliban's No. 2 when he was captured in Pakistan.” In addition to covert conversations by the Afghan government, “U.N. officials had also been in discussions with senior Taliban officials since last year, but the arrests of Mullah Baradar and other senior Taliban figures halted the dialogue.”
Similar to how the insurgent groups are described as working against each other above, this shows how conflicting efforts between the Afghan and U.S. government are also hindering the overall progress of their joint mission for peace. In an article from the BBC, which also describes the current negotiation process between the Afghan government and insurgent groups, the journalist explains that “there is a growing recognition, both within Afghanistan and from its foreign partners, that insurgents have to be part of any peace settlement and that military operations alone will not be enough to bring peace to the country.” Though it may be difficult for the U.S. to accept the inclusion of insurgent groups as a strategy to achieve peace given their history with these groups, I think it is important that Washington consider these negotiations as they may be a potential path to "success" in Afghanistan.
Monday, March 22, 2010
While looking for articles on the war in Afghanistan I wanted to see how the foreign press reported on the war and in what fundamental ways it would differ from the American media's message we are so used to. I decided to look in my country of study, Egypt. I thought it would offer a unique middle eastern perspective on the conflict while still remaining sympathetic to certain core goals of the American fight. I was right.
In reading my foreign media, the Al Ahram Weekly – a weekly English language version of the most popular Egyptian paper, I came across an extremely interesting article pertaining to Afghanistan. The article, titled “Surging over the brink” is written by M Shahid Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University. The article discusses Alam's views as to where the future of this conflict is going while offering a concise history of the conflict as a whole and even includes important historical background information, comparing the Taliban of today with the Mujahideen of the past.
The article makes some very important points about the war. Why were the Taliban able to come back after they were removed from power in 2001 and almost nearly destroyed? If we were familiar with the history of the Pashtun people, Alam claims, this would come as no surprise. They have defied all of the odds, and with a remarkable lack of ties or support from Muslim countries, they have made advantages out of their handicaps and mounted an unprecedented comeback to such a formidable opponent. Because the Taliban acts entirely independently of outside help, “they have built their gains almost exclusively on their own strengths: and these are harder to take away”. The U.S. has pressured Pakistan to take military action against the support network in Pakistan, and as Pakistan “caves” more and more, “escalating their wars against their own population”, the backlash amongst the people grows, causing more and more to join the fight with the Taliban.
Corruption and bribes are abundant in the conflict. The Afghanistan government is very corrupt, “battened by drug money, government contracts and cronyism”. President Karzai has worsened the situation by placing the blame of this corruption on the U.S.
I was particularly impressed by Alam's careful wording. At one point he asks, “Can the US defeat these men...it calls terrorists?” This very simple distinction evokes a world of difference in viewpoints that I don't believe I've ever been offered by the American press. Later on in the article Alam offers another revelation that I may never have considered,
"No one suggests that the Taliban can match the credentials of America’s freedom fighters in the late 18th century. The latter were committed to the proposition that all men are created equal — barring certain overlooked exceptions. The Taliban are zealots and misogynists, but only a tad more so than the mujahideen whom the West embraced as freedom fighters.
The West celebrated the mujahideen’s victory over the Soviets. The same people, fighting under a different name, have now pushed the US into a costly stalemate. Will the US prolong this stalemate, and push Pakistan too over the brink? Or will it accept the fait accompli the Taliban have created for them, accept its losses, and save itself from greater embarrassment in the future?"
While reading this article I was almost shocked at the wealth of information pertaining to the war that I had never heard before and I wondered, why doesn't the American media provide us with similar journalism? The reasons why I've never read something as critical of the U.S. are not that surprising. Although I'm sure many would find it refreshingly honest and would welcome differing views from the ones recycled again and again, many would find it alienating and would no doubt it attribute it to liberal “blame America first” sensibilities. But why aren't we offered the pertinent background information that would often shed much needed context on hard to understand situations.
I wanted to quickly compare the article to a similar American one, so I found an article by The New York Times that deals with some similar topics. The Al Ahram article reflects heavily on the influx of troops and what affect it will have on the escalating conflict, so I found an article from back in November announcing Obama's troop surge. The article, titled “Obama Issues Order for More Troops in Afghanistan” is exactly what one might think. In comparison it is an extremely narrowly focused article dealing with Obama's recent decision to send more troops into Afghanistan. It offers plenty of numbers, troop numbers before Obama, after Obama and after the surge, commitments from other countries around the world, and of course makes reference to support polls. But sadly, I couldn't find mention of why a surge was necessary, how it may affect the fight, or even the state of the current conflict. I feel that staying informed is extremely essential in this day and age, but from what I have seen, the American press may be failing at giving us all the information we need.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
After looking through articles regarding Afghanistan, I really began to wonder: Where are the Afghanistan people? For this post, I looked at two articles I found that report about the recent bombings in Kandahar this past weekend. The first is story by CNN and the second is from the Wall Street Journal Asia.
CNN: Taliban Web site claims Afghan blasts were 'message' to U.S. general
The CNN story is something that I usually expect to see. The focus is on the Kandahar bombings and is mostly focused on the message left on a Taliban website that said the target of the bombings was the US general of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The rest of the article goes on to talk about Gen. Stanley McChrystal who promised to “secure Kandahar.” He also notes that the military is already doing security operations in Kandahar that is part of a “larger counterinsurgency effort.” While the article does note the amount of civilians that were injured and killed during the bombings, it does not have any statements from the citizens, other than from officials. The video attached to the article is very brief, although the story was still developing. It shows a map of Kandahar and talks about what was hit and the way two of the bombings were believed to be carried out, but there were no images of the bombings destruction.
The Taliban denied killing any civilians in the Web site statement: March 15, 2010, library pressdisplay (if you would like to read it)
In the Wall Street Journal Asia, takes a different angle of the story. Instead of focusing on the reactions of the US, it focuses on the impact this has had on the people who witnessed the bombings. They explain that the Taliban’s main target was the prison in Kandahar, which holds many of the Taliban detainees. According to the article, the other bombings, including one to a police station, were merely diversions to keep security away from the prison compound. The article claims the attacks were part of a larger motive to “intimidate Kandahar’s population and paralyze the Afghan government’s activities.”
Despite the Taliban’s boastful claims of killing or injuring a large number of US and coalition soldiers, many of the victims were civilians. But the Taliban fervently denied killing any civilians, not wanting to lose any public support. They claim that the attacks took place during “curfew” hours, even though the article notes that no such curfew exists. One thing that struck me about this article was a statement made by Agha Shirin, a 22 yr old tailor. “There was a huge flame in the air, and then the electricity was gone in the whole area. Windows shattered and children started to cry.” This statement is so powerful and really gives you a firsthand look into the bombings.
In my opinion, I thought the WSJ-Asia article did a great job at giving a different point of view of the bombings. Usually when I read articles like these, most of the comments and concerns revolve around the military officials that are there to clean up and react to the mess. For this article it focused on the outrage and impact of the civilians that witnessed the attacks, which gave me more of a connection with the story.
Once I started looking for the point of view of the Afghan people, I came across an opinion article on the Kabul Press website: “What if the people of Afghanistan could choose?” This article talks about the January 2010 Referendum held by President Obama in order to decide on withdrawing troops. Of course the article acknowledges know the public’s full opinion is very difficult. The polls are so varied by region and ethnicity and the margin of error is fairly large for the country.
However, the article asserts that in order for the people to have a voice, the US President and Congress would have to first create a open forum in which the people of Afghanistan can speak about what they want. The article notes President Karzai opinion on the matter, who says, according to the article, that he expects the US military to continue its presence until 2024.
The article predicts how this open forum of the Afghan people’s voice would change the dynamics of the war. First, it says that if the people do decide to keep troops in Afghanistan, the US can expect greater cooperation from the public and would know that it is respecting the wants of the citizens. However, one the same note, if the public decides they want the troops out and the US abides by this they will also be respecting the wants of the people. According to the article, if this were to be the case it offers the US a few options. First, the US might want to provide training for police and military personnel. Second, it could provide support in order to rebuild the country’s economy, political and education systems. And finally, the article boldly asserts that the US could make payments to the militia, “in the same way that the US, perhaps in large part, bought its way out of an insurgency in Iraq.
I thought this article was interesting because it really tries to get people to stop thinking about the “official” word (i.e. US) on what should happen in Afghanistan, but rather what do the Afghan people actually want to happen. The article makes a good point, in order for a true democracy to happen in Afghanistan, the people’s voice must be heard and their opinions used in order to make decisions.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
All wars have civilian casualties as we know. Civilians are always present in war zones often becoming victims of the conflict at hand. These global conflicts in recent decades have seemed to focus more on these unfortunate fatalities. They seem to occur as accidents, however it appears many of these losses could have been avoided. While looking at the War in Afghanistan, these civilian casualties have been seen as being a necessary loss in efforts towards an end to Taliban rule. In a recent article concerning this issue in Afghanistan I was drawn towards the way in which an Associated Press writer portrayed some of the latest civilian deaths. The thing that struck me about the article is that many of these poor civilians can do nothing when it comes somehow being involved in the conflict between the Taliban and American troops. Much of the conflict in their hometowns is out of their control. Residents are most noticeably under the control of Taliban forces. It is extremely dangerous to be seen with NATO forces and are threatened with death if they don’t follow Taliban orders. They are basically the puppets of Taliban forces, something I had never known or thought about. Due to this, many of them despite not wanting to help the Taliban are forced to do so putting themselves in a position to be more likely killed.
One of the obvious goals of the Americans initiative in Afghanistan is to help free Afghan citizens from Taliban rule. This would provide them a safer environment to live in as well as basic human rights. Aside to this, the war has resulted in an extremely dangerous setting. As the article states, three recent civilian deaths has “highlighted the toll on the population from an offensive aimed at making them safer.” The article goes on to state that “two errant U.S. missiles struck a house on the outskirts of the town of Marjah on Sunday, killing 12 people, half of them children. Afghan officials said Monday three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.” I find the diction of the writer to be interesting in his use of the word “errant.” This makes it seem as though the missiles were accidentally fired upon this house. Therefore, these civilian casualties are not a direct result of American forces. In addition, three Taliban fighters were still killed, which is good according to this statement. Again, civilian deaths are simply a result of achieving a better effort of ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban. This is something always apparent in recent global conflicts. It is disappointing to see the reporting on this incident hinder the truth most likely, however it is not surprising and is an effect of the American press system. The article does interestingly provide the fact that NATO officials stated there were only 15 civilian deaths in another incident, while an Afghan human rights group reported 19 deaths. The writer is able to give voice to a group that would otherwise never be heard.
As I stated, the thing that struck me was the unfortunate involvement Afghan civilians have in this conflict. One man in the article proclaims, “When they come, we try to tell them not to use our house, but they have guns so they do what they want.” The Taliban forces clearly do what they want within communities in Afghanistan. This puts these civilians in harms way of NATO forces. By using Afghan civilian homes to attack NATO forces this makes it harder for NATO forces to distinguish Taliban fighters from Afghan civilians. There is nothing these Afghan civilians can do about this unfortunately. They play an unlucky role in this conflict that often gets them killed. I never took this into consideration until reading this article. My question is then are the Taliban forces to blame for this or do NATO forces still need to be more careful and thorough in their operations? It appears that both are to blame. They both attribute to the ill-fated civilian casualties of war. Sadly, there will always be civilian casualties. It will be interesting to see how much longer this war will prolong causing more and more civilians deaths.
Monday, March 1, 2010
There are so many interesting news stories that can be covered in the Afghanistan Project. And a recent news story that really caught my eye was from the Al Jazeera website, an interview with psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen. Al Jazeera’s interview with Van Dahlen, “the war within: PTSD in the military” aired February 4, 2010 and claims that out of two million US soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, psychiatrists estimate that one may, at some point, develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I chose this story because when I watch the news, I usually find personal stories more meaningful than more expansive news stories. Statistics are important to me, but I feel more empathy when learning about individual soldiers. Likewise, I have a family member in Kuwait at this very moment and I can really sympathize with these personal stories about the war. The Al Jazeera piece explaining PTSD also supplied a link to Nicholas Horner’s story, “Iraq Vet in Pennsylvania Murders Was Radically Changed by War and PTSD” published by the Salem News in April 2009.
According to Van Dahlen, post-traumatic stress disorder causes people to be ‘on the alert’ because they fear there’s danger, since they have previously experienced trauma by an event they couldn’t control that was very physically threatening, disruptive, or dangerous; their brain is on ‘hyper alert’ for fear that another event will occur that they can’t control. PTSD is significantly affecting soldiers since there really is no frontline in this war, there are no safe zones; it’s difficult to tell who is foe. In the interview, Van Dahlen also told Al Jazeera that PTSD affects the whole family, not just the soldier and that suicide rates are also on the rise among soldiers. She said that soldiers become more anxious, agitated, and that they don’t perceive the world as safe anymore. They feel frightened, threatened, and their judgment is impaired, which puts them at a higher risk for impulsive acts. After viewing this interview, I could perceive Van Dahlen and Al Jazeera’s real concern with PTSD. I sympathize with Al Jazeera for exposing this disorder that affects so many soldiers. Before reading this, I had no idea the extent to which it was affecting our soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan; I’ve heard all my life about soldiers with this condition from serving in the Civil War and Vietnam especially, but I wasn’t aware of how much its affecting our soldiers today.
Van Dahlen’s interview with Al Jazeera on PTSD brings me to my next issue,
Nicholas Horner, an Iraq war veteran charged with murdering two people. In April 2009, Nicholas Horner returned home from on medical leave from the army. While he was home, he shot three people in Pennsylvania as he had a ‘flashback’ and identified his victims as ‘threats’. Two of the three victims died and Horner faced criminal homicide charges. In a video report from WINK TV located in Pennsylvania, Horner’s family noted that Nicholas ‘changed’ after he was sent back from his third deployment and they thought he suffered from PTSD. Unfortunately, when browsing the Internet I wasn’t able to find much follow-up information about the outcomes of this situation, leading me to think that Horner’s case may still be in progress.
However, Al Jazeera’s interview and Nicholas Horner’s story imply that PTSD is prominent among soldiers and that it can have horrific effects such as suicide, homicide, or other impulsive behaviors. On a side note, PTSD has even been chronicled in a 2009 film, Brothers, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire. Maguire plays the father of the family, Captain Sam Cahill; his experiences overseas caused him such emotional turmoil, that he had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life, and fear and paranoia began to manifest themselves in the form of jealousy for his brother's relationship with his wife.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Galbraith, like many others, questions the efficacy of NATO troops in Afghanistan. And what he says does hold weight and makes perfect sense. We are exerting enormous amounts of energy and utilizing trillion dollar bucketfuls of resources to keep up these "counterinsurgency" efforts in Afghanistan when we could be using this power force to address domestic issues. It's not an unheard of argument; in fact, it is one of the most common arguments against the "War on Terror" since the beginning of this war.
However, he mentioned something that I questioned: In his opinion, the Taliban can never retake Afghanistan again, especially because nearly 55% of people in the region do not support the Taliban and will not again in the future... unless "we do what we did in the nineties and completely walked away" (2:08). What is his basis for saying this? Granted, as of now, with NATO forces holding down fort in Kabul and other former Taliban strongholds, it is very unlikely that Taliban forces could take over. Yet, that is not to say that they could never ever again in the future come back to power, especially on the basis of the argument that more than half the population are opposed to the extremist party. Those with the will and resources can always usurp the place of others and insert themselves into positions of authority, even without the approval or acceptance of the population over which they rule. Power in many cases like these is not based in actual ruling capability or ruling rights, but is attributed to fear and violence.
What is interesting to note is the second portion of that quotation, citing back to what "we" (presumably the US government) did in the nineties, ie leave completely. Here, Galbraith brings up yet another oft-heard point-- that to completely pull out (of Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever) would bring detrimental consequences to both countries. Many have stated the the success of several radical parties post-war is contributed to the presence and sense of stability provided in the aftermath and chaos of violence. In this case, should the US leave after everything that has happened in the past eight years (and yes, it has been eight already!), then all our efforts would have been for naught and Afghanistan would relapse.
And thus comes the increasingly difficult question to answer: Now what do we do? We can neither stay nor leave, win nor lose. Will the Afghans be able to maintain a stable infrastructure? Will the Afghan government ever shed itself of its corrupted past? How will the different Afghan people from different regions and cultures ever develop a sense of nation? What is the best thing for outside forces to do in and for Afghanistan? Do the Afghans even have a say in this-- or are we planning everything for them in their name? How do we know what they want? How do we know what is best for a people we do not try to get to know or understand yet say that it is in their honor and for their protection we station ourselves in their country to fight their enemies, who are also our own?
Galbraith is right-- there is no winning or losing. Because how can someone win or lose something that is not a matter of winning or losing? Maybe Afghanistan is like a "Would you rather?" game, where the best of two bad choices must be made in the hopes that something good and long-lasting will come of it.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
When deciding on what I would write my blog about I first decided to obtain my sources from the BBC because throughout the semester I have been using coverage from the United Kingdom. I then started reading a lot about Operation Moshtarak, which is a joint effort between NATO and Afghan forces in the area of southern Afghanistan. Over 15,000 Afghan, Bristish, American, Danish, Estonian and Canadian troops are located here in an offensive effort against the Taliban. Their main focal point is on the town of Marjah, which has been the center for trading opium. After trying to somewhat grasp the background of this operation, which you can learn more about by clicking on the word Moshtarak, I decided to focus on an article that related to not only this, but also a previous discussion we had in class concerning women in battle.
The article highlighting Lieutenant Colonel Jennie Carignan, Women at War: Life on the Front Line, simply caught my eye because it is a reversed story about a woman fighting in Afghanistan while her husband raises their family in Quebec City, Canada. She is a Canadian woman who is stationed in this dangerous location of southern Afghanistan, leading a group of engineers and landmine specialists. The article discusses how Col Carignan feels that she is treated as if she is one of the guys, but that it took some time to get to that point. She has been in the Military for 23 years and has earned much respect through other battles she has been involved in. Although she is comfortable with her own, she was very surprised by how well the Afghan commanders have also accepted her. I too was very surprised by this approval and wondered if it is only because she is a Canadian woman, and how they react if one of their own country’s women obtains this type of military rank? Not knowing much about women’s rights in Afghanistan I may be questioning nothing, but I also have a hard time believing that all the British and North American male troops are overly accepting of this. Although men and women share many equal opportunities, I personally think the military must still be a soft spot in equality. Consequently I was very surprised at how this acceptance was really only a blip in the article. Furthermore, I believe the Taliban is notorious for their maltreatment of women, therefore I worry if she were to be captured how she would be dealt with and where her treatment would differ from that of the men.
The article continues to discuss her husband and how the family copes with her absence. Col Carignan’s husband who also worked with Canadian forces for 22 years is caring for their four children and becoming a schoolteacher. The piece explains how proud the family is of their mother, but goes on to say that the father always receives astonished faces when people learn of their situation. In addition, Carignan’s husband shares how he is worried about their children and what they are missing because their mother is gone, but on a positive note that he is raising very independent individuals. Personally I felt like in the discussion of her family the journalist made it more evident that it is different for a woman to be gone at war than a man. Why is it so different? Although a mother is a huge part in a child’s life, so is a father and for as long as there has been war an abundance of children have been raised without their father always being there. Is there actually a difference between the severity of being raised by only a mother or a father, or is it just that it is in many ways more socially acceptable to be raised by only a mom?
Overall I thought this article was very interesting and it made me really think about where my opinions lie with regards to women on the front line in the military and how far along different parts of the world are in accepting the idea. What do you think about women in the military? Do you think the concept will ever be as well received as the service of men?
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Hearing about the suicide bombers in Afghanistan isn’t exactly something that’s new. Tragic, certainly, but not really new. Suicide bombers are a considerable problem that American news sources report all the time. Normally, these sources report on the American soldiers and Afghani civilian bystanders that are injured or killed by the attacks. It’s rare to read about preventive measures besides perhaps Americans becoming more suspicious and increasing security around their bases or something similar. It’s extremely rare to read or see anything about what local Afghani officials are doing to protect their people, who perhaps suffer greater casualties than the American soldiers.
But these efforts exist, Al Jazeera reports, in almost revolutionary ways.
I originally chose Al Jazeera as a news source due to its location in the Middle East as well as in light of Melanie’s blog post. I expected it to possibly be more sympathetic to the plight of the regular citizens compared to Western news outlets. However, the news story was actually sympathetic to both the rather unstable government in addition to the people suffering the most from these bombings.
What especially caught my interest was the fact that the government, largely Islamic both culturally and lawfully, is now seeking to (or being forced to, at least) break out of this tradition by Islamic extremists. This brings to mind the phrase, “Desperate times call for desperate measures”. As clichéd as it is, the phrase perhaps sums up the situation best. When men aren’t enough to do the job, both sides, the government and the Taliban, bring in women, whose traditional roles normally keep them in the home.
There was another thing that caught my attention, and that was the anecdote of the policewoman, Sabera’s, daughter getting beaten by other young boys because of her mother’s job. I found it surprising that the story didn’t go into more detail about why Sabera was willing to risk both her and her family’s life by working undercover in the police force. This was especially surprising since the news story gave positive incentives that men received that encouraged them to join, but none were mentioned for the women. There was no mention of pay or benefits for the women but only the risks they were forced to put up with.
I thought that there was another interesting and stark contrast between the women and men in the police force. The clips of the women were set in a very domestic setting, i.e. in a den-like room with a kettle and some filled cups on a table. The men, on the other hand, were shown “in action” carrying guns and standing behind barbed wire or frisking men who were passing through the checkpoints. Is this meant to be a sign that, even with the necessary change and need for female police officers, women, in the end, just aren’t meant to be active law enforcers? And, if they do, their loved ones will only be scorned and beaten because their mothers are attempting to create a safe community? Could the armed men also be a comparison to American soldiers, who are frequently seen in full battle gear when patrolling their areas? Compared to the American soldiers, these police men are almost woefully under equipped with guns that look like props in a historic war film.
The news story provided some insight to a side—what the Afghanistan government is doing—that Americans rarely hear about. However, although the government is taking a step towards expanding the diversity of their work force, it is also evident that there is still quite a considerable amount of work that needs to be done to create equality in the workplace. Especially for these high-risk jobs in frisking potential suicide bombers.
Monday, February 8, 2010
For my post this week, I wanted to delve into the experiences of Afghan people. More specifically, how do they reconcile their identity as an Afghan citizen with a desire to live without violence and instability? In my search, I found an interesting article about the increased rate of migration out of Afghanistan through illegal, often perilous means. Despite the influx of Afghan refugees returning home following the seemingly successful ousting of the Taliban early on, the insurgency along with corruption in the government have led to big business for smugglers offering escape to other countries. Afghans are paying upwards of $25,000 to be able to live a normal life outside of Afghanistan.
Given the fact that it’s very difficult to find work and impossible to find safe work, it makes sense that these people would want to get out of Afghanistan. However, prior to reading this piece, I had a very different image of what smuggling entailed. Above all, I was surprised by how common smugglers are. The author writes that, “Finding a smuggler is not as difficult as it might seem.” Despite knowing many of the problems with Karzai’s government, I was struck by the ease with which these smuggling rings operate as well. The writer continues citing how, “One smuggler chuckled when asked if he feared being arrested, saying his business operated much like a travel agency, and almost as openly.” I imagine many people cannot afford to leave the country, but for a lot young people, it’s a realistic option.
For me, this article illuminates the struggle faced by everyday Afghans more clearly. While many young people love their country, they feel conflicted because they want to live in peace. And because of this, they are extremely committed to finding a way to leave Afghanistan. One deportee is quoted as saying he will save his money and try to leave again as soon as possible. Another Afghan explains his commitment to escaping, saying that, “’It’s death or destination.’” These people are Afghans, but Afghanistan cannot provide the simple pleasures and freedoms they want. Living a normal life seems unachievable is such a setting.
In general, the piece highlights the important fact that war has deep, unforeseeable, far-reaching and lasting implications. As Americans, we hear news about Afghanistan, but we can never truly understand the innumerable ways in which individual human beings are affected. This is relevant to us, because as consumers of news coverage of the war, it’s important to understand that it’s more than just the number of people killed that day or even the experiences of our own soldiers. The Afghanistan war is a jumble of causes and effects, and it spreads across continents with the individuals it influences.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
When I initially thought about the topic I wanted to focus on for my blog post, I realized that one of the things I had little knowledge of was the strategies that have been proposed in order to win the war in Afghanistan. In the book In The Graveyard of Empires we have been reading about what Afghanistan looks like-- a mountainous region, but I was interested to know what it looked like from inside the military; the inner-workings and reasoning behind occupying the country. Another reason I chose the topic of looking at soldiers in Afghanistan is that as I write this blog post, my brother-in-law is being shipped out to the Middle East to serve in the Air Force.
The Frontline Story, called Obama's War, gave me the opportunity to see into the occupation, including views of both soldiers and those they take direction from. However, the story focused both on giving context to the fighting taking place, as well as the counterinsurgency strategies the military employs to "win" in Afghanistan. Experts believe that clearing the Taliban from provinces has proved fruitless because as an area has been cleared of Taliban control in the past, the military leaves shortly thereafter and never actually holds the territory, allowing the Taliban take over again. In the book In the Graveyard of Empires, we also see that in the 70s, the US similarly pulled out of Afghanistan as soon as Russia pulled out, rather than helping set up an infrastructure to prevent "extremist" groups from taking over.
Throughout the story, loaded phrases were thrown around, mostly by those interviewed, which included military men and strategists. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, interviewed about the production of opium states that, "drug dealers, criminals, and extremists" survive off of the poppy production by paying and intimidating the farmers. Rather than allowing for the possibility of producing opium in order to survive, Mullen implies that all men growing must be under the influence of "extremists." However, the piece goes on to prove that it was actually Westerners who allowed for poppy production to grow rapidly because years ago, the same men who created the Hoover Dam created similar dams in the Helmand province, allowing for better control of flooding and, thus, rich and fertile grounds. Drug trade, however, is not the focus of military strategy, so for the time being, the opium is largely ignored.
What the military is instead attempting to do is forge relationships with the people in Afghanistan in order to make the population feel secure enough to participate in political discourse. Strategists state that unlike previous missions, the marines plan to stay in Afghanistan this time around to work with the people in order to separate them from the Taliban. The three main strategies include protecting the population, maximizing the effects of the civilian insurgency, and improving the government, fighting corruption, and building infrastructure. Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger and prominent Middle Eastern studies scholar shown in this piece for his expertise, writes a blog called Abu Muqawama (Arabic for "father or expert of the Resistance) about counterinsurgency, which can be read here.
In listening to these strategies, it was hard for me to grasp the reality of success in Afghanistan. The report juxtaposes the possibility of relationships by showing soldiers "talking" with Afghan people, but getting frustrated because the people wouldn't help. One Afghan man promptly responded, somewhat aghast at the lack of understanding, "What can we do to help you? You have planes, tanks, and guns. We are simple people with nothing." Though it must be frustrating for the marines to speak to a group of people from a different culture, the soldiers were less friendly to them than one would expect. Although soldiers must be on their guard at all times in order to protect themselves, when walking up to a group of men outside a building one marine said, "Tell your people don't run and don't start stuffing stuff in your pockets- that looks suspicious." Though the troops are sent to Afghanistan to protect the people, at times it feels more like the troops are controlling them.
Even in the first 30 minutes of the segment, it is possible to grasp the type of guerilla fighting that takes place overseas; soldiers are never really sure where their enemies come from and thus are wary of any Afghan people. The report was a bit lengthy, given that it covered an hour-long time slot, but gave great insight into soldier's day-to-day experiences and the thoughts of officers that soldiers report to. On the side of the screen next to the segment are posted links to other articles and interviews relating to Afghanistan and the counterinsurgency efforts, like this one. This allows for even more context and background than the initial report gives.
I think it was important that the report included Afghanistan people talking about their fear of the Taliban, while also including interviews with important figures within the US military. For once, a report did not glorify the actions of the American soldiers, but rather gave a more objective view of how both Americans and Afghanistan people view them. I would encourage reporters to further explore the connection between soldiers and Afghanistan people as they continue to report on the war- an important aspect of the strategy for which soldiers hope to drive out the Taliban: by forming relationships with the people in order to work with them.