Cutting Women in the Forgotten Province


20 October 2011
Travels to Nimruz Province, Afghanistan

Nimruz has been called the forgotten province, and it’s true.  During each of my two journeys to Nimruz, I talked with the governor and many others.  The welcome has been hearty though our presence is scant.

Enemy activity is manageable, though serious.  I haven’t seen any Coalition forces the entire trip and our people seldom come to the capital city of Zaranj.  Directional cell phone antennas jut from rooftops across the city, all pointing toward neighboring Iran.  My Afghan AWCC cell phone works all night, indicating the enemies are not in charge here.  In places of heavy enemy influence, such as Helmand, Urozgan, Kandahar, and Zabul, cell phones typically do not work at night.  A map of uninterrupted cell phone service around Afghanistan likely would tell the story of who owns the night and where.  Coalition influence in Nimruz is minimal; we rarely step foot in Zaranj, and when the Marines do come, they land in Ospreys, have their meetings and fly away within hours.

Sounds of war are not a backdrop.  Rockets flew in from Iran but the explosions were too distant for me to hear.   No helicopters, no jets, no booms up close or even in the distance.  Not a single gunshot this trip, though there have been impressive suicide attacks in recent times.  The provincial police chief told me in his office Saturday that he lost (KIA) roughly 80 officers, about 5% of his force, over the past year.  That does not include wounded.  The chief said the more senior the person the more they are tortured.  Younger officers may only be decapitated, but more senior people might be dragged behind a truck through the desert.  Despite all that, the people have been welcoming and very friendly.  The meager aid programs have returned much gratitude and goodwill.

The question has come up repeatedly here, as it does in other more peaceful areas: “Why does the Coalition spend so much in the dangerous places like Kandahar and Helmand, when you are welcome here?”  The Kurdish used to ask this question in northern Iraq.  We spent billions on people who blew us up, and mostly ignored those who offered tea.

The answer is more one of strategy than of resources.  A paradigm shift might have us investing in the peaceful areas—but with far less bloodshed and a relatively enormous return—and abandoning or scaling back in the dangerous areas.  Case in point: After a decade of war, we are still wrestling over what amounts to a handful of troublesome villages near Kandahar City.  The untamed Zhari District is thirteen minutes by helicopter from Kandahar Airfield, an international airport that includes a T.G.I.-Friday’s.  A line of helium-filled, white observation balloons dots the airscape.  At the anchor of every tether is a military base.  The white balloons are worth their empty weight in pearls, yet our billions of dollars have so far lifted this area no more than those balloons have lifted the land.  It’s not as if Zhari were tucked away along an enemy ratline deep in the forbidden areas of the Hindu Kush.  Zhari and neighboring districts are not hidden under triple canopy jungle.  The land is flat.  Open.  Accessible by car, foot, or a pogo stick if you care to hop out there under enemy fire.

We expend huge effort to tame the wild villages while investing scant attention elsewhere.  The message is clear.  While attending a funeral service for a killed policeman, the governor of Nimruz Province said to me over tea, “Do you want that we should fight you, too?”  By contrast, neighboring Helmand Province absorbed substantial Coalition aid and blood.  The idea of investing more into our allies and expending less on our enemies is not new.  We can strengthen allies with small investments instead of taming the bleeding ulcers with our own blood and hundreds of billions of dollars, which go more into military operations than into nation building.

Recently, I spent ten weeks with the excellent 4-4 Cav squadron (battalion) in Zhari District of Kandahar Province.  4-4 Cav has already taken about 90 casualties.  A single one of their armored vehicles, which are regularly destroyed, costs millions of dollars.  The squadron clearly is making progress in their area.  There is no doubt about it.  But a million dollars spent in Zhari will probably bleed $990,000 dollars’ worth of military expense to achieve $10,000 worth of progress, and we will need to spend enormous numbers of millions per year to achieve anything at all.  We will need body bags.  Meanwhile, a single million spent in Nimruz will return no military expense, no mangled US and Afghan bodies, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in progress, but only if the implementers are working low profile and not tooling around with their own overhead-guzzling security apparatus.

Low-profile, low-cost projects can make a big difference.  During 2010 in Nimruz, more than a hundred women were employed as instructors, supervisors and support staff in a program that targeted females.  Mr. Bashir Sediqi (Nimruz Provincial Manager for Central Asia Development Group) told me that more than 750 housewives and girls were in a program focused on adult literacy and vocational training, including beautification (hair/face/nails), tailoring, and carpet weaving, which I witnessed in 2010.

The project was funded by USAID and implemented by Central Asia Development Group (CADG).  The cost of the project was $139,948 from January to September 2010.  If all costs are included, bets are on that a single trip by Marines in their Ospreys to Zaranj will cost multiples of that amount, and little will have been achieved other than some tea time.  Using the military for this sort of nation-building is like outfitting the US Postal service with helicopters to deliver postcards.  Stamps would cost a thousand dollars and moms would quickly tire of having helicopter hurricanes blowing the kids off their bikes.  Likewise, we would not deploy the postal service to hunt Taliban.  The military can actually succeed in nation-building, but at tremendous expense while obligating the military for years on end.

The war has reached its military apogee.  We are looking for a way to land that doesn’t include crashing.  We must face the reality that building Afghanistan to any level of modernity will require a century.   The hand that rocks the cradle is illiterate yet thirsty for knowledge.  Recently, as Bashir and I drove deep into the Dasht-e-Margo (Desert of Death), we passed through a village on the Helmand River.  Two small girls looked at us driving through, and Bashir said, “They are future housewives.”  In village after village the people waved and smiled.  The children of Nimruz Province need schools.  The girls and women desperately need education.  The governor, police chief, and many others have welcomed our presence.  As we reduce our footprint in Afghanistan, we should consider shifting away from expending efforts in dangerous areas in order to invest in the permissive districts.

When I visited the women’s project last year, a woman pleaded that the effort continue.  She sounded as if she had been released from a prison and didn’t want to go back.   Now sits a pile of fabric, and the sewing machines were covered with so much dust that you couldn’t see the paint.  And there was a basket of dusty scissors.  I dumped the scissors in the sun for a photograph, and asked Bashir what became of the women’s program.  Was it cut?  “Yes, it was cut,” Bashir answered.  “It was very sad.  It was a great program and the women loved it.”


# MikeM 2011-10-20 08:37
As we leave, it will be more and more up to these forward thinking provinces like Nimroz, Bamyan, etc. to pull Afghanistan forward. Kind of hard right now to ask for either more money for these provinces or to pull money from the rough ones to put toward these, but maybe this should be our focus on the State Dept. side as we creep out. During early America's critical points, it was the forward thinking states that ensured our bright future of today (be it our Revolution, abolishment of slavery, etc.).
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+2 # in_awe 2011-10-20 13:12
I do wonder if money would draw the Taliban like flies to honey? Would more aid signal the Taliban that it was time to come to Nimroz and kill tribal leaders and elders for cooperating with the enemy? Would it occasion extortion of the money by the Taliban by threatening to kill women and children, blow-up whatever the money paid for such as schools, roads, cell towers, wells, etc.? As I recall, such programs in Vietnam tended ultimately to either wind up with all the villagers being murdered or the entire village being "relocated" for its protection, much to the horror of its inhabitants.
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+6 # Sigivald 2011-10-20 14:41
After a decade of war, we are still wrestling over what amounts to a handful of troublesome villages near Kandahar City.

This is the sort of thing that more people need to hear.

Not because it illustrates a failing - but because it illustrates a great strength of character.

To hear some people talk (thankfully a great minority), you'd think the US Military and government were horrible, murderous, bloodthirsty beasts, eager for slaughter.

That a few villages in Afghanistan have been sore spots for a decade, and they haven't just been destroyed disproves every assumption behind those beliefs, in and of itself, making them untenable.

After all, if their beliefs were correct, the problem would be easily fixed in an afternoon with a few sorties from some B-52s or the like.

(Sadly, I think those who most need to see that, would ignore it no matter how it was presented to them.)
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# Sigivald 2011-10-20 14:42
(Where'd my italic tags go? I dunno. First line above should be italic to indicate it's a quote.

Insert small rant here about how web comment tools should ALWAYS respect basic HTML, even if they have cute little buttons up top for formatting.)
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+2 # John - Capt in ANG 2011-10-20 16:22
in_awe, you do make good points but from what I can repeat from Open Source reports, the Taliban don't mind us giving aid, because then they just steal or extort it from those we gave it.

I don't track USAID closely enough to comment on Michael's report. I do know the PRT and other groups have 100% focus on where to spend the money. If there's a logic to it, it's theirs. I know they track stability, local governance, and current projects down to the levels Michael's talking about, so there are General Officers who daily see the stat's on this. Since I haven't been in theater in 10 months, I can't confirm or argue on specifics in his dispatch.

Unfortunately, I'd say most of them are too busy working 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week to be reading and posting here though.
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# datamonkey 2011-10-22 08:48
Surely it's not the Generals who should be making the call on this? - isn't that what the politicians have been put in post for? Generals prosecute war...they get paid for it.

Anything else should just be eye candy for them; let the politicians and politicos get on with deciding what is supposed to be being achieved here, with advice of course, but rememeber Generals fight wars and they will (rightly?) focus their attentions and efforts on where the fight is. As Michael has identified - the fight isn't everywhere, but the money and effort still focusses on the lost cause.
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-9 # Micha Elyi 2011-10-20 16:37
Let the Code Pink feminists pay for those female programs.
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+1 # IronV 2011-10-20 17:41
I've read some pretty disgusting, ignorant comments before, but this one stands out for its sheer, malicious, ugliness.
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+1 # wombat 2011-10-20 18:50
Amen! I couldn't agree with you more.
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+1 # Mike 2011-10-21 00:42
Maybe you should google code pink before you make youself look dumb.
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# Art 2011-10-21 10:31
You can't educate people like this (wombat, Micha Elyi) they just hate anyone who don't think like they do.
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+4 # Mary 2011-10-20 19:17
No, as long as Islam is the dominant religion, women will not be treated fairly, let alone equally.
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-1 # Art 2011-10-21 10:26
We here in the US don't treat women fairly either so why do we think we can go somewhere else and teach them to treat women fairly. We should mind our own business. Beside we are over there for oil not fair treatment of other people.
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+2 # epador 2011-10-22 10:56
Wow, you can sum up your distorted perception in three poorly constructed sentences. Bravo!
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+3 # Collin 2011-10-23 00:45
Last time I checked we didn't refuse education for women in the United States nor do we force them to have a male chaperon while conducting life outside their home; American daughters can attend school after the age of 8; my wife doesn't have to wear a burqa. The Taliban seems to think we should do things differently...w hat other painfully apparent truths have to be highlighted?

To compare the treatment of women in the US to that of those in Afghanistan is absurd and quickly invalidates you, Art.
Oh, and nice job with the 'oil' card, way to solidify yourself. The country is landlocked and has negligible petrochemical resources. Pipeline from central Asia? Different story. Try reading juuuust a little.

But I guess I should just mind my own business.
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# jetdrvr 2011-10-21 19:14
Without doubt.
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+2 # JBM 2011-10-20 19:20
Reinforce success...what a concept!
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-9 # idiotproof_53 2011-10-21 01:49
OMy gosh. it's still happening. Mutilation. I feel really bad for the women and children (they don't ask for the abuse, it's just part of their backward thinking culture, especially sharia law.), but again, OMy gosh. I'm sorry they have to live with that sexual/ritual abuse. The men are bereft of common sense or personal decency. Especially where mistreatment of women is concerned. Please my extend my deepest sorrow to all those women.
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+3 # Di 2011-10-21 03:29
Dear idiotproof, please read the article.
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+3 # Ddw1959 2011-10-21 04:20
???? WTF?
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+3 # mike h 2011-10-21 07:38
I hope your not a teacher. LOL
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# jetdrvr 2011-10-21 19:13
"Idiotproof' is an oxymoron with this one,,,
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# teach_u 2011-10-22 19:14
"mike h" I hope "your" not a teacher! Try "you're" you tool!
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-2 # woodNfish 2011-10-21 07:36
Let Afghan solve its own problems, bring our troops home from everywhere overseas. We need to stop being military interventionist s and return to minding our own business and trading with the rest of the world, not policing it.
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-6 # Republicus Maximus 2011-10-21 08:58
It's very simple: while we are good at fighing, shooting, killing the enemhy, and the like, the top side has lost the ability to prosecute war in general. Obviously there are many factors at work here, which have resulted in one step forward and two steps back. Ten years with the results we have obtained? Incredible. The Global 2000 Report issued in Pres. Carter's administration in the 1970s said we would be in this very situation of gorilla or urban fighting, but they still fight a war like we're in France heading towards Berlin.
It's VN all over again: lives expended for people who don't want us, don't like us, and don't support our mission. Bring them home.
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+2 # Brian 2011-10-21 09:33
Did you miss evertyhing Mike said about our troops being welcome and people wanting us to remain so they could experience freedom and progress? Get over your VN fixation...and shave your hippie beard.

The bottom line is, we should kill terrorists on foreign soil so they don't have the time or resources to plan attacks on the US.
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# Republicus Maximus 2011-10-21 09:57
Fixation? Hippie beard? Your comments are very misguided.
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# epador 2011-10-22 10:54
Metaphor appears to escape you.
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# michael goedicke 2011-11-04 09:17
you ae a pot smocking foll as is obvious you dont understand anything that you are talking about even i undersood the hippie part and trust me i am a 15 yr old who is not the sharpest tool in the shed, oh thats right you dont understand sqaut jack about metaphorsso i am not the best highscool student you !@#$-*&^%@* @%&$* you are also a faggot, a mariposa idiota and a cabron headed piece of s%$T
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-11 # Art 2011-10-21 10:43
Why can't people figure out that we are invaders now in Afghanistan not liberaters. They are fighting for their freedoms from U.S.S.R., Oh I forgot it is now U.S.A. It is Vietnam all over again.
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+1 # TJ 2011-10-21 13:21
That's nice, Art. Any thoughts on the article by chance?
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# Art 2011-10-21 16:33
Your right, but I do read what Mr. Yon says but I'm so against this war (now). But for me politics always gets in the way. We should not be there now, back after 9/11 YES but now we are just invaders. Mr. Yon shows me that we are not the USSR but now we are invaders 10 years into it. I can't help but seeing the two wars turning out to be the same thing, Vietnam and these two wars. The people loved the soldiers during the day but at night they had to watch their backs. Go to town and if you strayed off the main road or miss curfew you would get hurt or worse.
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# epador 2011-10-22 10:53
So you admit your emotions prevent you from any rational evaluation or discussion.

Get some help.
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+2 # IronV 2011-10-24 01:37
Ignorance of impossible proportions. But let's set that aside for a moment. Here's the reality: You threaten us and we're coming after you. Period. Figure it out... Until Afhganistan and Pakistan root out and neutralize lunatic terrorists on their own, we'll do it.
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+2 # MikeM 2011-10-21 11:06
I can't help but laugh at how so many people will comment on a story without reading even a portion of the article. This is so widespread it's past the point of laughter.

"fu their stupid hahah a GO GATORS!!!1"
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-2 # Republicus Maximus 2011-10-21 12:22
You may be referring to my post, and you are correct; I didn't read the whole article, and was not specifically commenting on it but more the general trends of this 10-year old engagement. I am not particularly interested in a small pocket of people that are not condemning the US, since they are rare in that cesspool.
I began following Yon when he first started sending dispatches and discussing our troops years ago, even bought his first book. But since then the tone of his work has changed, probably from getting too close to the situation, which sometimes happens to correspondants.
For this reason this is my last post. You won't have to worry about defending your views from us alledged bearded hippies in future. I am sure all will be relieved.
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# epador 2011-10-22 10:52
Somehow, your sad and hurt tone doesn't match your chosen moniker.

Whether you bathe daily or not, are clean shaven or fully bearded, shave your head or have dreadlocks, the timbre and nature of your comments I've seen show an intellectual prowess that equals that of the Intelligentsia of the 60's and 70's.

Stating you are taking your marbles and going home seems appropriate. Bye.
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# Janice Stroud 2011-10-26 11:50
Your last line about "taking your toys" was almost verbatim what popped into my head when I read his reply. Do we follow/support Michael's reporting because we always agree with his conclusions or because we appreciate the information so we can more accurately form our own perspective ?
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# Michael Yon 2011-10-23 23:25
Golden Seconds: An Open Letter to Secretary Panetta and President Obama

Please read carefully and distribute widely.
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# Donald R Cusack 2011-10-25 09:43
If we were to work only with the friendly areas and not pursue the Taliban in the problem places the US sentiment would soon grow weary of nation building and demand all troops be brought home. A better solution would be to continue the aid programs to those worthy places that you mentioned and continue taking the fight to the enemy.
Thanks to all of the men and women of our volunteer Armed Forces for the great work that they do.
And thanks to men like you an Bing West for you reporting in these forsaken places
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