By Col. David AucoinMarch 31, 2009
I had the privilege of accompanying Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson to a meeting with Zabul Province Gov. Arman, Dep. Gov. Gulab Shah and Afghanistan National Army Maj. Gen. Jamal Uddin.
Arman is one of the longest-standing governors in all of Afghanistan and also one of our strongest allies. He is very articulate, fluent in English and has an engineering background.
The meeting was also attended by representatives from the State Department, the Agency for International Development and the Qalat Civil-Military Cooperation Provincial Reconstruction Team. It highlighted the many very complex issues we face in supporting the Zabul Provincial Government and Afghanistan in general.
Arman was very interested in the expansion of bases in and around Qalat, the provincial capital. As with bases back in the United States, he is clearly aware of the economic benefits of these facilities which could potentially employ many of his constituents and improve the economy for the Zabul province.
Arman has a vision of a master plan for Qalat and would like assistance in achieving his vision. Zabul province has a literacy rate estimated to be below 5 percent, life expectancy in the 40s and a high infant mortality rate. While there is a strong desire [by Coalition authorities] to employ local Afghans, their skill sets must be enhanced.
Accordingly, there is a strong desire for vocational and administrative training. On the latter, administering a contract appears to be one of the biggest challenges.
We often perceive things in a very focused, kinetic manner; that is, how to go out and get the "bad guys." In reality, it is much more complex. Eliminating the insurgency won't necessarily address the root causes of the problems -- specifically, the very dire economic and living conditions that exist throughout much of Afghanistan. By improving the lot of the average Afghan, supporting the Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan National Police and demonstrating that the elected government is directly involved in improving the daily lives of the Afghans, we will strengthen Afghan governance and enable Afghans to become resistant to outside influences.
This will not happen overnight and will require an inter-agency approach from the Departments of Defense and State, the Agency for International Development and other U.S., non-governmental and international organizations.
Arman hosted a very nice lunch for us. We then attended a Shura, co-hosted by the governor and Nicholson. During the Shura, elders from local groups were given the opportunity to speak their minds. Suffice it to say, these folks did not hold back, speaking to Arman and Nicholson in a very stern tone of voice. Much of the conversation had to do with much-publicized reports of civilian deaths allegedly caused by coalition forces engaging embedded Taliban insurgents operating within the populace.
Arman and his fellow citizens of Zabul Province are very much with us; however, they emphasized the need to be very careful in what we do.
(Editor's note: From time to time, members of the Army Sustainment Command Team share their battlefield experiences and observations with us. Col. David Aucoin, assistant deputy Afghan program director and officer-in-charge Detachment 27, AMC LOGCAP, Combined Joint Task Force-101/Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, recently accompanied Brig. Gen. John W. Nicholson, deputy commanding general for Stabilization, Regional Command-South, to a meeting with Zabul Provincial Gov. Del Bar Arman. Excerpts of Aucoin's report follow.)