FORT POLK, La. - Government and tribal leaders from throughout the area around Khost in eastern Afghanistan met with commanders from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 506th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Currahee, today in the city of Ghazni to take part in a traditional Afghan 'Jirga' to settle tribal differences.
Well, not really.
This was all part of an elaborate exercise during the 4th BCT's rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. A dress rehearsal of sorts, for the brigade's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
'Jirga' a word in the Pashtun dialect, translates to English as a meeting of elders in accordance with tribal laws. The purpose of this particular meeting is to work out problems between the area's tribes in a step towards moving the nation of Afghanistan toward a future characterized by democracy, peace and prosperity.
There is some confusion about how long the Zedran, Saloza and Mattan tribes, have been in disagreement. Some at the meeting see the quarrel as resulting from the Soviet invasion, while others mark the conflict as going back more than a hundred years. A 'Jirga' hasn't taken place in over 25 years, and it took the arrival of Task Force Currahee to be the catalyst that brought these leaders to the table.
"We are very interested in you being our teacher, to learn about the 'Jirga', and to understand how you resolve disputes in Afghanistan," said Col. Pete Johnson, commander, 4th BCT.
The leaders, through multiple translators, expressed their confidence in the American leadership and it's willingness to integrate its own strategies with the traditions of the Afghan people.
"We really appreciate that you pay attention to our culture and the things we do daily," said Jumera Jamathan, governor of Khost Province. Attending the 'Jirga' is an example of Coalition Forces engaging with the Afghan people on their own terms, rather than imposing a foreign structure to a people who value tradition.
The ideal of tribal unity was a recurring theme as the leaders sketched out the common problems that affected them. Security and land disputes were returned to numerous times by both the Afghan and American leaders as a route cause of much of the trouble in the area. There are over 405 tribes in the nation of Afghanistan, if these three can come to an agreement it will make life easier for people in the area, as well as the Soldiers charged with helping them.
"You will be successful to the extent that you give consideration and respect to the Afghan culture," said Temen Nadis, deputy governor of Logar Province, addressing the Soldiers. "The 'Jirga' is the way we resolve our problems, problems not even the government can understand. We as the elders come together to work through our differences."
By the end of the meeting, it was still apparent that the tribes had differences, but by coming to the table together, they had reached an understanding that they were facing many of the same problems. The 'Jirga' was determined a success, and the people had come to the conclusion that they would be able to work together to settle their differences in order to present a unified front against larger issues that threatened the region.
Perhaps most important was the tribes resolve to return soon, to have more events such as this one, opening the lines of communication between themselves, their government and the Soldiers who hoped to partner with them for a brighter future.