May 02, 2009

Pulling Teeth: An Infantry Platoon Leader's Perspective on a Year in Afghanistan

LTC Jim Crider -- one of our military fellows here at CNAS -- passed along this article from Army Magazine (.pdf) that I think you might enjoy. Always good to see Airborne Ranger-qualified platoon leaders from schools like Davidson doing their part for the country. Smart, tough, motivated. What more could you want from a platoon leader?

It’s a common belief among foreigners that Pashtuns are difficult to deal with. Many times the outgoing soldiers and other would-be advisers told me that talking with Pashtuns is an exercise in futility. To be frank, there is a great deal of truth to that, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. I found that no matter how hard it was to get real cooperation out of the Afghan people, many of the villagers we visited greeted us eagerly when we arrived. Even in the rare event that we could immediately sense the dislike or even loathing in people’s eyes, the men who met us were required by the cultural norms prescribed in Pashtun Wali to be cordial with us as visitors. Usually, the only indicator we could use to identify our host’s genuine feelings about us was the point in the conversation when he offered us tea. If the offer came early enough, then it was a good sign. Too late, and they already expected us to leave and were only being polite. But in every case these people were courteous to a fault, and would often share all kinds of local lore and gossip with us; just not the kind that would lead us to the enemy, not even a hint. They were especially eager to talk about what humanitarian aid or projects we could offer them: the paved road, new schools, clinics, wells or sometimes solar electricity.