Tomorrow this country celebrates their New Year. Afghanistan, being a Muslim country, uses a lunar calendar, which is different than the U.S. Tomorrow will be a new year here.
Afghans celebrate their New Year by shooting rifles into the air, which can be dangerous (what goes up must come down, including bullets). It is also a prime time for anti-government forces to attack, and we have been alerted that surprise attacks against the Afghan military and us are planned. So we are on alert, and the Afghans are patrolling for troublemakers.
Our ANA hosts held a feast for us tonight. We had rice pilaf, naan (a type of flatbread), goat meat, beans, tomatoes and onions, and tangerines. It was delicious. We all ate in Afghan custom - with our fingers, using the naan to kind of scoop up the food, using our fingers as well. Unfortunately, our party was cut short by the necessity to start preparing for our patrol.
We have been delayed in Waza Khwa for a few days, due to inclement weather (again!). Weather has a major impact on ground operations - our vehicles often get stuck in mud after rain and snow, so we have to wait for the dirt roads to dry before we can travel them.
I had an interesting conversation with our interpreter yesterday, discussing politics in Afghanistan. He feels that the Afghan government at present will elect the candidate most liked by the U.S. government. Of course, this reduces the Presidency to a puppet, which undermines the confidence of Afghans in their own political self-determination. I hate to think this is true, but as our interpreter is an educated Afghan, I’m sure he speaks for many like him. He did not say he thought this was bad, but it made me concerned - perception is usually reality for most people, and this perception could undermine the effectiveness of our mission here.
In many areas, corruption has become commonplace. Officers may purchase their position in the military, and government officials may often bribe their way into political power. This has had an unfortunate effect on the public’s perception of their government. Even more damaging is the use of coercive tactics by the Afghan police - they have set up checkpoints to extract “taxes” from trucks and motorists using the roadways (oftentimes because the police have not been paid in months). It is a vicious circle, and part of our mission is to reverse this problem.
Not all police or government officials are corrupt - many are trying to make a change for the better. Unfortunately for them, those corrupt persons in power use their power to stymie reform. I heard of an ANA battalion commander who was taken from his post because of his misuse of power. Instead of being removed from military service, rumors came back of him returning to his post. Fortunately, this has not yet happened, and the U.S. is trying to ensure this does not happen. But it can seem to be an uphill battle at times.
As for us, we are ready to roll and start on our next mission. I’m not sure how successful we will be, but my OIC (officer-in-charge) and I are committed to maintaining as positive an attitude as possible in our team, and working hard to maintain our professionalism. There are enough obstacles to our success that we cannot have them inside our heads as well.
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.