Jeff's Afghan Diary: I Grow More Frustrated Each Day
July 18, 2007
I grow more frustrated each day, as I try to teach and prepare the ABP for what I know lies ahead. We have shared our battle plan with them, and they, too, know what we expect, and what part they will play in the upcoming operation. However, they do not take this as seriously as I would expect: if someone were teaching me tactics that could save my life, I would pay keen attention. I would even ask for additional training. The ABP do not have any of this attitude, as far as I can tell.
I have heard others say that trying to train the ABP is like trying to teach children. Not just children, young children. They can be childish at times – they only pay attention for short periods of time, they are usually almost completely self-absorbed and self-interested, they do not seem to care much about their fellow Soldiers, and they would rather do anything than learn or work hard. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to push a rope up a hill.
We went out to check out a road that leads towards the Taliban outpost, and a downpour of rain hit us. A river on our route rose up, creating a problem for us crossing it. Three of the six HMMWV’s in our convoy broke down; one broke part of the wheel support frame (it takes a huge amount of force to break a truck frame, but somehow we did it!). We had to scrap the mission and spend hours of the day trying to put trucks together to tow them back, and we had to wait for the river to subside (we ultimately had to spend the night in our trucks, waiting for the river to get low enough to cross again).
The ABP were with us during this fiasco. But instead of working with us and providing security watch for us, they went into a nearby village to have tea. They chatted with the villagers, who may have had ties to the Taliban (we were close to the area where the Taliban are staying), and generally showed small concern for the situation. I was beside myself. I kept shaking my head in disbelief.
It’s an understatement to say that Afghan values in this area are very different from ours. There is little evidence of a strong work ethic, or willingness to work together for a higher good. It’s ironic, because they are a very religious people, praying regularly (five times daily, as prescribed in the Quran) and generally hospitable. But they are willing to accept their poor fate, and are little inclined to do much to change it. Sometimes I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall, trying to change them.
I use the term “change them” knowing what it means – I do not want them to remain as they are. I am actually trying to change their values and habits. I do not want them to be like Americans; I want them to be better Afghans. I want them to care more, and therefore do more. I want to take away their complacency and replace it with zeal – a strong desire for change, to improve their country, and a willingness to work hard to see it happen.
Yes, training the ABP is like teaching children, only worse: these are grown men. One would think they would know better, but one would be wrong. They don’t know better because no one else does any better – not their parents, not their leaders, not their neighbors. The complacency is endemic, and it’s paralyzing progress.
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.