Saturday, December 7, 2013
MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN
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By Bill Nemitz firstname.lastname@example.org
DAND WA PATAN, Afghanistan — The young man, in his late teens, stood out in the room full of Afghan village elders. He’d come with a simple request.
Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, a Maine Army National Guard commander, listens to requests for help during Monday’s weekly “shura,” or meeting, with local Afghan elders at the District Center in Dand wa Patan, Afghanistan.
Photos by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist
A local elder makes a point Monday to Bravo Company commander Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, who is aided by an Army interpreter. The American officer listened for 40 minutes before taking his turn to speak.
Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz is reporting from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Nemitz left Memorial Day weekend to join the 152 Maine men who make up Maine Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry. They are among the 94,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.
Click the link at the top of this story to read his blog and see past stories and photos.
“We need equipment to play cricket,” he said through an interpreter to Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, commander of the Maine Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry. “I’ve asked many times before, but nothing.”
“Well, you’ve never asked me,” Bosse said with a smile. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Bravo Company came here, without question, to fight the Taliban and other insurgents who use this region on the Pakistani border as an underground highway in their never-ending quest to destabilize the district, provincial and national governments of Afghanistan.
But there is another side to the Mainers’ mission.
It’s not as high-profile as armored vehicles and 120 mm mortars and traffic control points where you’d best stop when so ordered or suffer a .50-caliber machine-gun round through your car radiator (or worse).
Still, some see gatherings like the one Monday between Bosse and village elders as the fulcrum on which U.S. hopes in Afghanistan will rise or fall.
It’s called a “shura.” Back home in Maine, it would be the equivalent of municipal leaders from, say, Cumberland County gathering once a week to compare notes, talk about what’s working and what isn’t and, most of all, complain.
“There are usually a lot more people here,” Spc. James Cline of Westbrook, a member of Bravo Company’s intelligence unit, said as the Americans dismounted from their three armored vehicles and walked across the austere courtyard to the conference room.
There, sitting in a rectangle of rust-colored, upholstered armchairs, sat 16 elders – most from villages a short distance from Bravo Company’s nearby Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan.
The elders’ bare feet rested on a wall-to-wall, plain-red carpet – in keeping with Afghan custom, they’d left their footwear in an outer hallway. In a corner, at a large desk, sat Neaz Mohammed Khalil, sub-governor of Afghanistan’s Dand wa Patan District.
The first order of business was attendance – or the lack thereof. When Cline last attended a shura, four weeks ago, before going home on leave, so many elders showed up that they spilled into an adjoining room.
Now, they sat only against the walls, leaving the middle of the room empty.
“We are not enough of a shura,” lamented one elder (through Bravo Company’s interpreter), motioning around the room. “We have to bring all the tribes here and not just the individuals. We have to make a big meeting – everybody should take part in the meeting.”
The reason for the drop-off?
“They can’t come,” the sub-governor later explained. “They’re scared from the Taliban.”
Next, the elders moved on to “projects,” which means anything and everything the U.S. government pumps into the regional economy through its Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
The projects are hardly complicated: One village might get a retaining wall to prevent its farm fields from washing away during the spring floods. Another might get a main road paved, or a small bridge built.
Everyone, it seemed, felt that his village wasn’t getting enough – and that the others were getting too much.
“You can send some people to my village. See it. If it’s important, then you will know it’s important,” said one man. “If it is not important, then you will know it’s not important. But please send some people to see my village, my area. I think it’s important to start a project in my village.”
“You talk about your village,” countered another. “But we want to talk about our village.”
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
A village elder listens to the discussion during the weekly “shura,” where leaders compare notes, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, and, most of all, complain.