Friday, December 13, 2013
MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN
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By Bill Nemitz firstname.lastname@example.org
(Continued from page 1)
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.
Through it all, Bosse sat between his interpreter and the sub-governor, his chin on his hands, listening patiently.
Finally, 40 minutes into the meeting, it was the American’s turn to speak.
And with that, the agenda shifted dramatically.
“First and foremost, I know, there are fighters who are causing problems – who are making women wash their clothes, making people feed them, making people provide them with shelter, food and water. They are not Afghan, but foreign fighters,” Bosse said. “And so I think everybody recognizes that we have a problem with the border.”
Heads around the room nodded in unison.
Bosse said he wanted to establish new border checkpoints to stem the flow of insurgents coming into the area from Pakistan.
“That shouldn’t hinder normal traffic,” he said. “People should be able to still go and visit their family. But the expectation is that you will be checked so people can’t bring fighters and materiel in.”
Bosse then asked for a show of hands so he could see who would support such an expansion of the area’s American-Afghan military footprint.
All of the elders raised their hands.
Noting that Bravo Company’s soldiers and their Afghan counterparts are determined to push into remote parts of the district that are still controlled by the Taliban, Bosse said there may be times when the troops need logistical support from the local population.
“Now certainly we’re a military organization and we want to do our own re-supply, we want to be able to supply ourselves,” he said. “But necessity dictates that we would like to be able to get water and possibly food that we would pay more than a fair price for.”
Again, Bosse asked for a show of support. Around the room, heads nodded. One elder gave a thumbs-up.
Finally, Bosse returned to the litany of complaints about the projects. As the ranking military authority for miles, his recommendations to higher-ups essentially determine which of the projects, capped at $5,000, go forward and which don’t.
“I know there’s some frustration with the amount of projects that haven’t happened,” he said. “I’m frustrated, too.”
Then he let them have it.
“But it doesn’t make any difference how many retaining walls the United States builds,” Bosse said. “This is about security. And if you want to live free from Taliban rule, then there’s no amount of retaining walls that we can build that makes a difference.”
The room, where minutes earlier six, seven or more elders spoke at once, was now pin-drop silent.
“Why should your loyalty be more if I build you a retaining wall than if I don’t build you a retaining wall?” Bosse asked. “We still need you to be loyal to the government and we still need you to be loyal to the people who are trying to protect you. Don’t use that as an excuse for not supporting your government.”
With that, Bosse thanked the Afghans for their time and the hour-long meeting adjourned.
Some of the elders left immediately – particularly those who, according to Bosse and Cline, are known associates of the Taliban and come to the shuras more for reconnaissance than nation building.
One elder asked for a shipment of HESCO barriers – metal-and-canvas cages that, when filled with dirt, provide excellent protection for U.S. military installations. They also make good retainer walls.
“If I gave out all the HESCOs that people ask for, I’d be sitting in an open field,” a smiling Bosse told the man. “Are you just looking to block water?”
Yes, the man nodded.
“I might have something else that can do that,” Bosse said.
(Continued on page 3)
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.