As you can probably tell, I like the Afghans and regard several of them as friends. Unfortunately, there has been some recent turmoil in Afghanistan. A couple weeks ago, some US soldiers unintentionally burned a stack of Korans while clearing out a warehouse. As a result, there has been widespread protesting and rioting throughout the country. Even worse, there have also been several “green on blue” incidents, where Afghan security forces (green) have killed US servicemen (blue). Just three days ago in Kabul, Afghan policemen shot and killed two US advisors from my command.
As an advisor who spends most of my time alone with large groups of Afghans, I have definitely been affected by these events. For the last week, our team has been restricted from any travel off base. Members of our team are nervous and have discussed the possibility of wearing body armor to class or posting guards inside classrooms. There is even talk of the US limiting future interactions between US advisors and their Afghan counterparts.
Here are my thoughts. I think that, despite the incidents, we should make an effort to continue trusting our Afghan colleagues. For me, it’s all about the broader perspective. If we allow the wrong actions of a few to divide us from our allies, then the only possible result is defeat by our enemies. For any chance of success here, we must maintain trust with the Afghans, and they us. It is during these difficult times that we will discover if we are partners in name or in truth. And from the broadest perspective, in an area of the world dominated by conflict and feuds, we as Americans should be the ones to show them that there is a different way.
One other point I would add, and it's something I just wrote about on Cliff K's blog, is that we who observe events in the States should be careful about painting with too broad a brush when we talk about "the Afghans" and their reaction.
There are tens of millions of Afghans whose daily hierarchy of needs place basic survival above many other things, to include opinions about the actions of individual(s) at Bagram who committed a careless and thoughtless act (unfortunately, however, many of the conspiracy-minded in the region will not frame it that way).
There are 91,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. Even those who primarily work on bases still interact with Afghans on a daily basis. With some quick multiplication, you'd see that there are literally millions of meaningful US-Afghan interactions that take place on a weekly basis. Our general strategy of withdrawing our troops as the Afghan National Security Forces increase in terms of numbers and capabilities is a sound one -- it should not be sped up OR slowed down as a result of the reaction to the Qu'ran burnings.