April 16, 2002 - Army Times: Troops in Afghanistan a kind of peace corp

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, April 18, 2002 - 12:45 am: Edit Post

Troops in Afghanistan a kind of peace corp

Read and comment on the story from the Army Times on Troops in Afghanistan and how they're also handymen, math teachers, well diggers, road builders — a kind of peace corps, although their business is war. The photo shows a US soldier riding horseback carrying a dead goat, during a traditional game of "buzkashi" near Mazar-e-Sharif. Read the story at:

Troops do what they can to make friends *

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Troops do what they can to make friends

By Darlene Superville Associated Press

Soldiers are doing more than firing their weapons in world trouble spots. They’re also handymen, math teachers, well diggers, road builders — a kind of peace corps, although their business is war.

In Afghanistan, they’ve helped dig water wells, rebuild schools and open hospitals. In the Philippines, they went knocking on village doors to find out what people need.

It’s part of a larger effort to make friends with local populations where American troops are fighting the anti-terror war, or at least to ease tensions over the Americans’ presence.

U.S. officials call the decades-old practice winning hearts and minds.

During World War II, for example, soldiers gave candy to children.

Today, the sight of U.S. soldiers, out of uniform and doing charitable work, has drawn fire from humanitarian groups that say the practice puts their own aid workers at risk.

“We’re afraid some of our people will get killed or hurt” by people mistaking them for the military, said Jim Bishop, director of disaster response for InterAction, which represents more than a dozen U.S.-based international relief organizations working in Afghanistan.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. war commander who periodically reviews the policy, does not now plan to change it, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers said some soldiers work in plain clothes for security and because they are engaged in civil affairs.

Those affairs run the gamut.

Army special operations soldiers based in Herat have met regularly with Ismail Khan, a powerful governor in western Afghanistan. They are waging a contest of sorts with Iran, which U.S. officials contend is trying to undermine the interim government, to win Khan’s favor.

Khan has taken some of the U.S. soldiers horseback riding.

Other soldiers have saddled up for the traditional Afghan game of buzkashi, which resembles polo but is played with a decapitated goat instead of a ball. It was banned under the Taliban militia.

Army Green Berets also are working with Afghans to help restore a semblance of order in the post-Taliban era. Their missions include rebuilding bombed-out schools, roads and bridges, digging water wells, clearing land mines and distributing fuel and clothing.

Disaster struck American troops Monday in one such operation near Kandahar, a former Taliban center. Officers said at least four U.S. soldiers were killed, one injured and an unknown number left unaccounted for in a series of blasts where Soviet-era rockets found in Taliban armories were being destroyed supposedly in controlled explosions.

Such efforts are not only to benefit Afghans. The Americans are there indefinitely and can use many of the amenities and will be safer because of the cleared armories and land mines. But the undertakings largely are meant to ease tensions in Afghanistan and other places where local people might object to the presence of U.S. troops.

“Just as important as those combat operations are the efforts we have ensuring there is a stable environment,” says retired Adm. Stephen Baker, a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank.

In the Philippines, where the United States is conducting anti-terrorism training for the army, some U.S. troops and local interpreters went door-to-door in villages on Basilan island to find out what people needed. Topping the list were water, medical care and education.

U.S. troops also helped repair a mosque and handed out toys and athletic equipment. Some teach English and mathematics in schools, said Maj. Cynthia Teramae, a military spokeswoman in the region.

All projects are done jointly with the Philippine military to gain the trust of the community, Teramae said.

“We haven’t come here as the Americans who are trying to take charge of everything,” she said.

More than 600 U.S. military personnel, including 160 special forces soldiers, are in the Philippines for six months of training to help the Philippine army wipe out Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, a radical Muslim rebel group believed linked to Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.

Other coalition forces in Afghanistan are practicing people-to-people exercises similar to the Americans.

British defense officials organized in February the first soccer game in a refurbished stadium in Kabul, the capital, which the Taliban rulers had used for public executions.

The goodwill match between Afghans and international peacekeepers marked a return to normalcy, all right — there was an old-fashioned soccer riot when an overflow crowd tried to force its way into the packed stadium.

The campaign for hearts and minds didn’t mean slacking off on the field to let the Afghans win. The peacekeepers beat them, 3-1.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Special Reports - Return to Afghanistan



By Gary Geoghegan (garygeo) on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 9:42 am: Edit Post

I wonder what language the soldiers were using in Afghanistan and the Philippines. I salute them if it was local language.

I believe, while acknowledging Jim Bishop's point, that even using English with a smile is a beneficial foreign policy for the US. It cannot hurt the locals, who may never get to see an aid worker, and also for the soldiers themselves. They will return richer and more sensitive for having let their guards down and interacted with the locals as individuals.

I am no expert and don't know if all US soldiers are allowed to participate, but I am grateful that the Army brass take some (small) risk in allowing the "fraternization" since it could increase resistance to expedient more brutal soldiering/policing if it was ordered.

By J. Darin Loftis on Wednesday, May 01, 2002 - 11:45 pm: Edit Post

The only problem I have with the article is the misuse of the words "peace corps." It implies that PCVs focus on manual labor instead of developing human capital. Also, it confuses the Peace Corps mission of grass-roots ambassadorship with the military mission of psychological operations ("winning hearts and minds"). Both missions are valid, but they should be kept distinct from each other. Hopefully few Afghanis will read the article.

J. Darin Loftis
RPCV 1992-94
USAF 1995-present

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