September 24 - Chicago Daily Herald: Returned Volunteer knows Afghanistan first hand

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2001: 09 September 2001 Peace Corps Headlines: September 16 - A Returned Volunteer who served in Afghanistan talk about the Taliban: September 24 - Chicago Daily Herald: Returned Volunteer knows Afghanistan first hand

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 5:57 pm: Edit Post

Here's an excert from a story from the Chicago Daily Herald about a Returned Volunteer who worked in Afghanistan.

Wheaton man understands Afghanistan first-hand

Sep 24, 2001 - Chicago Daily Herald Author(s): Melynda Findlay Daily Herald Staff Writer

Some people believe the U.S. military should bomb Afghanistan "back into the stone age."

After all, for years it's been the hideout of Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the deadliest terrorist attack on America's soil.

Wheaton resident Stephen Blount views the situation differently.

The former Peace Corps volunteer has seen the land and met its people. Bombing the country back into the stone age won't do any good, he said -"They're already there."

"It's a very primitive country," said Blount, a school board member-elect in Glenbard High School District 87 who formerly served on Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89's board.

Blount, a technology specialist at Lucent Technologies, spent several months in Afghanistan in the early 1970s when he volunteered for the Peace Corps. After having his duty transferred to Iran, he returned to Afghanistan about once a year for a few years to visit friends.

"The Afghans, by nature, are a very friendly and hospitable people," Blount said. "This is not a population that bears us any ill will, and those that do are a very small fraction that try to hide behind the rest of the population."

That very small fraction would be the ruling Taliban - the group that took control of most of the country in 1996, and has "systematically oppressed" the country's people since taking power, Blount said.

The Taliban initially was supported by the Afghan people, who hoped the group would bring order to the country following the exit of Soviet invaders who occupied the country throughout the 1980s.

But as the oppression of the people continued, the Taliban fell out of favor with much of the country's population.

Many have fled Afghanistan to neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. Now, the country is in the midst of a civil war between Taliban supporters and a group of rebels who oppose them.

"A large majority of the Afghans, I'm sure, would be happy to see the last of the Taliban and bin Laden," Blount said. "I've known (the Afghans). I've known them as people. We need to understand that bin Laden is not Afghan, he's Saudi. His supporters are not Afghan, either. He's surrounded himself with a collection of thugs from a variety of nations."

Bin Laden hides in Afghanistan because the mountainous areas are so remote and inaccessible, and he's probably been able to "buy off" the Taliban leadership, Blount said.

The country itself, bordered by Pakistan, Iran and former Soviet Republics, can be compared to the American West geographically, Blount says.

"It has a stark beauty to it," he said.

The country's landscape varies from a nearly uninhabited desert in the south, to high mountains in the north that eventually join the Himalayan range, to fertile valleys and flatlands in other areas.

The terrain, which is very unfamiliar to the Americans who haven't had diplomatic relations with the country since the late 1980s, would make conventional warfare almost impossible, Blount speculated.

"I'm not a military expert," he said. "But if we attack, the Taliban will take to the mountains and fight a guerilla war, which will exhaust us. That's what they used against the Russians, with great success."

The country also holds much history. Blount remembers touring ancient ruins of mosques and cities, destroyed thousands of years ago by the Mongols and by Genghis Khan, and the city of Kandahar, which was built by Alexander the Great.

"You walk into some of the ruins, and you see plumbing that looks like something modern, or hot tubs like the ones we use today," Blount said. "These were not primitive people, these ancients. Then the Mongols came along and just wiped them out. It's incredible to see the devastation."

Devastation is still present in Afghanistan, but now results from a three-year drought that's plagued the country.

"Many of the people there are starving," Blount says, explaining that Afghanistan works as a subsistence economy, that is, they eat what they grow. "Without aid from the international community, we could see massive starvation there, which is all the more reason not to add to their misery."

Read the full story here:

By Julie Heyman on Saturday, September 29, 2001 - 8:35 pm: Edit Post

I traveled by car all through Afghanistan in 1951 before there were roads in many areas. It was only because of the friendly people that we were able to finish the trip. I wrote an article at that time "By car through Afghanistan" if anybody is interested.
When I was working in Peshawar in 1960 I went back briefly. This was before I worked for the Peace Corps, 1961-66.

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