Tuesday, January 1

In the middle

Soldiers in the Afghanistan National Army are on a quick learning curve - not simply practical lessons in securing their country but maintaining a delicate balance among many, many competing factions. Luke Mogelson embeds with an ANA unit and profiles Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood, a battalion commander for the New York Times

He asks some of the Afghan soldiers what are they fighting for: " Most of them, when I asked, answered with the word 'watan,' or 'homeland.' But what does the notion of a homeland mean for someone who has seen his ruled by monarchists, dictators, communists, mujahedeen, Islamic fundamentalists and Karzai?"

The ANA troops are being weaned from US support, and a reader can find as many connections as differences between the concerns of Afghans and Americans. The soldiers don't always agree with the choices made by US commanders. They don't always agree with their own government. And they are wary about corruption, which weakens a society from within. Ordinary citizens must be vigilant, both resisting corruption's draw and taking risks by speaking out. Mogelson describes a plea that convinced the Afghan commander at the center of his article to join the effort: "If good men don’t participate, the criminals will take over. We have to reclaim this country from them."

The article makes me nostalgic for writing about Laashekoh, my invented village in Fear of Beauty.  Consider this passage: "Apple orchards and trees with white trunks and bright yellow leaves crowd the basin. Dark canyons branch into the mountains. A single road follows the river deeper into the valley, connecting the lawless foothills of the Hindu Kush to Highway 1, a critical transit route that bridges Kabul and Kandahar, northern and southern Afghanistan." The article is set in the Chaki district of Wardak, not too far from northern Helmand, the province of Laashekoh, per the handy distance calculator for Afghanistan. And another Afghan soldier reminisces about his home: "The river was wide and clear, bountiful with fish. The people were kind; the air was fresh; the fruit was sweet."

The soldiers even crash a wedding.

The Afghan soldiers have a big job - to provide a sense of security by protecting families and homes. But in the end, Afghans are the only ones who can really accomplish peace at home.

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