I picked up the Wednesday Oregonian and to my surprise there was a front page story with two, count 'em two, photos on Oregon Guard members serving in Afghanistan. Not only that there were two more short stories about Oregon Guard aid projects inside.
Wow! After complaining about the lack of Oregonian coverage of Oregonians serving in Iraq, I would have been pleased to take it all back for coverage of Oregonians serving in Afghanistan.
The story started out great. It noted how the Oregon Guard is training Afghans to protect themselves and helping the Afghan people via projects that aid orphans and build clinics, roads, and schools.
Suicide bombers are emerging, winter is coming, and Americans are in no mood for more war. Can Afghanistan be saved?
From his plywood office in Kabul where he commands 4,565 soldiers, Oregon's Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt says yes -- because the Afghans want better lives.
Despite daily frustrations in what they say is "the forgotten war," Oregon National Guard soldiers say they are teaching the Afghan National Army to fire heavy artillery. They are clothing orphans and dicing $2 million into as many clinics and roads as possible "to touch as many lives as possible," said Pritt.
"We just built a school," Pritt said. "The whole town turned out and began singing to us like it was a parade."
Apparently reporter Julie Sullivan got her information from a distance, via telephone calls and e-mails, but, hey, that's a start.
In telephone calls and e-mails, Pritt and his staff describe a role much like the Guard's role at home: turning ordinary guys into an army, showing up in a crisis, rendering relief to those in need.
But in a nation staggering from poverty and new waves of violence, reality is far more complicated. Five task force members, including Staff Sgt. Brad Lindsey of Troutdale and an Afghan interpreter, have died from roadside bombs and enemy fire. Although some soldiers move safely in many areas, others in the southern region around Kandahar and the Pakistan border face all-out combat. In all, 289 soldiers have been killed.
However, embedded in the story is a criticism of the help the Guard is giving.
But even delivering such aid has unintended consequences. Humanitarian experts say that when aid is delivered by an army -- and linked to political, diplomatic, economic or religious goals -- it jeopardizes the security of civilian aid workers who rely on the local population's trust that they are there only to provide aid. Experts say plenty of nongovernmental organizations and United Nations organizations could distribute that assistance.
I hate to break it to "humanitarian experts" but being a foreigner in itself is cause for the population to distrust those who distribute help. And in Islamic countries, being non-Muslim, is also cause for distrust.
If "humanitarian experts" really wanted to be effective, they would pump all their aid and resources through Afghan Islamic charities and hire only Afghan Islamic doctors and workers to do it. But, that would cut the channels of aid down to a trickle--not to mention deprive aid agencies of taking credit for aid given.
Beside the fact that the UN has shown a talent for siphoning off big chunks of aid (Food for Oil) to enrich people all along the UN/diplomat pipeline, it's interesting that no one is keeping the UN or NGO's out of Afghanistan. The International Red Cross has a lot of aid projects going on there. I guess Julie Sullivan didn't telephone or e-mail them.
The reason more NGO's are not giving aid like the Oregon Guard is because it's dangerous.
"I do not want to question the generosity of individuals; I know the soldiers on the ground, at the individual level, are really moved by very sincere convictions and generosity," Fabien Dubuet, an international law specialist and the U.N. representative for Doctors without Borders, said in an interview. "But in the war on terror . . ., in Iraq and Darfur, humanitarian work is more and more perceived as part of the Western agenda."
In June 2004, five staff members of the international medical humanitarian organization were shot to death in northwest Afghanistan. Doctors Without Borders withdrew from the country where it had worked for 24 years and has not returned in large part because no one has been convicted of the crime.
It's a not so hidden secret that NGO's, though doing much good in low level crisis areas, are ineffective in high crisis areas--and war zones. Say, in Rwanda. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. They tend to pull out when it gets too unstable and dangerous--like in Darfur where Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has also withdrawn even though no US, Coalition or UN troops are there "destabilizing" the aid situation. But, Western, UN and African leaders are talking about intervening in Darfur, and MSF has blasted them and Western advocacy groups for contemplating intervention in Darfur and causing the ruckus that is shutting MSF out.
The question here is if MSF isn't willing to go in until it's safe, who is going to give aid to the people? Or is the answer that the poor and suffering will just have to wait until MSF feels safe before they get any aid? It's almost a dog-in-the-manger attitude. We won't do it. Therefore, no one else should either.
The Oregonian did report on Oregon Guard members in a war zone who are helping poor and suffering Afghans as well as training Afghan troops to fight Taliban terrorists. But, it managed to find a dark side to troops giving aid to widows, orphans and the poor.
How sad that the Oregonian and "humanitarian experts" care more about who gives aid to those in dire need rather than that it is given.