"Have You Forgotten?

Joining me on my trip to Afghanistan were fellow parliamentarians from Portugal, Canada, United Kingdom, Lithuania, and Estonia. A sister organization to NATO is the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA). The NATO-PA provides a venue for the legislative bodies of the NATO countries to observe and have input into the NATO decision making process. Our goal was to evaluate the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

ISAF showed us the best first. We traveled by helicopter to Panjshir Province. Once landing in the valley, we boarded vehicles without body armor to make three stops. We stopped at a micro hydroelectric development, the provincial governor’s office, and the gravesite of the famous mujahideen warrior, Ahmad Shah Massoud. This was the only time we would not wear body armor in any vehicle movement.

Panjshir is exactly where we hope the rest of the provinces will be in time. They have leveraged international reconstruction dollars to build a road and a radio station with a tower. The micro hydro plant is also an international effort to aid in providing electricity. Private dollars have now come in to provide cellular communications and a television station. Recently the police forces in Panjshir conducted a sting and arrested two insurgent operatives. There is no poppy production in this province.

Next we visited the Main Operating Base (MOB) in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province. This MOB is run by 700 Canadian soldiers in the heart of one of the most challenging provinces. Here the Canadians have conducted major military operations. Most recently, they conducted a mission to clear the communities of Gereshk, Samand Cay, and Choglak of insurgents. This security environment has caused the civilian run PRT to move slower than in some other provinces. Some military gains were given up due to the lack of soldiers. Reconstruction and trust have begun to show in the stabilization of a market, the building of a new school (on the grounds of the old Taliban market), and roadwork.

Returning to Qandahar for the night, the group experienced an unsuccessful insurgent attack. Since the insurgents can not win on the battlefield, they conduct inexpensive but mainly ineffective attacks. This attack was a 107mm artillery round shot from the ground in the hope of hitting something. The round fell short of the base. This tactic is defined as shoot and scoot.

The next day we met with the airfield commander. Qandahar is a NATO airbase. The airfield is planning an expansion and will then be able to house the six Mirage jets presently stationed in Dushanbe. This will save on response time and increase aerial coverage ability. Although NATO governments are in this fight, sometimes these same governments’ response and full support of the mission can be questioned. All warriors ask is the full support of the politicians who send them.

Upon returning to Kabul, I joined an informal discussion with the ISAF commander. The current commander is General Dan McNeill of the United States. Accepting my bias, I believe he is a straight talking Army Infantry Officer. He said, “We can win this thing.