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The Afghan people will decide who wins

Camp Julien | Day 1 - Camp Julien is no more than a bunch of little buildings set row upon row. There are no stores, and the dining facility is only open when there are students here, and even when that’s the case, the hot food is delivered from a nearby camp.

This little camp’s sole purpose in life is to train select new arrivals on counter insurgency concepts.  Ken and I thought it would be a great place to start our journey because what we learn here will be our foundation for the next 30 Days, and it’s important to understand the mission, before you talk with those embroiled within it.

People from all over the world, from all walks of life, all ranks, ages and a multitude of organizations are picked to be students because the course teaches them the skills required to conduct this counter insurgency.

I was lucky enough to attend this course when I first arrived in October. I usually dread being sent to a military school because many times they are death by PowerPoint. Although most are constructive, I always gain a few inches around the midline due to the sheer amount of coffee required to keep my eyes open.

One of the resources I’ll be using during this journey is a student handbook I received while taking this course, and there’s a sentence in an article titled "ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance", which I would like to share.

“ISAF’s mission is to help the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) defeat the insurgency threatening their country. Protecting the Afghan people is the mission. The Afghan people will decide who wins this fight, and we (GIRoA and the International Security Assistance Force) are in a struggle for their support. The effort to gain and maintain that support must inform every action we take. Essentially, we and the insurgents are presenting an argument for the future to the people of Afghanistan: they will decide which argument is the most attractive, most convincing, and has the greatest chance for success.”

One part really intrigues me, “the Afghan people will decide who wins this fight …” I’ve heard this a lot while on missions in Eastern and Western Afghanistan, and there are a lot of Afghans “on the fence.”

I remember one story of an Afghan family, where one son worked with the government, and another son was an insurgent. The family was “hedging” their bets. I’ve always thought of this scenario when I’m out and about in this country. This is more than “winning hearts and minds” of Afghans, but also about understanding them, while respecting their culture and religion.

The foundation of this respect has to be in education. How can we respect something if we don’t know anything about it? This is why we came to Camp Julien.

We had a chance to talk with Australian Major Roz Rice, the chief instructor here. She’s the mother of two and has been here for about five months. We talked with her about a range of topics, which can be seen in Ken’s vlog.

One of the key topics we discussed was how do we define “winning” a counter insurgency? She quickly mentioned there wouldn’t be a clear and defined point where we would “win”. But it’s about capacity building and enabling the Afghan’s government to stand on its own and provide for the people.

She mentioned how there are a lot of people out there asking questions like, how many Taliban have been killed? How much ammunition has been spent? How much land is under government control? All of those are questions for conventional wars. They aren’t applicable in counter insurgency, because winning isn’t dependent on them.

One aspect success is dependent on here is how many insurgents are fighting against the government. While attending this course, one of the speakers mentioned if one child, civilian, or even an insurgent is killed, it’s possible to “create” 10 more insurgents. Everyone has family and friends. Everyone has people who care about them and obviously, those people would be extremely mad if their friend or brother was killed. This is why our actions, as ISAF, and the actions of the Afghan government are critical to success.

To help explain this better, we’re getting the chance to talk with the commander of this school tomorrow. We’ve been promised he’s a great interview and we’ll get “enough information from him to last you throughout your 30 Days.”

We’ll see what happens. I’ve been working on my list of questions to hit him with in the morning, including his thoughts on how this “war” has been fought for the past eight years and what he sees happening in the future. He’s been here for two straight years already, so I’m really looking forward to talking with him. We hope what we learn here, will help us once we get farther out in the field.

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