HuffPost's live chat with Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United States, Said T. Jawad, is below. This Sunday marks six years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and root out al Qaeda. Today, Afghanistan is suffering through its most violent year since 2001, al Qaeda has expanded its reach, and U.S. casualties continue to grow. Below, Ambassador Jawad answers your questions on these and other relevant topics.
Would you please elaborate on the progress being made on the training of Afghan security forces. I would especially like to know if your country is recieving the proper equipment, including aircraft, to sucessfully confront the Taliban.
Before I begin, I would like to thank the Huffington Post for allowing me the opportunity to speak with their large and distinguished audience. Afghanistan is sometimes described as the "Forgotten War." I wouldn't describe it as such. The mainstream media overlooks the bigger picture in Afghanistan. With the 6th anniversary of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom this Sunday, we must remember that Afghanistan was the original front on the war on terror, and will remain a crucial mission for regional stability and global security.
I am proud to report that the training of the Afghan National Army is proceeding successfully and on schedule. We have grown our professional army from around 2,000 soldiers in early 2003 to over 46,000 soldiers today. The first operation independently planned and executed under the command of an Afghan National Army occurred in June 2007, called Operation Maiwand. It has always been our intention to stand on our own feet in regards to security. There is no shortage of courage or manpower in Afghanistan. Once we are provided with the skills and means, we will defend our country proudly, and your soldiers can come back home, with their families, where they belong.
However, we aren't there yet. I am glad that you asked about equipment and aircraft. We have not yet received adequate equipment and are still dependent upon U.S. and NATO/ISAF troops for airlift capabilities. We are currently in discussions with our NATO allies in hopes that they will be able to provide us with artillery, vehicles, weapons, tanks and airlift capabilities. You might be surprised to know that Afghanistan had air force with hundreds of planes in the 1980s. It would be advantageous to rebuild our air force in cooperation with the international community. There are many Afghan pilots who would gladly fly again under our flag, if they are provided with planes. Right now, many of our soldiers are charging into battle in unprotected Toyota pickups with AK-47s. The Taliban often have better equipment, more dangerous weapons, and more advanced communications technology. For us to defeat the Taliban for good, this imbalance must be reversed.
At the moment, I cannot paint as optimistic a portrait of the Afghan National Police. We have trained approximately 70,000 police officers, and they perform with varying degrees of success and professionalism throughout the country. Most of them are bravely defending their people against a dangerous enemy. Hundreds of Afghan police officers have died bravely serving their country. They are outgunned and outnumbered in many battles, with perhaps a ten police officers in a small and vulnerable police station besieged by dozens of militants with advanced weapons, RPGs, and even artillery. Until recently, only 45 police officers were patrolling Uruzgan, a province the size of West Virginia.
Corruption is a problem in regards to our national police. Some people have gone through the training and screening with the intent of abusing their power, uniform and badge. Many other post-conflict countries suffer from the same ailment. We were only able to pay our police officers between $40-60 a month. This way just increased to $70 a month, but with the influx of dollars into the Afghan economy, this sum is a pittance. We cannot pay qualified Afghans enough money to attract them to jobs in security. Would you take an old soviet rifle to go to a remote province and fight against Al Qaeda for $40 a month when you can drive a car for a journalist or NGO in Kabul, learn some English and have some fun for $500 a month? Of course not. As a result, you either end up with an unqualified officer or many officers who would ordinarily be honest and competent would be unable to feed their families without a reasonable salary. We would like to pay our police officers more, but have not been provided with the financial resources to accomplish this undertaking.
In the interim, our strategy is to focus on training. The better the training, the better the policeman. We have found that we get the best results from embedding trainers within teams of police trainees. As of May 2007, the number of US Police Trainers increased to over 500, and Europe has provided nearly 200 trainers.
Dear Mr. Jawad,
As one with close Afghan friends and love of your country, I ask what, in your honest opinion, is the single greatest mistake the US has made since driving out the Taliban 6 year ago?
Thank you for your question, Carl. Of course, 6 years later, with no end in sight to the fighting, with the Afghan people still living in fear, with the Taliban and al Qaeda have reconstituted themselves in the tribal areas, with the weekly casualties of Afghans and international soldiers, it is natural for people to point fingers and try to determine who is to blame. Rebuilding a country, especially a country as devastated as Afghanistan, is a complicated endeavor, more or less without precedent. Countries have undergone reconstruction, but no country has been as systematically decimated through 30 years of nearly continuous war. Some areas of Afghanistan have been more or less untouched by the modern world, other areas are strewn with bullets, rusted Soviet tanks, and other debris of modern warfare. This is the environment that the international community entered in late 2001, and the challenge was enormous.
The international community never deployed the adequate number of troops needed to effectively fight terrorists, warlords, criminals and other spoilers. However, when the international community came into Afghanistan to provide security in late 2001 and early 2002, they came in with a light footprint. The consensus was that Afghans would view a large military presence as an occupation and take to the mountains to resist and fight. This was simply not true. The Afghan people had been asking, had been demanding, the engagement of the international community ever since the Soviets withdrew from the country in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, with the end of the Cold War Afghanistan lost her strategic importance, and we were abandoned by the international community right when we were most insecure, having been flooded with weapons and an extreme and foreign ideology of militant extremism. Even today, after 6 years of international military presence and all of the tensions that arise from such a situation, over 90% of the Afghan people still support the presence of international security forces (according to extensive ABC/BBC and Asia Foundation opinion polls in late 2006).
Although the Taliban was pushed aside, they have not been eliminated. They enjoyed safe havens outside of Afghanistan where they were able to rebuild their decimated forces and capabilities. Extremist madrassas were not shut down, and continue to operate in our region, supplying a constant pool of new recruits. As long as these ideological, financial and physical safe havens remain open and operating in our region, Afghan civilians will continue to be terrorized. All of us underestimated the ability of the Taliban to continue to pose a threat, and to continue to terrorize and intimidate the Afghan people.
We need to replace the light footprint with the right footprint. We are moving in the right direction. The way forward will involve bringing more highly-skilled (special forces) foreign troops into the battlefield (in the process improving the quality and capability of international combat forces) and better training and equipment to the Afghan National Army.
Quite simply -- how can we turn things around in Afghanistan?
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Thank you for your question, Dawn. Of course, this is the most important question, one that concerns all Afghans and all Americans as well.
The primary concern of the Afghan people is that they are assured of the long-term commitment of the international community. We currently have over 37 countries contributing troops to Afghanistan. We need a long-term commitment from all of our partners.
As for fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda, we need to readjust the strategy of fighting terrorists as individuals to fighting terrorism as a phenomenon. Rebuilding and defending Afghanistan has been expensive, but we have to consider the high cost of under-investing in Afghanistan. Improving security is crucial. But it cannot be accomplished through military means alone. We do not measure success in dead Taliban. We measure success in irrigation projects, in the jobs that we can deliver, in towns and districts that can benefit from rule of law and good governance.
The international and Afghan strategy has been to Clear, Hold and Build; Clear the area of terrorists, Hold the area so that terrorists cannot regroup and retake the area, and build so that the Afghan government is present and the people can see the benefits of the international partnership. The Clear part is no problem. The terrorists are no match for U.S. and NATO/ISAF troops. But the challenge still lies in how we Hold and to Build.
The international counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan in need of a new focus. Poppy is still a major problem in Afghanistan, undermining security and good governance, as well as increasing corruption and lawlessness. We need unity of word and action among all US, NATO and Afghan partners. We must improve cooperation and coordination between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency efforts. As profits from the drug trade fund the Taliban, the war on drugs in Afghanistan is part of the global war on terror. Above all, our drug strategy must focus on preventing cultivation. Once the crop is cultivated, we have already lost, as eradication risks alienating poor farmers. These include providing a source of credit to indebted farmers, alternative livelihood programs, and a more robust interdiction program. The level of investment in alternative livelihood programs should equal or exceed investment in eradication, not the reverse.
And most importantly, we must improve the quality of life for rural Afghans. This is the true meaning of fighting terrorism as a phenomenon. The government still lacks the mans and the capacity to deliver vital services to the Afghan people. Funding reconstruction is just as if not more important than funding the military mission. Funding for reconstruction pales in comparison to military spending. It is important to remember that 4,000 Afghans died in fighting in 2006, but 18,000 mothers died giving birth in the same year.
When things go south in Afghanistan, Afghans head for Pakistan. Many Afghans went to Pakistan during the soviet invasion, and never returned to their country, and yet your president badmouths Pakistan every time he is given an opportunity. Why? And how does that jive in with the Pushtoon tradition of never forgetting a kind deed?
Thank you for this question. It is important to set the record straight on this issue. The media likes to portray the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a war on words. But I would challenge anyone to find President Karzai ever insulting the people or leader of Pakistan. He speaks about our brothers in Pakistan with the utmost respect. I purposely use the term brothers, because that is how we view Pakistanis. They did indeed shelter millions of refugees during the decades of instability in Afghanistan, and we will never forget this. Afghans and Pakistanis share a common history, culture and destiny.
Our government's complaint has been that extremism is a source of serious danger not only for Afghanistan, but for Pakistan, the region, and the world. The current terrorist campaign is organized and coordinated outside of Afghanistan's borders. Effective diplomacy is needed to close down terrorist training camps, interdict safe havens, and dry up sources of funding. At the Joint Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga in August 2007, President Musharraf frankly acknowledged the presence of insurgents inside Pakistan's borders. Their presence is a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan's cooperation in recent months demonstrates their dedication to working with Afghanistan to fight against the forces of terror and extremism in our region. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan will be Pakistan's greatest ally and trading partner. Pakistan's annual exports to Afghanistan were worth only about 25 million dollars during the Taliban regime. In 2005, that figure increased to an astounding 1.4 billion dollars. As our cooperation with Pakistan improves, so do the benefits for both our peoples. Peace and stability in Afghanistan will benefit not only Afghans, but our brothers in Pakistan as well.
Mr. Ambassador thank you for joining us. I have read that people in Pakistan and the Tribal areas think that the Taliban must be dealt with politically. That they can be brought into and be part of the government of Afghanistan. Is that possible? Would this be acceptable and do you think it would bring peace to your country? What are the alternatives?
Thank you again,
Holmdel N.J. USA
1. How can your government justify asking the Taliban to join Mr. Karzai's government? Don't you believe this is an insult to all the Americans and Afghanis that have lost their lives at the hands of the Taliban?
2. Knowing the Taliban's human rights record and the damage they inflicted in the population of Afghanistan and their support for Al-Queida, what kind of role will they be playing in your country's government?
This is an excellent question. Let me be clear - the Taliban and international terrorists were occupiers in Afghanistan. They were foreign to Afghanistan's culture. They distorted the faith of Afghans and have never been perceived as true Afghans. This is why we refer to the American presence as an "intervention" and not an "invasion." The Afghan people truly were liberated from a foreign occupation, that of the Taliban terrorists.
We have always offered the Taliban an opportunity to sit down for peace talks. However, there is one important precondition: they must accept the vision of the Afghan government and the Afghan constitution. Although our state is young, our constitution is a cherished document, just like the U.S. constitution. To protect this constitution, thousand of Afghan, American and international soldiers have died. This means that they must accept rights for women, human rights for all our people, the right of children to receive an education, and the right for Afghanistan to be a member of the family of democratic nations. We have no desire to negotiate with those who desire a return to the horrors of the past, to tyranny and autocracy, to public executions and the abuse of our women. So far, hundreds of Taliban fighters have laid down their weapons and been reintegrated into Afghan society. The door is always open to those who want to stop fighting and start building.
The terrorists do not offer a political vision or ideological coherence. They are killing tribal leaders, clergy, women and children and aim only to derail reconstruction and de-legitimize the current government. Their brutality offers no alternative vision for the future and is not winning hearts and minds. They recruit and brainwash young children to behead civilians and become suicide bombers. They have filmed 12 year old boys forced to behead "spies", and even tricked a 6 year old into wearing a suicide belt, telling him that when he pulled the detonator, flowers would pop out. Luckily, it did not work.
Do you believe that the current rise is violence in your country is directly attributable to the shifting of American forces from Afghanistan to Iraq when Iraq was invaded? If so can you help to bring that to the attention both the American public and the international community?
Even before the Iraq war, Afghanistan suffered from underinvestment. Of course, Iraq is a major drain on the resources of the U.S. But we don't believe that there is a direct correlation between support for one war effort a the expense of another.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. Today, there is strong international consensus on the need to help Afghanistan. Rebuilding Afghanistan has been expensive, but we have to consider the cost of under-investing in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's transition and successful advance on the path to democracy and state-building will impact the expectations and the aspirations of the people all over the world.
To keep the trust and support of ordinary citizens, we must work together to implement reconstruction in the countryside and improve the daily lives of civilians. We have had 6 years of promises. Sadly, many of them have not been fulfilled. More than $5 billion in reconstruction aid has not provided Afghans with essential services like electricity. Only half of the citizens in Kabul, our capital city, and only 11% of the entire country have access to power. Without electricity, there can be no effective agricultural and industrial development. We are grateful for the assistance that has provided thus far, and the Afghan people are patient. Reconstruction in Afghanistan will take decades, not years. But, despite the challenges that remain, today stories of hope are replacing stories of war in Afghanistan.
Would it really make a difference if Osama bin Laden were killed? Wouldn't there be a replacement waiting in the wings? It seems senseless to keep fighting an elusive foe who merely represents a doctrine ingrained in many people.
Thank you for this question. If we knew where Osama was he would be killed or captured by now. We are certain he is not in Afghanistan. Not only our intelligence services, but the intelligence of our many international partners confirms this. Osama bin Ladin cannot run forever - he will be caught and his death will certainly impact the morale of his followers. The important question is not where he is, but what we will do the day after we get him.
You are correct; we should be fighting both terrorists and terrorism. Even when we eliminate the top terrorist, we must continue to fight against terrorism.
The position of women in your Afghanistan has not improved even wthout the Taliban in govenment. The president of Afghanistan has said that members of the Taliban who say they will no longer fight the government and commit violence can have postions in your government. How does this make the women of Afghanistan as well as anyone who was victimized by the Taliban feel safe?
my question is below - thank you so much for this opportunity - in a world where most political leaders are far removed from the public and even less young middle class professional women - this is a wonderful opportunity. how will your government attract young women startup business people with small business to open business' and do business in your country. with the many years of apartheid against women in your country - do you feel young female business owners can help empower the women in your country to become initiative leaders and entrepreneurs?
These are excellent questions, and I share your concerns. Let me first state that the situation for women in Afghanistan has improved. Women's rights are enshrined in our constitution and protected by law. In the 2004 presidential election, more than 8 million Afghans voted, and 41 percent were women. Women hold 68 of 188 seats in the lower house of parliament. This is mandated by law. Afghan women who were forced into exile have returned in great numbers since 2001 to help their country fight against poverty, ignorance and intolerance. Women have also benefited from improvements to our health sector. Basic health care has been provided to almost 80% of the population. A 22% decline in Infant Mortality is saving over 85,000 lives a year. Women receiving pre-natal care has increased from 5% in 2003 to over 30% in 2007.
Although Afghanistan's constitution affords legal protection for women, cultural change is a long and complicated process. We believe that with a focus on public education and the continued partnership of the international community, future generations of Afghan women will never be touched by these troubles.
Is the Iranian Government helping in the reconstruction and security of
If they are what are they doing?
If they are and it is a good thing for the Afghan nation will you report it
to the world?
Glen Head NY
Iran has demonstrated that it can play a positive or a destructive role in Afghanistan. Currently, Iran is playing a positive role in the reconstruction process in Afghanistan. They were a key partner in Afghanistan's early rebuilding effort in 2001 and 2002 and proved their friendship to the Afghan people during the Bonn conference on Afghanistan's reconstruction. Currently, they are assisting with building infrastructure and fighting narcotics.
We see the future of our country as a trade and transit route. We want to keep the best possible relation with all our neighbors. We understand that Iran and the U.S. have had an adversarial relationship for decades, but we do not want to be caught in the middle. The U.S. is our strategic partner; Iran is our friend and neighbor.
After reviewing Afghanistan's history and the Soviet Union's failed occupation, what intelligent creature, other than an Islamic warlord, would wish to occupy this forbidden land?
Thank you for expressing your concern. Again, I would like to reiterate that it was the Taliban who were occupiers in Afghanistan. The U.S. came to end the occupation of Afghanistan by international terrorists. These terrorists posed a threat to Afghans, but they also posed a threat to global security. They were able to extend their reach all the way to New York, with tragic consequences.
The Afghan people recognize the asset of the engagement with the international community. We know the alternative. We know what it is like to be ruled by the Taliban. We know the stakes, better than anyone. The goodwill and trust of the Afghan people toward the U.S. and international community is our greatest asset in this mission.
The Policy of hiring private contractors to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure has been a controversial issue in our country. Do you think Afghanistan has the skilled labor and capability to rebuild itself if it were given the resources to do so. If our policy were changed to hire Afghan firms for reconstruction of schools, highways, and utilities, wouldn't that enable the country to create jobs and become self sufficient more efficiently? What do you think?
San Leandro, California
Thank you Gordon. Afghanistan needs both resources and capacity-building. One should not come at the expense of another. A generation of Afghans grew up in a situation defined by war and insecurity. Education was the prime victim. It is vital that we rebuild Afghanistan's human capital. Where we do not yet have the capacity, of course we welcome international firms. But priority should be given to Afghans, who desire employment above all, where we have the skills. Construction is one such sector.
Today, projects completed by the Afghan government, such as the National Solidarity Program (NSP), are a lot more cost effective than those executed by international companies. As of May 31, 2007 the NSP has helped elect 17,078 Community Development Councils and financed 23,176 projects in 12,637 communities at a cost of only $300 million (USD). This home-grown program covers 77% of the country and has empowered rural communities and improved their quality of life, increased public perception of national solidarity, raised awareness of the government's ability to deliver services, and indirectly fostered economic development through improved infrastructure.
As I wrote before, education is key to progress. Approximately 5.9 million children in school, a 5-fold increase from 2001, when only 900,000 were enrolled. 34% of students in Afghan schools are girls. University enrollment has leaped 10-fold from 4,000 in 2002 to 65,000 in 2007 Over 3,500 schools have been built in the last 6 years. Afghanistan has 143,000 trained teachers; the number of teachers has grown 7-fold.
Good morning sir,
I am an active-duty naval officer who recently returned from a one-year tour with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Asadabad (Kunar province). In my twelve months in Kunar & Nuristan provinces I saw many things - and not much to give me any lasting hope. We provided some help and implemented some improvements in the infrastructure (mostly roads and bridges), but much of what we did I would classify under the heading of 'Too Little - Too Late'. The province is still as dangerous and deadly as it was several years ago; the daily lives of most of the citizens aren't appreciably improved, and our efforts (PRT, DOS, USAID, etc.) still run up against the almost-immovable object of local, provincial and national corruption and inefficiencies. I am saddened when I think of what could have been accomplished in Afghanistan - had we not been sidetracked in an unnecessary and wasteful war in Iraq. All that national fortune, energy and manpower, were it spent where it was needed, would have made Afghanistan a much different - and successful - country and society than it is today. What are our plans now? How will we reach a critical mass of goodwill and assistance (indeed, can we?) to counteract the policy failures, especially the opium problem, that have led to the worsening of the political situation given that the American public's fund of patience and forbearance won't last much longer.
Thank you for your support and for expressing your concerns. On behalf of the Afghan people, I want to sincerely thank you for your commitment and sacrifice in supporting our nation. The Afghan people have lost many lives fighting terrorism and our soldiers are proud to stand and fight side by side with you. We understand and deeply appreciate your sacrifice and desire to join us in our common fight for a better and safer world. It a commitment to humanity's highest ideals that brings men and women from Wyoming, Idaho, South Carolina, and Kansas - some who have never been outside of their state - across the world to Afghanistan to fight for freedom, justice and security. No words that I can say today will honor you more than your actions already have.
Please rest assured that building roads and bridges is not too little, and it is certainly not too late. A road connects a farmer with the market. Economic development is a crucial component of our strategy to fight terrorism. And all of these projects are emblematic of the international community's commitment to Afghanistan. Roads and bridges are what wins this war, even moreso than battlefield victories.
Thank you to everyone for participating. I truly value the chance to speak directly to our partners in the U.S. and look forward to future dialogues.