Monday, April 08, 2013

Afghanistan ... Inbound and Outbound ...

So I spent last week training a group of military guys who are heading to Afghanistan.  As mentioned in my last post, my role was to mentor a team of four as they went through our immersive training course.  They spent a good bit of time in classroom training and, more importantly, a lot in role-playing scenarios.  Each of these scenarios is very much like what they'll encounter downrange.

My team were four very sharp guys and they did very well.  Throughout the week, the scenarios that we put them in got more complex and nuanced, with surprises that could trip them up if they didn't keep their heads on straight.  Which they did.  It was very rewarding to watch them develop throughout the week, to learn from their (minor) mistakes, and to become comfortable in dealing with Afghans in an Afghan world.

The role of a mentor is a complex one.  I was there to guide them through the maze of classes, preparations, and scenarios.  Some mentors have "taught the exam" - in other words, they told the students what was going to happen so that the students would know the "right" answers.  I don't subscribe to that theory.  My approach was the Socratic method, to try to guide by asking questions.  "Okay, so you're going to meet with the Provincial Governor tomorrow.  What do you know about him?  Where would you find information about him?  Who do you know that has dealt with him?  What do you want to get out of this meeting?  What will be the roles for each team member?  Will using your sketchy Pashto language skills be good, or will you stick with English and use your interpreter?  Who else might be there?  Will you try for a group photo?"  In Afghanistan, there are a very few things that are black, a very few that are white, and a whole lot of shades of gray in between.  In other words,there is no one "right" answer, so they need to be able to think for themselves as to which course of action is appropriate for them.

One of the other trainers this week used a great word to describe our mission: compelling.  For me, this is very compelling.  It's a national mission.  People's lives are on the line.  The success or failure of a nation is at stake.  And I have the opportunity to help train some of the people whose efforts will affect the outcome.  This work is tremendously rewarding for me.

Just how important it is was hammered home the day after training was over.  Two suicide bombers hit a convoy carrying the Zabul provincial governor and several Americans as they traveled to deliver schoolbooks.  Six Americans, including a young State Department public affairs officer, were killed.  Several others, including another young woman whom I knew in Kandahar, were wounded, some critically.  A number of Afghans were also killed and wounded, although I don't know how many.  It was a routine trip outside the wire, the kind that I had been on many times in my own area, only this time too many of them didn't come back.

The provincial governor said that he was the intended target, rather than the Americans.  Probably so.  The insurgents know that we're drawing down now and leaving soon, so there's not much reason to hit us besides the publicity value of killing infidels.  Their attention is more focused on the Afghan government officials that will be there over the long term: the governors, chiefs of police, Army officers, judges, and so on, who are picking up the fight that we're handing over.  I saw this developing in Maiwand last summer and fall.

So the next time that I go to Indiana to train Afghan-bound teams, this event will be first and foremost in my mind.  

1 comment:

lorraine said...

It is good to know that you are there for our guys and gals who are heading into danger. It gives me confidence that someone who has been there and been in many different situations is available to share wisdom with them. Thank you for giving of yourself and your knowledge and sharing through your blog. lorraine