When the Afghan worker called to me, I was more curious than anxious.
It was just after one o'clock in the morning, and double-digits below zero. He stood in the doorway of the ramshackle kitchen like a schoolboy on the lookout, his demeanor more mischievous than malevolent. I always had a friendly relationship with the locals, and there was something inside that he very much wanted me to see.
Like most buildings on camp, the kitchen was assembled with little more than plywood and optimism, and offered no respite from the cold. My host and his three companions stood huddled around a card table, gawking and giggling at a portable DVD player.
"Is nice!" said an Afghan proudly, grinning and offering a thumbs-up.
"Yes," I said, pleased to be part of their conspiracy.
On the small screen played a black-market video of a veiled belly dancer.
To be sure, this was no pornography by Western standards. Disney characters dress and move more provocatively than did this woman, turquoise-wrapped and sequin adorned. But when compared with the hideous burkas foisted upon Afghan women with the rise of the Taliban, it was, indeed, quite an eyeful.
At that moment, it became very clear to me that whatever fate awaited Afghanistan, the Taliban would never again enjoy the good will of the Afghan people. If ever they returned to power, it would be by force and by our own folly, the result in the kind of purge not seen since Cambodia in the 1970's.
The problem facing ordinary Afghans is not one of nerve but of tactical sophistication. The mission of the United States and NATO, therefore, is neither expressly offensive (air strikes and Mark 80 bombs), nor entirely defensive (sniping invaders on the horizon). Rather, it is one of supplementation and partnership. While diplomats work with the Afghan government to cultivate policy and reduce systemic corruption, the military must train the Afghan army, and live, eat, sleep, and fight along side them.
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, seems to think likewise. His much-anticipated assessment of the campaign does away with the counterproductive strategies of old, of bombing runs and door-kicking--"disruptive operations"--and emphasizes a sort of armed humanitarianism built upon strong relationships with the local populace. In large measure, the operation becomes a civil affairs mission, and focuses on the doctrine of Military Operations Other Than War. As McChrystal states in his recently issued ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guide, "Earn the support of the people and the war is won, regardless of how many militants are killed or captured."
Infrastructure is just such a mechanism for change. McChrystal advocates a proliferation of projects across Afghanistan that puts Afghans to work and money in their pockets. Jobs, his assessment reportedly states, will solve sixty percent of the nation's problems. In addition to building a sustainable, self-sufficient nation on every level, from village schoolhouses to national highway systems, it will build local trust of the U.S. and ISAF soldiers working side-by-side with them.
A hospitable populace is key to McChrystal's goal of doubling the sizes of both the Afghan army and the police force. Any such plan leans heavily on the force-multiplying Green Berets (in conjunction with U.S. infantry and military police) to recruit and grow the Afghan army. McChrystal, himself a thirty-year Special Forces officer, intends to meet the ambitious target within three years. Any successful exit strategy from Afghanistan will depend on an effective security apparatus.