In 2011-12, H-SC students received aid totaling over $29 million.
9/11 Eleven Years Later
Report from Afghanistan: It Takes a Village
Lt. Col Patrick Howard '88
"So, are we going to win in Afghanistan?" I am asked this a lot, by strangers on airplanes, Hampden-Sydney classmates, and the occasional visiting dignitary passing through my headquarters. The answer, of course, is that Afghanistan is not ours to win. Government is legitimized by the consent of the governed. It is up to the Afghans to form a vision of the government they want, and to make that vision succeed.
The US-led NATO effort in Afghanistan has not thus far been an unqualified success. Much of our work has focused on killing bad guys, because that is what soldiers do. There are plenty of bad guys to kill, and killing bad guys is an important task in warfare. But in our Afghan nation-building experiment, helping the Afghans create a responsive government is much more important than killing. And, skilled as we are at killing, my generation of United States Army leaders is not experienced in creating governments. Our resulting efforts have been sometimes comical, as when a US colonel assigned several of his officers to be the "staff" of an Afghan district governor, declaring "we are not usurping his authority, we are empowering him." But doing somebody else's work for him usually creates laziness and indifference. Worse, it breeds resentment if one does not do the job the way one's "beneficiary" wishes.
If we should not do the work, how can we help the Afghans to do it effectively? A promising concept, Village Stability Operations (VSO), has come from the Special Operations community. Having spent much of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars marginalized as bearded, oddly-costumed light infantry engaged primarily in killing people, the Army's Special Forces (SF) teams are returning to their counterinsurgency roots, teaching allies how to be effective fighters. In the VSO concept, an SF team partners with local Afghans who are willing to defend their villages. After vetting and training, these locals become a part-time Afghan Local Police (ALP) force. Concurrently, supporting "Af-Pak Hands," officers and sergeants with specialized language and cultural training, work alongside local government and development officials to coach them to provide the population with appropriate government services. The standard model for a successful VSO is "Shape, Hold, Build, Transition."
In the Shape phase, the team carefully studies the human terrain, identifying the key local power players, learning how the citizens earn their living, gaining an understanding of local tribal affiliations, assessing the strength of the insurgents, and digging into myriad cultural, historical, social, and economic factors affecting the area. They then work to gain the trust of the locals. If the locals respond favorably to their suggestion to form a local police force, the team moves to the Hold phase, where they teach their new ALP partners how to defend their village against the insurgents. Once local security is established, the Af-Pak Hands mentor their counterparts in the local government to build a credible, responsive local government. Finally, the local population now able to defend and govern itself, the SF team and its Af-Pak Hands move to the next threatened village.
As the 2014 US withdrawal looms, there are countless obstacles to the success of Village Stability Operations. But the results to date are promising, and the program provides the opportunity for Afghans to control their own destiny, free from internal or foreign coercion. It cannot solve all of Afghanistan's problems, but at the critical grassroots level, it gives Afghans the chance to build their own government, from the ground up. Afghanistan is the Afghans' to win, and this is a good start.
Lieutenant Colonel C. Patrick Howard '88 is neither a Special Forces officer nor an Af-Pak Hand. He is a Ranger on loan to the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan to work VSO issues in Kandahar. His parent unit is the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.