I served with the NATO mission in Afghanistan – it was a bloated mess | Anonymous

TPictures have been plastered on our screens in recent days of Afghan civilians at Hamid Karzai airport desperately trying to flee the country, as well as blast On Thursday, it was heartbreaking. And for me, it’s a bit surreal. I lived at that airport while serving as a soldier in the British Army.

Watching the scenes of chaos on the tarmac, my first thought was the civilians working inside the airport. I spent several afternoons after work sitting in the Afghan-owned Istanbul Café, a dilapidated several-story building overlooking the airport, drinking strong coffee prepared by the women and men I knew and respected. Their commute to work each morning was ten times more dangerous than anything I had done in Kabul. They ran the gauntlet on the bikes while we were sheltering inside the armored vehicles. I can’t help but wonder: Are they safe? Did they go out?

As the shock subsided, and the Taliban raised their flag over Kabul, I felt indignant and angry, thinking about the reason for the mission in Afghanistan Fail and whether it could have proceeded differently.

I worked as a soldier in the coal area of ​​NATO Resolute support mission, which was supposed to train, support and assist the Afghan security services and institutions. We provided security for the advisers as they interacted with their Afghan counterparts in Kabul. In general, this may mean picking them up, taking them to the meeting, providing security for the meeting and bringing them back to base. In my view, there were at least two fundamental errors in the mission’s approach. The first was a massive outsourcing to the private sector who ensured the process.

Let me say categorically, our service is not to blame. The soldiers with whom I served, those who fought in Helmand and subsequently fortified in Kabul, behaved, almost without exception, with the utmost professionalism and courage. To serve at their side is a great honor in my life. But the NATO mission was not fit for purpose.

When I was in Afghanistan, Private Military Contractors They numbered nearly 30,000. Some of them were involved in protection missions, but many were responsible for training and mentoring Afghans who held positions of great influence. They advised on intelligence, combat, diplomacy, police, you name it. Some of them were doing their best. Many did not care. Many of them were on the six digits and have been for years. Afghanistan was for them a profitable cow, a way to send their children to college (mostly Americans) or pay off a mortgage. In short, there were too many poorly qualified people working without accountability and getting paid far away. If you want an answer to the question of why the Afghan army collapsed in weeks, take a closer look at what they call mentors.

Then there was the simplistic assumption that everyone in Afghanistan could fall into two categories, the enlightened liberal reformists who would welcome a Western presence, and the conservative folk who were under attack. Taliban. Needless to say, things were more complicated than that.

There were some very unsavory characters who worked with us in Kabul. One morning, a translator who had worked with the British for decades over breakfast approached me and pointed to a young Afghan woman who also works as a translator. Loud enough to hear everything, he declared her a “dirty whore.” why? She was wearing jeans and a light pink head veil. This kind of language and such attitudes were commonplace, and the soldiers and contractors went unchallenged, who did not want to be seen as undermining the local population. And if they are accepted into the NATO baseAnd What is the hope for fighting brutal misogyny by the Taliban?

Corruption exists at all levels. One afternoon, I provided protection for a meeting between an Afghan Air Force attorney and his American advisor. As I was sweating in body armor, they discussed the investigation of unauthorized travel on Afghan Air Force flights. In short, the Taliban were able to board the flights designated for Afghan soldiers and fly across the country with impunity. After several hours arguing about the best way forward, the American finally lost his temper and shouted, “You’ve got to get rid of these guys.” [corrupt] People!” The Afghan lawyer answered calmly: “Do you want me to dissolve the entire Afghan Air Force?” The American had no answer to that. The West had not had an answer to that for 20 years.

How NATO thought these fragile institutions were able to rein in a group like the Taliban, who spoke with one voice and strove toward one end, is far from me. In fact, she probably didn’t – she was accepting the fate of Afghanistan and the fate of her hopeful youth.

In what we call combat appreciation, we ask ourselves a number of questions. One is, “What resources do I need to achieve each impact?” Basically, the mission of the troops. NATO got it wrong. She didn’t need 30,000 self-interested mercenaries who cared more about their bank accounts than they did about Afghanistan’s future. It needed a small, dedicated group of experts backed by a small and well-equipped protective force. This, coupled with virtual engagement (if Covid-19 taught us something we could work remotely), could have had the same effect of the bloated chaos that Resolute Support eventually became. Most importantly, keeping soldiers on the ground, albeit in a limited capacity, would have sent a clear message to the Taliban: These new Afghan institutions do not stand alone.

To those who say our existence has been unwanted and unproductive, to those who claim we can never hope to help change Afghanistan for the better, I would ask them to take a look at videos of young men clinging tightly to the undercarriage. -17 sec. Take a look at the personalities who are proving themselves in the positions that were once held by the democratically elected. Take a look at the devastating attack by the Islamic State. Our presence was enough to stop all of this. Sometimes preventing change is just as important as inducing it.

To those we promised a future, we must open our arms now. Lives are at stake. The cost is not relevant. We must do what we can.

  • Fall of Afghanistan: Join our Guardian Live online event with our journalists Emma Graham Harrison, Peter Beaumont and Julian Burger to analyze the latest developments. Monday, September 6, at 7 p.m. GMT. Book your tickets Here. All profits will be donated to relevant charities.

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