Afghanistan ADT background

Like most, a few months ago I knew next to nothing about Afghanistan. What I did know was pretty simple: here’s a war going on, there has been years of fighting, there was a Soviet invasion and occupation, the landscape is mountainous and austere in places, areas are arid and the country rests at the cradle of civilization. Pretty generic stuff.

After receiving word the project was green-lit I headed off to Barnes and Noble to look for some sort of guidebook that can provide a baseline of cultural, historic and geographic information. If you’ve been to the travel section at Barnes and Nobel you can get lost in volumes dealing with tourist destinations such as: London, Tokyo, Paris, New York, Greece and Italy. It took awhile to find the Afghanistan section. It contained a single publication. I thought about venturing to the current affairs section of the store but I didn’t think I needed reams of information written by policy makers and journalists discussing the strategies of the war; I just needed a basis of understanding.

Cover photo - Afghanistan - a companion and guide

This book provides a good base of understand of what Afghanistan was and is

I picked up the lone book in front of me. Afghanistan – A Companion and Guide by Bijan Omrani and Matthew Leeming. I decided this book provided as good a jumping off point as any. The first paragraph caught my attention:

“It is not difficult to be confused by the history of Afghanistan. To one approaching the subject for the first time, there is presented the most extraordinary and varied panoply of peoples, religions, dynasties, conquerors who appear seemingly from nowhere; empires that from insignificant beginnings sweep over and subdue territories of unimaginable magnitude before ebbing away and dissolving with equal rapidity; cities that oscillate between heights of prosperity and the depths of utter ruination; and a diversity of cultures in which can be discerned influences from as far afield as Ancient Rome, Greece, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, India and China.”

The book’s 800 pages contain illustrations of a vastness of ancient history that for many Americans is really difficult to comprehend.

There was a time not long ago, yet not in my lifetime, that Afghanistan was a tourist destination.  The mountains, the culture, the food and the art drew in an alternative lifestyle ‘hippy’ sort of traveler.  Today Afghanistan has been at war everyday for nearly 40 years. In the 1970s the Soviet occupation was followed by years of civil war which laid the ground work for the Taliban. The wars have been devastating, the statistics are alarming. According to the CIA Worldbook Afghanistan’s 45 year life expectancy ranks 220th out of 221 countries and its infant mortality rates ran 2nd worst in the world.

Col Eric Ahlness, commander of the 135th ADT

Courtesy MN National Guard - Col Eric Ahlness, commander of ZADT

Afghanistan needs a lot of help.  Missions like the 135th ADT out of Minnesota will begin to lay some ground work that can lead to reversing these statistics.  The mission of the 135th, lead by Col Eric Ahlness, is to enable the Afghan Agricultural Ministry to educate and support farmers and members of the agricultural community.  ADTs, like the 135th comprised of 22 soldiers, provide administrative support, advice, informational resources, and sustainable agriculture solutions and practices that can lead to an increased stability and improved opportunities for Afghanistan’s re-emerging agribusiness realm.  This isn’t an entirely new concept, according to an article published in the InterAgency Journal and written by Eric Peck and Lynndee Kemmet, the idea of the ADT was created 20 years ago to form partnerships with developing nations and to foster ongoing relationships to asst in post-disaster and post-conflict reconstruction.  National Guard teams, like the 135th, now operate through various Department of Defense programs or operations in many nations around the world.

One single 10-month ADT mission cannot make much headway into providing solutions to the problems Afghanistan’s agricultural community is facing.  The Minnesota group is the third of five groups who will be working in Zabul province.  Each of the Guard units, from breadbasket states likes Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky will spend a year in Zabul.  It is the hope that with five years of ground work laid the people of Afghanistan will begin to understand some of the more technical concepts behind successful agriculture.  A tall order, but in looking at the make up of the units that are, have been and will be working in Zabul it appears that there is a good chance that change can come.  The soldiers deploying with the 135th bring with them civilian-based knowledge geared around agriculture.  Whether it is markets, production, storage or education, soldiers of the 135th, as with past units, have walked the walk and are willing and able to share their first-hand knowledge with military and civilian entities on the ground in Afghanistan.

Zabul Market

Courtesy MN National Guard - Zabul Market

Arghandab Vet Seminar

Courtesy MN National Guard - Veterinarian seminar at Arghandab

The conclusion of the article I referenced above written by Peck and Kemmet is providing me with a lot of ideas for the visuals I will bring back with me.  They go on to write:

“A key lesson learned from many years of interaction with local communities during natural disaster responses and recovery operations is that all successful operations start with a local focus that has community members and community leaders making decisions in prioritizing tasks, actions, and results.  It is important to assist through advice, ask the right questions at the right time, and provide resources that either are not readily available or have been lost through the disaster.  It is critical that the community determine where it is doing, how it is going to get there and how it will provide its share of the required resources.  This process applies in all areas – security, governance, economics, and infrastructure.  The ability of all partners (coalition, U.S. government, NGOs and Afghans) to provide this kind of assistance is a coordinated manner will, over time, provide the outcome all desire – a nation that is self-sufficient, educated, and capable of providing a promising future for its citizens.  The ability of all the entities involved in the operation to work together within the resource constraints of time and funding toward accomplishing the goal of self-sufficiency will determine how effective the operation will be.”

I will see examples of collaboration between camo-clad soldiers and culturally-attired Afghans.  The pictures will carry the story.