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Mar-01-2009 03:23printcomments

Unemployment & Low Pay in Afghanistan & Iraq Bolster Insurgency

Resolving unemployment and ensuring fair and adequate pay is paramount to success in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afghan National Police officer
This Afghan National Police officer made roughly $65 a month two years ago. In reality, it is hard to demand unflinching loyalty from people in Afghanistan and Iraq who struggle just to meet their most basic needs. Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

(SALEM, Ore.) - I have revealed in past reports how national police and soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are in many cases, struggling financially to make ends meet. This situation leads to a lack of security, safety and success for American forces serving in these war theaters.

I went on a patrol with Afghan National Police in December 2006 accompanying for a night, police officers who made 35,000 Afghani; about $65 a month in U.S. dollars.

Afghan Police officer in Kabul
Salem-News.com photo: Tim King

The men told me they did not earn enough to put dinner on the table at night, and since that time food prices have skyrocketed. They also had no gloves or bullet proof vests. (see: Afghanistan National Police: An Exercise in Survival (VIDEO)- Tim King, in Afghanistan, for Salem-News.com )

While some will question why we should care about how much an Afghan police officer or an Iraqi guard makes, it makes complete sense to be deeply concerned, because it directly affects how many people live and die.

Unlike reports that cast the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as wild eyed religious zealots, most Iraqi and Afghan people are just trying to feed their families and survive the war.

Rather than longing to die in a Jihad and go to a promised 'afterlife', most of these Muslim people simply go through their day to day life like people in any place, hoping that they can eventually have a country their children can live safely in.

They will however, like people anywhere, work for the higher dollar. That is human nature and a dire problem we should have been able to overcome. Far fewer lives would have been lost if we had. So much has been spent on our wars, yet not in the right ways.

Afghan boy carried to the MEDCAP by his mother
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

If we fail to ensure that people are adequately compensated by governments that we already work closely with, then more people, including Americans and other Coalition members will lose their lives. In addition to ensuring fair and reasonable pay, we can also preserve life by helping create jobs in these war torn lands; it practically goes without saying.

You would not believe the look Afghan people get in their eyes when they know you are sitting on a supply of baby formula. I had the misfortune of being the only person in the back of an Army HUMVEE after the conclusion of a civilian aid medical mission known as a "MEDCAP".

I was in the military ambulance where the remaining supplies had been loaded. There were at first a dozen and soon far more people gathered around the open back of the vehicle and they were getting completely physical with me in an effort to grab cans of formula.

I spend time in these places as an embedded reporter and photographer, I was not in the military; just a guest, but I knew the remaining supplies had been promised to other Afghan people who desperately needed them and we had to hold onto these remaining items.

It was a tough experience that lasted several minutes. I didn't hold onto everything, some things were just wrestled out of my hands.

Afghan girl at the MEDCAP in Kabul
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

Finally some soldiers came up and yelled "Zah, zah!" which apparently translates to "go away" in Dari, the language spoken in this part of Afghanistan, and the crowd reluctantly dispersed.

What I remember from that is the frantic state people this poor go into when they think they can get their hands on something that will help them. We all know poor people in America and there is absolutely no comparison to Afghan poor. Poverty is just the beginning too; the trees in Kabul are all gone; long ago cut down for firewood. The river is a muddy stream. The Soviets poisoned Afghan water supplies. The tragic list goes on and on. The country has been severely damaged repeatedly.

The MEDCAP itself was interesting and I was able to see the people of this country up close and personal. For the American, British and Canadian soldiers charged with treating hundreds of people, the job appeared challenging, rewarding and in the end, successful. That MEDCAP resulted in the treatment of 399 Afghan civilians.

While some people were very sick, there were many mothers who were extremely grateful just to get a bottle of Tylenol; an extremely rare item for the poor people here, along with baby formula and a handful of things that cost little and would make the biggest difference, yet always remain in short supply. (see: Americans Bring Medical Help to Afghanistan Families (VIDEO) - Tim King, in Afghanistan, for Salem-News.com)

British doctor treating an Afghan woman
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

Our government has made so many mistakes already; they need to get this one right and help raise the standard of living for the people who live in the nations where we fight, particularly Afghanistan, which was ravaged by more than two decades of war before the first American bombs fell.

We had an opportunity to bring peace to this country at an ideal time once; after the Afghan Mujahadeen defeated the invading Soviet Army in 1989. Afghanistan's fighters were made heroes in American media as they killed the Russians and sent them fleeing home. (see: One Billion Dollars Allowed Afghan Rebels to Defeat the Soviets - Political Commentary by Tim King Salem-News.com )

The people there would likely have been open and receptive to our help, but the U.S. and all of the western nations for that matter, turned their back on the Afghan people.

Massoud's image near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

The temporary unity and world stardom of the Mujahadeen victors dissipated into tribal warfare and the great leader of the war against the Soviets, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assasinated by two Arabs posing as journalists September 9th, 2001.

In Afghanistan, people believe that Massoud was killed because he was going to expose the involvement of certain individuals in the alleged plotting of the attacks on the United States, September 11th, 2001.

Images of the man known as the "Lion of Panjshir" are seen everywhere throughout this country. Massoud's politics were mild next to those of the Taliban. He was not considered a fundamentalist, and he was at odds with the Taliban. His death led to their takeover of Afghanistan that was later overturned by the U.S. led invasion that began in 2001.

Today the military of several countries and the civilians of Afghanistan pay the price for short-sightedness in 1989 after the Soviet collapse. All too frequently, the military pays lives for what the government could have bought with cold cash, had its thinking cap been on a few years earlier.

Afghan Army "boot camp"
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

Quqnoos.com reported this week that a lack of job opportunity is the main reason that some youths in the Kandahar province join the Taliban.

Afghan interpreters told me that the Taliban pays more than the Afghan National Army, and they earn a better living than Afghan National Police.

To complicate matters, the ANA has a high desertion rate, and much of that takes place during basic training, at the Kabul Military Training Center.

When recruits from the KMTC desert and go to the other side, they take with them their U.S.-made "Woodland" camouflage uniforms. This ultimately makes it very difficult for American and Afghan soldiers to tell who is friendly and who is not.

Afghan Textile Mill

Yet in spite of the unemployment that has turned into a problem all over the country, youths in Kandahar province say that the government can overcome the problem by creating job opportunities for the people.

The governor of Kandahar called the lack of job opportunities in the province a big problem, and agreed with the report about some youths there joining up with the government opposition forces, also known as ACM's - Anti Coalition Militias, or the Taliban.

A snapshot of how bad things have become exists at the Kandahar Textiles Mill which once had more than 2000 workers. Today it has 30. Rather than manufacturing, those who work there today are responsible for guarding the factory's building and its machineries.

U.S. Army patrol in Afghanistan
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

As the United States tries to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, it needs to reach out on a far more humanitarian level.

More streamlined ways for Americans to donate to the Afghan people need to exist. President George W. Bush cancelled the Afghan Children's Fund shortly after launching it, and the impact on the people of Afghanistan, particularly women and children, has been tremendous.

The people of this nation some day need to be able to trade on services like Ebay. It was recently reported that newer technology is finding its way into more Afghan homes. These are people who very much want to be a part of the world trade and commerce system.

In reality, Afghanistan is a place where small children walk through the snow in sandals.

The initial war in Afghanistan led to the death and capture of most of the Taliban forces. A large amount of progress was made and then the former president decided it was important to attack Iraq. The decision left U.S. forces in Afghanistan understaffed and second in line next to Iraq, when it came to new and replacement equipment.

But then, the United States is number one at starting things that it doesn't finish or complete in the war theaters. It is time for a serious wakeup call.

Sons of Iraq

The Sons of Iraq are another program that the U.S. started and then abandoned. This is part of the "Surge" and represented a turning point when the Bush Administration began paying Sunni militias to fight with the Coalition rather than against it. How much did it cost? Exactly $305 a month per Sons of Iraq guard. Try finding good help in the United States for that wage.

"Sons of Iraq" guard and his AK-47
Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

The worst part seems to be the way George W. Bush and his team created the "Surge" but made no plans to make sure it had a lasting effect for the people of this war ravaged nation. Was it just a ploy to make the GOP look good in the runup to the Presidential election?

45,000 Iraqi men joined the Sons of Iraq under the Sunni Awakening Councils. Even at $305 each, the security these local men brought was priceless. In spite of that, the U.S. decided to hand the Sons of Iraq program over to the Iraqi Shi'ite government. Shi'ite and Sunni Iraqi's have many differences. Most of the Sunni men that I spoke to didn't expect Iraq to make the payments on time the way the U.S. had. (see: Could Removal of U.S. Support Shift Iraq's Peaceful Balance? (VIDEO) - Tim King, in Iraq, for Salem-News.com )

Some already knew their posts were being closed and disbanded and they would soon be jobless. These same men told me that the insurgency pays $200 U.S. to any of them who will fire a rocket or mortar at the nearby Balad air base.

I also learned that career Iraqi Army soldiers make up a large part of the unemployeed in this country because the age requirement to join the Iraqi Army today is very low. One former soldier who was 38, told me the course of his life was forever altered by the closure of the Iraqi Army several years ago.

There also are many who will tell you that the former Iraqi Army operated much like an organized band of criminals. Then there are those who say the same things about western forces, including the entire invasion of Iraq under the direction of George W. Bush. No nation or people are perfect, soldiers follow orders, and I like to think Americans are for the most part a very decent group.

But rotating commands and fresh faces each year, differing temperments and belief systems in commanding officers; all of these things amount to a lack of consistency in American military policy and ultimately, action. There needs to be a way to ensure that good rules, operational procedures and policies that are put in place, stay in place. Relationships that are developed with village elders, etc., need to be prolonged, and not gained and dropped cold within the course of a year.

I like the old saying "Kill 'em with kindness" and never before do I think a better time existed to put that old line to work.

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Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 in Afghanistan with Oregon troops. Tim recently returned from Iraq where he covered the war there while embedded with an Oregon Guard aviation unit. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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