with Beth-Ann Kozlovich
HONOLULU—It seems it’s a pie crust promise: easily made and easily broken. After pledging a draw-down of forces in Afghanistan that was to have begun this year, in December 2010, the Obama administration said it might not be until 2014 that the United States would leave the region. Shortly thereafter came word that 2014 might be a little premature, too.
With 400 military bases and the soon-to-be largest U.S. foreign embassy in the world courtesy of a $500 million expansion project, retired Colonel, former diplomat, and Oahu resident Ann Wright recently returned from a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan. Wright says America’s occupation may be permanent—and she believes it has little to do with protecting the Afghani people.
“If you look at the extreme amount of contracts with private corporations, the sole source contracting where nobody has to bid on these things so we the taxpayers get the lowest bid ... there is preferential treatment for specific corporations like Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater,” Wright says. “The industries in America that are alive and well and moving fast are the military industrial ones. They are making a killing off the killing.”
Wright makes a habit of speaking her mind and acting on her ethics. In 2003, she resigned from the State department on the eve of the U.S. incursion into Iraq. Since then, her peace activism has taken her from Congress to Camp Casey, the Middle East to the middle of the Pacific. In 2008, Wright co-authored with Susan Dixon Dissent, Voices of Conscience. Wright was also on one of the boats in the May 2010 flotilla that attempted to break the blockade of Gaza, a cause she still supports. Wright continues to oppose military operations in Afghanistan.
“I agree with [U.S. Retired General, now Ambassador to Afghanistan] Karl Eikenberry that the solution for Afghanistan is not more U.S. troops,” Wright says.
Wright points to a defense budget that has doubled over the last decade. And at a cost of $1 million per soldier, the money spent is not commensurate with results of the stated purposes of occupation: nation-building, chasing out terrorists, and defending the safety of the populace.
“The strategy right now is we kill more Afghans, kill more Afghan Taliban, because we need to be negotiating—or at least the Afghan government needs to be negotiating—from a position of strength,” Wright explains. “So the way you do that is you kill more people. But the problem with that is our intelligence is pretty faulty and every time there is a big military offensive mounted, there are lots of people killed, but they’re not necessary the militants.”
Wright says even non-government organizations (NGOs) who have been working in Afghanistan for decades believe civilians are continually at risk and in harm’s way.
“The NGOs came together to write a report, ‘Nowhere to Turn,’ saying civilians are caught in crossfire of U.S. military and NATO forces,” Wright says.
And there are a lot of forces compared to the enemy. Wright cites 100,000 U.S. troops and 40,000 NATO forces. Add to that another 60,000 contractors, 300,000 in the Afghan army and police and Wright’s accounting shows about 500,000 people working on Afghan security. Compare that to a mere 50 Al Qaida in Afghanistan at any one time, plus Taliban-hired farmer-fighters totaling 15,050.
“So statistically we ought to be winning,” Wright says. “At least militarily and operationally, you shouldn’t be held at a stalemate. Here is the most technologically-savvy, highest fire power in the history of the world, the American military against 15,050? So there is something behind it.”
That something is profit, but not for the Afghan people. Most live in rural areas with conservative viewpoints. Wright says the Afghan people regard American military fighting technology as cowardly: “They wonder why we don’t fight them man-to-man. They don’t think we’re brave.”
Burqa-clad women are shuttered within their homes and sanitary conditions mostly absent. It’s not a wonder the average Afghani lifespan is 44 years.
“Even in Kabul, the capitol city where we have had a $500 million electric project by the U.S., as well as the Indian government that has run electric lines down from central Asia, still, electricity is so sporadic,” Wright says. “In Kabul, satellite TVs have to be run by gasoline generators.”
After 10 years, Wright continues to question whether there can be any type of justice in Afghanistan that Americans would recognize.
“It’s very difficult right now when you have many people who are in the government who are warlords and have committed crimes against their own people,” Wright explains. “The justice system in Afghanistan is difficult, and for women in particular. There has got to be a lot of work by the Afghanis themselves on the type of justice system that treats women and children properly so human rights for all are respected.”
Given the fact that currently 80 percent of men are literate compared to 5 percent of the women, criminal and social justice may well be a long way off.
Her assessment of Afghnaistan going forward is simple:
“The international community cannot forget Afghanistan, but we need to end military operations. There needs to be negotiations with parties involved. And it won’t be a clean or neat. But this killing that’s going on right now won’t resolve the issues. Afghanistan is a culturally very different place from us but there are ways the education and health can be improved—but not through war.”
That is, she says, if America really cares about the Afghani people and not just profits to be made from their country.
Two hours after her Town Square interview, retired-Col. Ann Wright was on a plane for Greece where she and others will be purchasing a boat for an American entry into the next flotilla to challenge the blockade in Gaza. The entire conversation with Wright is on the Town Square archive at www.hawaiipublicradio.org. Reach Beth-Ann Kozlovich at [email protected].