Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Thousands of U.S. troops are streaming into Afghanistan each month as part of the surge, and among the things critical to their mission are the services of interpreters.
The U.S. army this month extended the contract of an Ohio-based company to provide translators for Afghanistan for another year at a cost of $679 million. U.S. and NATO commander Lt. General Stanley McChyrstal’s strategy for Afghanistan rests on winning the trust of the people and that can’t work if you don’t have enough people speaking any of their languages such as Pashto, Dari, Tajik, Uzbek.
The “terps”, as the soldiers call them in military slang, don’t just do literal translations, they provide insights into local culture and customs that are key to any attempt to win the people over. And above all, their ability to read the situation on the ground can often save lives.
The people of Kandahar province have greater trust in the Taliban than in the local government and an overwhelming majority consider them to be our “Afghan brothers” according to a poll commissioned by the U.S. army ahead of an impending offensive in the Taliban’s spiritual capital.
On the eve of Hamid Karzai’s inauguration as Afghanistan’s president, the obvious question to ask is what happens if he, or more crucially his Western backers, fail to turn back a resurgent Taliban the second time around.
Steve Coll, journalist and president of the New America Foundation, sets out four consequences of failure in Afghanistan in a blog in The New Yorker, which speak to those especially in America who question its involvement in the first place in this far-off “graveyard of empires.”
Reuters Kabul correspondent Jonathon Burch is currently on an embed with the U.S. Army’s Stryker brigade in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. On October 27, seven soldiers from a platoon of the Strykers, named after an eight-wheel armoured combat vehicle, and an interpreter were killed in a bomb attack on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
Jonathon was accompanying them at the time and here’s his story :
The mission was simple. Some 20 U.S. soldiers were to patrol a riverbed in the dead of night, camp until morning, and provide backup to Afghan troops and their Canadian mentors in a clearing operation in Chahar Bagh village, an insurgent hotbed on the outskirts of Kandahar City.