A CBS Evening News "report" on Afghanistan this week simply gave an account of our casualties -- just like during the Vietnam War. Haven't we learned from our past? We don't need a rosy picture painted for us, but we do need to know beyond a body count what is working there along with what is not. Most of all, we need to be informed about the profound difference the sacrifices of our troops have actually made.
Whether or not you think we should have gone to war in Afghanistan (or Iraq) in the first place, or if you think we should get out tomorrow, we deserve to hear more about the progress the military is making while fighting and dying for the Afghan people and their future.
Before 9/11, American Afghans commonly told tales of cruelty in their homeland. Mavis Leno (Jay's wife) has been championing the cause of the mistreatment of women there since the late nineties. And who can bear the stories of young girls whose faces have been marred for life just because they wanted to go to school?
So much has happened since this war started, and the U.S. has bungled all kinds of things, but as far as I can discern, the best military leaders we've got are now in place doing the best they can guiding our troops towards making a difference we rarely hear about. Case in point, on May 25, 2010, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander relayed the following information about progress in Afghanistan to the 46 Chiefs of Defense of nations contributing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Some of the highlights follow:
* Access to healthcare rose from 9 to 65 percent, infant mortality decreased by 30 percent, and maternal mortality decreased by 40 percent since 2002.
School enrollment and the number of teachers nearly doubled since 2002/2003, and 35 percent of the students are now female.
* Afghan women hold almost a quarter of the seats in Parliament.
The real GDP of the country grew by more than 20 percent in 2009-2010, up significantly from last year and ahead of previous projections. Private sector investment is increasing steadily and playing an important role in the country's development.
* A 2008 Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) assessment rated Afghanistan's Public Financial Management system higher than the average for other low-income developing countries--corruption that is occurring is in revenue generation, not in expenditures.
* Cell phones increased from virtually none in 2002 to over 12 million today, Afghans with internet access increased by 25 percent in the past year (up to 2 million citizens), and a thriving telecommunications sector is providing over 100,000 jobs, including 150 FM radio stations and 20 television stations.
* Afghanistan's public financial management system, developed with the expertise of the World Bank, has established the basic rules and regulations for credible and accountable financial management.
* A March 2010 nationwide survey revealed that almost 60 percent of the Afghan people believe their government is "moving in the right direction," over 83 percent believe the security situation in their area is either "good" or "fair," over 70 percent say the government has more influence than the Taliban in their area, almost 70 percent say they are either "somewhat" or "very" satisfied with their quality of life, and over 75 percent say the next generation of Afghans (in 10-15 years) are either "likely" or "very likely" to live in peace and security.
* The mineral wealth of Afghanistan, estimated at $1-3 trillion, represents a viable prospect for sustainable, licit revenue generation.
While we didn't go into Afghanistan for its mineral wealth (as far as I know), this newly revealed information can evoke images of the Vietnam-era-like mercenaries in the Avatar movie raping the Na'vi's territory on the planet of Pandora.
Along with our impressive stance to uphold amazing ideals, American history is also replete with examples of disrespect of native cultures, ecologies, and corruption related to resources. Modern equivalents like Enron underscore our need for vigilance.
Our challenge will be to provide a socially responsible influence that honors the culture and land there (and throughout the world) with programs that unquestionably serve their interests. Besides, if we don't, China certainly will.
Regardless, if one girl (or boy) can go to school (anywhere in the world) without having to worry about someone throwing acid in her or his face (or die of hunger, be shot, have their limbs amputated by gangs, get hacked with a machete, etc.) thanks to the efforts of the American military, I believe my fellow servicemen and women have made their sacrifices for noble ideals.
I also believe we would be taking a giant step forward if our media made a greater effort to tell us about what is actually working in Afghanistan (and Iraq) rather than telling us about so much that is not. Perhaps they didn't get the memo?