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Nick Mills Headshot

What We Have Here...

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...is a failure to communicate.

Do the Afghan people want us to leave Afghanistan? Maybe. But what the Afghan people really want is to know why the hell we are in Afghanistan in the first place.

Stunning though it seems, a study by an international think tank found recently that nine out of ten Afghan men (the only gender that gets out much) in two key southern provinces have never heard of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 and have no clue as to why our armies have been rumbling around their country shooting people for the past ten years.

The survey, conducted by The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where U.S. and NATO military operations are now focused, found that very few Afghans know why we are there, and a significant number of those interviewed were not even aware that the Soviet army had pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989. What they do know is that they dislike our tactics. Seven out of ten thought the military operations were harmful to the Afghan people. Nearly 60 percent opposed the offensive against the Taliban in Kandahar. There's much more:

• 68 percent don't think the NATO forces protect Afghan civilians
• 74 percent think it's wrong to work with the foreign forces
• 75 percent feel the foreign troops disrespect the Afghans' religion and values
• Only 1 percent think we're fighting to rebuild Afghanistan

In the north of Afghanistan, where live the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmens -- the Northern Alliance that helped U.S. forces oust the Taliban -- the figures are different. More people know why the U.S. is there, and more have a favorable impression of the coalition forces. But in the south, the birthplace and stronghold of the Taliban, the news delivered by the survey is mostly bad and getting worse: 53 percent of the men said their opinion of the foreign forces is more negative now than it was a year ago.

More poignantly, nearly all of the men said their dominant emotion was anger, frustration, or sadness; some mentioned all three. Only 1 percent said they were optimistic.

The results of the ICOS survey came out at about the same time the Washington Post reported that U.S. was sending M-1 Abrams tanks into battle in Afghanistan, principally for their "shock and awe" value. "Shock and awe"? Shades of Rumsfeld, who wanted to attack Iraq instead of Afghanistan, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, because Iraq had "better targets."

The U.S.S.R. (remember them?) had many more tanks in Afghanistan than do the coalition forces, and the mujaheddin were neither shocked nor awed; the Afghan landscape was littered with carcasses of tanks killed either during the jihad of the 1980s or the subsequent civil wars of the 1990s. Drive through any village or congested market area in Afghanistan and you'll be, I am certain, shocked and awed to find tank treads recycled as speed bumps.

While nearly 75 percent of the survey sample think that working with the foreigners is bad, 71 percent think of membership in the Taliban as a high-status position.

All this, after nine-plus years in Afghanistan.

Nine out of ten Afghans don't know what we're doing in Afghanistan? I'm with you, pal. I don't know what we're doing in Afghanistan either. But whatever it is, it's clearly not working.