|Soldiers should leave Afghanistan now, military journalist says|
On his most recent trip to Afghanistan, Canadian journalist Scott Taylor toured a high school in Kandahar.
A crumbling clay shell with overflowing pits for toilets, the school wasn't much, but it did have the basics: students, classrooms, even a modest library of 400 books.The only thing missing, really, were the teachers. The school didn't have a single one.
In the rush to create a viable Afghan army, western forces in Afghanistan have bankrolled a dramatic rise in military salaries. In a country where the average annual income is $300, the average Afghan soldier now earns $200 every month.
In some respects, Taylor says, the cash has worked; the permanent army now numbers some 80,000 men. But in others it has failed dramatically, and sometimes unpredictably.
"Nobody ever insured, in their wisdom, that teachers would remain essential workers," Taylor said Thursday at a talk at the University of Alberta. As a direct consequence, scores of them have abandoned the classroom, where they earned$60 a month, for better-paying jobs in the army. The result: Schools without teachers, like the one in Kandahar.
The teachers story is one of dozens Taylor tells about what's gone wrong in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
A former soldier and current editor/ publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine, Taylor has reported in parts of that country few other journalists have.
In his travels, he has spoken to warlords, soldiers and everyday citizens from Kandahar to Kabul. And he has come to some stark conclusions about what's going on.
For one, the Hamid Karzai regime is corrupt and grossly illegitimate, he said. The president himself wouldn't last a day without Western support and the recent vote that re-elected him was a fraud, he said.
The country, as a whole, continues to be ruled by a patchwork of warlords and tribal chieftains -- some bad, some terrible--a situation, he said, that no amount of western involvement will change soon.
"If we are going to continue to pretend democracy exists (in Afghanistan), we need to get out now."
And if we want to stay, he said, we need to reassess what's possible and radically change our strategies.
To make even a modest improvement, Taylor said Canada and the rest of the West should accept that democracy in Afghanistan is not possible in the near term.
Taylor said someone senior in the Canadian leadership will have acknowledge that the strategy has been a mistake. Canadians would also have to get over the idea that questioning the mission means questioning the troops, he said.
"I'm an ex-soldier. I publish a military magazine. Of course I support the troops. But we need to, at the end of the day, justify each and every death. And at the moment, we don't have the successes record we can point to and say, yeah, absolutely. We're still failing to make it a safe environment."