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Feb 21

Written by: Diana West
Sunday, February 21, 2010 2:43 PM 

Here is the fourth part of "Flirting with Afghanistan," text, photos and captions by Paul Avallone. (See here for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.) In this final installment, Avallone examines the exploitation, segregation and enslavement of girls and women in Afghan Islamic society -- a society the US-led coalition is prepared to die for, defend and perpetuate.

Stare into this girl's eyes, stare long, and she'll capture you, and you won't be able to look away. Then realize that I took this photograph in early 2003, when I and my Special Forces team mates played in our "Chocolate Alley" Jalalabad neighborhood of our safehouse base with the scores and scores of kids who trusted us and were unafraid of us, confident of our intent for good rather than bad, to the point that even the girls were photographical. Look again at this girl, then realize that, seven years later, she has been long married as well as long under a burqa. Under a burqa. Not just the pure beauty, but--look at her--whatever is going on in that mind.

And the American soldiers do leave, and that night or the next or the one after, their base will be rocketed or mortared, which is no big surprise. With fancy high-tech gear they can accurately pinpoint the POO (or Point of Origin) of the rockets/mortars, and guess what, believe it or not, the POO will be right there smack dab in that village where "we have not seen Taliban here in two years." If the Americans send their own mortars, artillery or jet-released 500-pounders down on that POO, within hours the Taliban newswires will declare three innocent women and a half-dozen innocent children killed in the infidel bombing—with videotape proof—and by morning, President Bush and his commanding generals in Afghanistan will be getting red-phone calls from President Karzai crying, "Why are you killing our innocent people?!" Tic toc, tic toc, Jeopardy is back, bing! "The answer is: What is, We're sorry, and we won't do it again."

But the Americans will do it again. It is a guerrilla war they are fighting, in a foreign land, as guests of Mr. Karzai and his IRoA, under the constraints of fighting under civilized rules of warfare a guerrilla insurgent force for whom there are no rules. One way rules. You've got to love it…if you're the guerrillas. Most likely illiterate but not dumb, they know that the Americans can pinpoint the village POO site, and they, the guerrillas, the Taliban, use that to their advantage. Whether A or B, it's a No Lose. A: The Americans don't fire back for fear of causing civilian casualties, leaving the Taliban free to use the place as a launch site or more; and B: The Americans do fire back, killing civilians in the process and thus giving the Taliban a nice little international PR coup. This, now, remember, all from guys, every time I've seen them either captured or dead, who are wearing those 7th century seven day shit suits. It says something for modern warfare, I guess.

In truth, no matter how deliciously clever, that shit suit name didn't really stick with the soldiers, whether it was because it was simply too long to say or simply too inappropriate to use among the politically correct Army officer class. Besides, that "shit" part is a little misleading because Afghans don't do their business, whether No. 2 or No. 1, very often. They're not like Americans, guzzling liquids by the 32-ounce Big Gulps and eating three or four times a day like every meal and snack's the last day before Lent, we're maxing out our sewage treatment plants. Afghans rarely drink much water. It's chai, and, since the caffeine in chai is a diuretic, one would think that that would make them have to urinate often, but overall they don't drink enough water for their bodies to get rid of much of it. I cannot count the number of Army rural medical missions I've witnessed when every last Afghan man came in complaining of daily headaches. Dehydration is always the diagnosis, especially in this hot, dry climate. Drink water. Not chai, water. If you could pour it down their deaf ears it might help. Chai good, water naaah. The shepherds crossing the deserts with their herds, I never see them carrying water. The ANA soldiers going out on patrols, mounted or on foot, they don't carry water unless they grab up the bottled stuff from their American partners' supplies. As for food, the Afghan diet is meager—flat bread, rice, beans, some vegetables, and a little meat perhaps once a week. As nature goes, the less one eats the less one shits, and the Afghans eat little and shit less. And, as an American medic at one of those rural missions once pointed out, "The worms are getting half of what they eat." Intestinal worms, small, medium and tape.

"Shit" suit wasn't really fair and it wasn't even missed as it faded off, as the name that stuck among the GIs for the male baggy garb is "man jammies." As in pajamas. For men. It really is the perfect description. Man jammies. Kind of cute too, and nothing pejorative about it, as "jammies" reminds one of the sweeter time of childhood. There is also nothing pejorative about another term the soldiers freely use, calling most things native "hajj" or "haji," as in, "Yeah, it was hajj food they had," "The workers on the fob are all haji," or "I bought the pirated Indiana Jones DVD at the haji bazaar." It's not an insult, it's not disrespectful, it's an immediate, simple descriptive communication. Sure, technically, the hajj is the journey to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to make in life, and haji is what one is called who has made the trip, used as a respectful address, "mister." My best guess would be that 95% of all Afghans have never made the hajj and never will, but 99.999% of all Afghans are Muslims, so the term, seemingly ill suited, isn't.

Using "man jammies" and "haji," the dumb ol' non-college attending GI "stuck in Iraq" in Afghanistan knows these people better than Condi Rice, her ambassadors and for certain the two presidential candidates. Even the college educated GIs here know better. Such as one, a young lieutenant, an extremely brilliant graduate from an elite liberal arts college, who told me a couple of days after, when he was no longer under the spell of the rush of the battle and had had time to reflect upon it, that during the terrifying ambush his platoon was in (to which I arrived minutes later) in which one of his men was killed, while the RPGs and AK rounds were raining down striking their Humvees, his thought was, he remembered so clearly, "This is not worth dying for." This, Afghanistan, the Afghans. As nine out of ten GIs would say, in their succinct immediate strike at reality with a phrase as common as "duh"—"No shit, Sherlock."

That lieutenant, he's still here. He's still leading his men. Going out on those patrols. Expecting more deadly RPGs. And, like just about every other GI whom I know here now, with the exception of some platitude-vomiting senior officers, he won't tell you he's here for Afghanistan or the Afghans; he's here because it's his volunteer job, his volunteer duty, and he's here for the guy next to him. And, unlike Condi, the diplomats, the politicians and all our pompous media editors, he should not have to, or be forced to, ask himself just who the hell the man in the attic is; he already knows. Which might very well explain why he's not here for him.

If there is one immediate visual image to draw from the Afghan culture it might be that of Afghan men in their man jammies sitting around on their haunches drinking chai from clear glass coffee cups. Anywhere and everywhere. It's done in the extended-family compound, to be sure, in the furnitureless living room/dining room where the men take their meals and hang out drinking their chai. It's done even more outside the compound, in bazaar shops, outside the shops, along the streets, in the fields, the entry gates of their military forts. It is never just one shopkeeper or one shepherd or one farmer or one soldier having his chai alone, maybe reading a newspaper; there are always three or a half-dozen men around, doing nothing, with him. Along the streets, cities or villages, there are always just men, young men and boys hanging out doing nothing, with someone behind them somewhere in a dark doorway heating up a kettle of chai. Men, young men and boys, and little boys too. Babies. Everywhere. More and more of them with each year.

A swelling population, even taking into account the one in four, or one in five (depending on which NGO's stats you want to believe), who die before they make it to five. Twenty to twenty-five percent don't make it to five. That is a stunning fact of life and death that would not be tolerated in the West. In particular, considering that most of the deaths are those of infants in their first few months from easily curable intestinal diseases such as dysentery….and all those small, medium and tape worms. Is it any wonder that Afghan culture so easily embraces inshallah and its acceptance of fate, God's will, as the overriding determiner of one's destiny?

Still, regardless of the child death rate, it is men, young men, boys and little boys all over Afghanistan. In their man jammies. And the women, young women, girls and the little girls? The Afghan-born author of The Kite Runner knew enough not to include them, females, avoiding that sticky, thorny, downright electrocuting subject completely. The topic of females in Afghanistan is like Social Security is to American politicians—it's the third rail. The topic, that is the third rail, while the females themselves, they're the other two rails—powerless without an electrical charge, hammered out, laid and permanently spiked down, and continuously run over on.

"I'll take 'Man Jammies' for four hundred dollars," says the brave contestant in Double Jeopardy. "A billowing, all encompassing outfit," reads Alex, "that covers an Afghan woman from head to heel." Ding! ring in all three contestants at once, shouting uncontrollably, "What is a burqa!"

Oh yes, everyone in America knows about the burqa, who couldn't? It's that cool looking, haunting, blue, sheet-like, sail-like cloak that makes Afghan women look like ghosts or mummies gliding down the street. So cool, in fact, that GIs don't have a name or nickname for it. No "woman jammies." It's just "burqa." Though one guy once threw out the brilliantly inspired "cloak a dope." But on the whole the burqa is hardly mentioned by GIs. Never, really. Just perhaps occasionally, in an indirect reference, as in the great little joke that I know has never been on Leno or Letterman or is known anywhere outside GI circles here and goes something like this:

Seasoned GI: "Hey, guess what, we saw some T and A on patrol out in the villages today."

New Guy GI: "Yeah, really? Afghani women, you saw tits and ass?"

Seasoned GI: "Toes and ankles."

Har-dee-har-har, it actually is funny, in spite of the fact that it shouldn't be. It gets a chuckle or two, in spite of the fact that, for all that it implies, it should get our wrath. Whether it's the burqa or, as is more common in the rural areas, simply multiple layers of long, billowing skirts and blouses, topped with a headscarf open only where there's a slit behind which eyes are invisible in the shadows, a woman does not exist in the Afghan environment outside the tiny confines of her family compound other than as a moving shape, an always-in-motion form under a burqa or those thick clothes. She is always moving, she is not stopped, she is not interfered with, she is not recognized or acknowledged. She does not exist. There are a few exceptions—the rare school teacher, the nurse, the Tolo TV news announcer, the female Afghan Idol contestant—and I am willing to grant a more openness among the Uzbeks and Hazaras, but in this Pashtun-dominated culture women are to be neither seen nor heard.

And it gets worse. Here's an adage I made up: Afghan women are nothing more than the bearers. They bear the children, they bear the water from the wells or streams, they bear the firewood, they bear the crops from the fields and they bear the burden of raising their children. Hidden, away, non-existent. During my Green Beret days in the country, a teammate of mine said it even better, stating so simply a profound truth that, were this in a war of truths, his thrust would be the fatal blow struck to the heart—"I'd rather be a dog in America than a woman in Afghanistan."

Further, in America dogs are allowed to walk beside or in front of a man, not made to walk behind, unnoticed, unacknowledged. In America dogs are recognized in public. In America dogs are allowed to bark, to anyone and everyone, at home or in public. In America it is a crime to beat a dog.

Our leaders are neither stupid nor misinformed, so they have to know of this regressive, unjust, pre-medieval cultural repression of women here in Afghanistan. They must know and they do, but they pretend not to or pretend it has no significance, and would even chuckle at that T and A joke above. They will not recognize it as an issue because we the American people, upon learning how deeply ingrained and serious this apartheid repression is—yes, I said apartheid—would say, Hold on, wait a second, you're telling me we're spending our blood and money on a country that treats its females, its entire gender of females, worse than dogs and has no intention of doing otherwise and you now want us to spend more indefinitely, is that what you're telling me?

No, until now, except for an aside remark among soldiers long ago, no one's been telling anyone about "worse than dogs." Instead, the issue is clouded and shrouded, as we Americans are given worthless statistics touting "this many millions of girls are now going to school in Afghanistan." Whoopee, they are? Until what age—nine, ten? For how many hours a day—one, two? In totally segregated classrooms. No question mark, let me be perfectly clear: totally segregated, boys and girls even at first grade level are not mixed. Can we begin to comprehend this? Even girls, little girls, they haven't even reached puberty yet (when they do, to steal from the soup Nazi, "No school for you!"), and thus are not even the sexually attractive flirts that might justify keeping them separate from boys. Aw yes, separate…and not equal. Worse, America and NATO with their provisional reconstruction teams are building many schools with either separate buildings for boys and girls or on two levels—one for each. Segregated. Well howdy-do, bless our little hearts, America- and NATO-sanctioned segregation. "Lordy, Maude, who'd o' believed it!" One would think that that would get the National Organization for Women, the Senate, the Cosmo and Redbook editorial staffs, the LPGA, Oprah, Susan Sarandan and every equal-rights minded woman and man in America just hopping mad, steam coming out of their ears. Naw, not a word said. Except more sweet, distracting statistics, such as, "Oh, there are women members of Parliament, you must know that." Yeah, mandated by law, a certain number of seats set aside for women. It's not democracy; a woman receives one vote—her own, most likely—and she wins. Does she have any power in Parliament? Alex? Contestant? "Answer:" says Alex, "Where is, A man can beat or kill his wife or wives and not be criminally charged."

"Oh, it's their culture," is the educated, diplomatic excuse thrown down harshly when the subject can't be avoided. "And we can't change their culture," is spat so condescendingly. And another refrain, "It's Islam, and we're not here to change Islam." And the kicker, "It's not for us to judge one culture from another." It isn't, it's not for us to judge?! This from the same moralistic diplomatic mindset that demanded through international economic sanctions that another independent country, South Africa, put an end to its culture of apartheid? "It's in their religion, and they are The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, if you didn't know." Yeah, and South Africa shoulda just changed its name to The Apartheidic Republic of South Africa, would that have done the trick?. "You're being ridiculous, you can't compare the two!" This from the same high-minded intellectuals who pontificate on the immorality of America's Jeffersonian culture of slavery? This from those who are so quick to self-loathing and condemnation for their own ancestors' westward-ho culture that believed it fun to slaughter the mighty herds of buffalo and it manifest destiny to wipe out the Native Americans? Even more simple and basic: This from those who are so dead-man-walking outraged by the sinister baseness of a culture, ours, that deems fit to kill those who have been convicted of murder? Can't compare cultures? Not for us to judge a culture? We're judging all the time. Would these same non-judgmentalists deem morally equal to our own Western cultures those African tribal cultures which practice female genital mutilation? Of course they would not, and they'd condemn me for making the moral equivalence between that and a simple burqa. A simple burqa?! Holy cow, we in America don't even require our dogs to wear burqas! "The Afghan female chooses to wear the burqa. It's their culture, and the women choose it." Yeah, and those tribal hottie African babes choose that mutilation as well. Gee, it's the culture. And, okay, you want me to buy it, I will—if we can't judge and condemn cultures and all cultures are created equal, then all sub-cultures must be too. Can't condemn a culture, can't force a culture to change, you sure can't then start condemning a certain sub-culture you don't agree with, which would mean we'll just have to keep the FBI from kicking in the doors of the high-walled compound of some 53-year-old reverend of some whacked-out, Looney Tune religious sect down in Texas or Utah who has forty-two wives, down to as young as eleven or twelve. It's their culture. Our laws be damned, change the laws, for culture is paramount and all cultures are equal!  

In Afghanistan, did I mention, a man can have as many wives as he can afford to buy and keep, and he can get them as young as…as young as…name your age. Pick up one at a bargain price at six, wait a couple of years, then take her under your covers. And with America pouring billions of dollars a year into the Afghan economy, with so many of those construction contracts going to the locals, who are quickly getting rich, one can be confident that it is our American dollars that are buying more than a few bedsful of those pre-pubescent, cute-little-let's-not-judge-the-culture brides. Gee, I wonder if they actually get to throw the bouquet to….let's see….their six-year-old sisters?  

Seething mad? You're not? Come over here and watch the blue forms going by. The burqas. Blurred burqas, they're not people, they're not women. Just burqas. Wake up, Oprah! Wake up, Susan! Wake up and start your shouting, 'cuz, by the way, that there's your billions of dollars here buyin' them there flow'ry bouquets they're tossin'.

Did I tell you about the one about the farmer's daughter? It's a hoot. A laugh riot. I was with some GIs, on patrol in the middle of nowhere, along Taliban movement routes. We set up near a small village, and a young farmer came out, with his two-year-old daughter in his arms, asking for help. The girl's hand and wrist were badly burned; the story was mumbled and unclear, but it was, as is so often the case, most likely from a fall into the cooking fire. No matter who's watching or not watching the child, accidents happen. The medic checked her out and determined that without extensive immediate care the little girl was probably going to die, if only from infection. The captain requested from higher and was granted a medevac flight, which is no small thing, considering it means scrambling two helicopters—one medevac, the second as security wingman. With the helicopters arriving, the father was told that he would have to accompany his daughter, as it is U.S. policy that all female medevac patients be accompanied by a male family member. A primary reason is to prevent misrepresentations of molestation and rape that will be so readily rumored and accepted as fact of the Americans' actions back at the bases. The father refused to go. Whether it was because of his fear of flying in a helicopter, his trepidation about going to an American base or he just had lots of farming to do, he refused. Even told that his daughter could not go and be treated without accompaniment, he refused, it did not matter. He would take her back to his compound. She could die. The American captain became incensed. A young man himself, with a wife and three young daughters at home in the States twelve thousand miles away, the captain argued to the farmer that he would do anything, anything, anything—even giving up his own life—if it meant saving the life of one of his daughters. The captain's passionate words fell on deaf ears—the father was not getting on that helicopter. Quick words from the terp, and a bent-over old man stepped forward. He was the father's uncle, and he would accompany the little girl. He did, and the helicopter took off with them. And the farmer, the old man's nephew….he walked back to his compound.

And the GIs and I, we laughed about that all evening and into the night. Laughed until tears ran from our eyes. Laughed and laughed and….and to believe that, you'd have to automatically want to believe the worst about American soldiers. No one laughed. No one, not once. And everyone understood that had that little girl been that farmer's son, that father would have been running to the helicopter with him. Running and hopping aboard.

It's not just the Afghan women who exist simply as the bearers, it's the girls and little girls too, except that they hold the promise of a nice little dowry upon their arranged marriage. Cash cows. Well, but they're not fat like cows, especially the ones under ten. And it's only a one-time payout. By puberty, females are required to cover their faces in public, burqa or head scarves, one or the other. Girls younger than that aren't, but they do wear the headscarves and in any contact with an adult male, in particular a Westerner, they will automatically, by learned habit from seeing mothers and aunts and older sisters and cousins do it forever, pull the scarf over their mouth or lift a hand or hands to cover their mouth. Learned, automatic subservience. Witnessed only on those occasions when a male stranger is allowed somehow to get close, for photographs perhaps.

Remember Afghan TV, with the men and boys, even today still in the villages, lined up squatted or sitting, doing nothing, just watching the visiting American soldiers? Men and boys, not women and girls. If there are some girls among the watchers, they are generally no older than four, and they're at their father or brother's side. Wouldn't one think that the village women and girls would be just as curious as are the men and boys about these strange visitors on live TV right in front of them? Of course they are, it's human nature. And one can see them peeking out from the cracks of barely opened steel doors, or some of the girls will come outside, remaining close to their compounds, backs against the mud walls. They will inch forward, slyly, shyly. They want to see more, they want to hear. Closer still they'll creep, slowly, moving along the edges of our vision.

And I'll be out of the Humvees, and if it's a new bunch of guys I'm with, I'll say to the ones outside with me or to the gunner up in the turret, "Hey, I ever tell you I'm also a magician?" Quizzical looks from the guys, huh, what's he mean? "Yeah," I'll say, "a magician." And I'll step toward the small cluster of girls, and even from the distance one can see their eyes widen, and I'll pull up my cameras away from my chest, and I'll take a few rapid strides as if I'm going to run to them, and they scatter like frightened baby ducks, out of sight around corners or back behind the steel doors. I'll turn back to the guys and, "I can make girls disappear," I'll tell them, and it's always good for a little laugh.

It's alright to do that with little girls, but not with women. Women passing, even in the distance, bearing their water or firewood, doing their work while the men and boys sit and watch Afghan TV—am I to raise my cameras in their direction, the men and boys will jump up alarmed, and the closest ANA soldier among our patrol will immediately put his hand in front of my lens and shove my camera away. They are going to protect their women, they are, by God, they are! Sociologists, anthropologists, proctologists, all kinds of –ologists a lot more educated than me will tell you it's the honor, the sanctity, the holiness of the women these "more natural, back-to-the-earth" cultures are protecting. Hogwash. Un-ologist me'll be just as absurd and say it's nothing but tiny-weenie insecurity syndrome. I'll as pompously postulate that the men cover up, hide, restrict, repress their women because they're scared someone will lure them away from them with the pleasures of real sexual satisfaction because, God knows, in a culture in which the female is powerless and can be freely used and abused as a simple receptacle for a man's selfish, quick orgasmic lust, I'm sure as hell not hearing any of Sally's screams "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" shaking the walls of the gals' bedrooms. Let's put that theorem in the college textbooks, why don't we? Then again, what could I hear, what do I know; I've never been close to one of those bedrooms. For every Afghan friend, terp, politician or soldier's homes or compounds I've been a guest in, I can count the number of wives, daughters, sisters or female cousins whom I've met on….one hand. Counting three as an "enlightened" member of Parliament and her two young daughters, and the fourth was a two-month old infant. The last was a terp's mother who, after we had eaten so many meals that she had cooked at their house, an American buddy of mine insisted—no, cajoled and begged—our terp friend that we be able to meet his mother to finally thank her. The terp disappeared back into the dark bowels of the compound then came back with his mother. She was sweet and gracious for the minute we spent with her, thanking her….and she mostly held the headscarf half hiding her mouth.

Old habits die hard. Subservience is difficult to grow out of. Power is tough to give up, nearly impossible voluntarily.

America is here in Afghanistan trying to rebuild a country from nothing, and the American people back home do see the burqas and know what they mean, partially, and we know they are wrong, but we are told that We cannot challenge or change a culture, but we will, slowly, over time, as the people become educated, and then they will become more like us and the burqas will go, but it might take a generation. Two generations is more like it, or three, or never, but even one generation from now is about the time that our own Social Security goes bankrupt, but that's the third rail of politics, and we're right back where we started, which means Shut up and forget about it.


Not black. But female.

But apartheid still.

There, forgotten about? Want to argue that it's not apartheid? Fantastic, we should welcome that, at least there will be no shutting up, the issue will be out. Want to argue that it will just take education over the course of a generation's time to fade that apartheid culture out? Go ahead, the floor is yours, make your case, at least an analysis and a judgment will be finally heard.

"You don't get it," a smart soldier told me just the other day while discussing this very topic. "All they want," he said, meaning the Afghan men, "they don't want their daughters to be Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan." Not that he meant that the Afghans know who Britney and Lindsay are or know their names; it is what they represent that he was referring to, and he's right. The reach of the 21st century media is worldwide, even into the remote Afghan villages, if only through scraps of told stories and rumors, and what the Afghan man fears is his culture being corrupted by the culture that produces the Britneys and Lindsays. He fears the open, freedom-of-choice culture that accepts the Britneys and Lindsays as a small price to pay for that freedom of choice and achievement and the wealth that comes with it, such as the moon shots, the MRIs, the cis-platinums, the HVACs, the Golden Gate Bridges, the Silicon Valleys, the Chevy hybrids, the Facebooks, the iPhones, the Oprahs, the Susan Sarandans, the Mia Hamms, the Sandra Day O'Conners, the Condi Rices, the Hillarys, the Rosie the Riveters. Oh, he wants the iPhones, the MRIs, the HVACs, the hybrids, the wells, the roads and anything tangible we give him, as long as it is not mandated that he work for it, but he does not want—he fears as much as he does the Britneys and Lindsays—the Oprahs, the Rices, the Hillarys, the Rosie the Riveters.

If we are to accept temporarily today the Afghan culture and its abhorrent repression of women and inform our friends the Afghans that with all these gifts we give them—starting with our sons' blood—their culture will eventually change for the better to be open and free like our own, the Afghans will smile without comment and hold out their hands and take more blood and all the wells, roads, schools, bags of wheat, hospitals, small battle victories, hydroelectric dams, Coca-Cola factories and those damn pens that we give them without strings attached, and they won't do a thing. Not a thing, they won't change a thing. The culture won't change. If we attach strings, the Afghans will just stay smiling, with their hands still held out, and they'll nod "yes yes yes, strings, no problem," and they'll continue taking all we give and continue just doing what they damn well please, which, first off, with their fierce independence will be to ignore the strings completely. If we mandate, absolutely lay down the law and demand, that they act upon the strings, in particular, that one which stipulates that we as Americans cannot and will not allow the burqa and the apartheid that goes with it, the Afghans will smile politely still, hold their tongues, keep taking what we're still patronizingly stupid enough to be giving, and they will in private start to watch more seriously and pass around more widely the videos and DVDs the Taliban will distribute that show Britney and Lindsay and Girls Gone Wild and Desperate Housewives, and they'll listen more intently now to the Talib stories of American soldiers with their Oakley X-ray sunglasses that can see through their women's clothes and of the American soldiers who come into the villages, "A village just like yours," to rape their wives and deflower their virgin daughters, and the Afghans will do what they have proved so successful at doing in the past, and it won't matter how long it will take them and won't matter how many die in the process, but they will chase out the Americans and their NATO partners. Hardheaded independent tribal seventh century men and young men and teenage boys, wearing thin cotton man jammies and only a wool wrap even in the frozen winters, piss-poor undisciplined soldiers with mediocre aim and worse tactics, with nothing but a jihadist spirit and all the time in the world, drinking chai all day with their buddies, always with their buddies yet always farting in absolute solitude, they will have the Americans following right on the heels of our NATO cohorts, choosing to leave all our blood and treasure behind, throwing up our arms and saying, "What the f---, this place and these people ain't worth the trouble."

It's not Afghan TV, but it's a television set on nonetheless, tuned to either American Forces Network or a satellite channel, here in the dining facility at this comfortable U.S. forward operating base, and it's playing Jeopardy. It's back from a commercial now, and real or imaginary, "Final Jeopardy category is," says Alex, "Crazy Uncles in the Attic. Answer: Seventh century repressive apartheid country where America is spending three billion dollars and about ten soldiers' lives a month with no honestly declared purpose, no clearly reasoned strategy, no moral conditions of sacrifice, and no end defined or even remotely imagined. Contestants, you have thirty seconds to write your answer in the form of a question." Da da da da, da da da, da da da da dit di dididit…

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