How Bad Do You Want It? 82nd Airborne Takes New Approach to Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

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In the Nawa district of southern Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province, villagers are so poor that they cannot clothe themselves in the winter. Their children are so sick that in the best case scenario, they are merely blind. And every time the struggling government tries to help them by supplying blankets, notebooks, or medical supplies, the Taliban emerges and yanks that aid away.

In remote regions such as these, the Taliban retains both unfettered power and a determination to fight outside influence. So the 82nd Airborne has begun visiting village after village, offering basic medical care and attempting to persuade residents to resist the Taliban’s brutality. By demonstrating their intent not to shoot, but to offer help, the Army hopes to win the villagers to their cause and, hopefully, improve security enough to begin building much-needed infrastructure.

It’s a fine idea, said the villagers, but how could it be done? I’d ask the same. “We would like to support the coalition forces, but if we do that the Taliban will come at night and cut off our heads,” worried one villager. Said another, “I know we are supposed to stand up against the Taliban, but we are poor people. We do not have the ability to do that.” The lieutenant leading this particular conversation, held town-hall style in a village mosque, took a tough-love approach. “‘The truth is that you have the ability to make a change,’ he said. ‘You are just not willing to do it.'”

While I applaud the Army’s choice to address problems in the region by rallying villagers, rather than occupying their villages, in this case I’m not sure the boot-camp approach is really the right one.

The villagers may in fact possess the strength to fight off the Taliban, they probably need help to do so. It’s hard to mount an effective resistance against a well-fed and better-armed power when you can’t even protect yourself from the weather—will and motivation don’t really factor into that decision.

Still, these visits seem like a good first step, and certainly represent a more effective approach than the one so often taken in Iraq. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last these villagers see of the medics, the aid, or the 82nd Airborne.

—Casey Miner

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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