As more and more attention is placed on the military’s efforts in Afghanistan, there is a distinct and concerted effort to “get it right.” The fear is that if we mess this up, all our efforts here will have been in vain. If we leave before the Afghan government has the means necessary to assert its authority as a legitimate body, the Taliban will return. The people who helped us will be targeted. And we’ll have left Afghanistan in much worse shape than when we found it. And that’s saying something.
Military leaders here have refocused efforts and strategy specific to the needs and conditions of Afghanistan. We often hear, “What worked in Iraq will not necessarily work in Afghanistan.” There is some comfort in knowing that those as the top see this as more than just a military campaign. The whole notion of “winning the hearts and minds” is a tired cliche. But there are some who are actually walking the walk.
Like in Panjshir.
In the Panjshir Province, the Airmen, Soldiers and (solo) Sailor with the provincial reconstruction team (PRT) there are making a real difference. The way their commander, Lt. Col. Eric Hommel, explains it, no progress can be made without security. Well in Panjshir, they’ve got the security part down, so the focus is on governance, education and construction — and doing it all properly. Building a school is great and all, but for every school, you need teachers, faculty, administration, supplies, etc. So that’s what they do in Panjshir.
I spent a couple of weeks with the Panjshir PRT and I was amazed at how much different it is there compared to the rest of the country. My complete story is here.
Colonel Hommel is a fellow New Yorker. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, deeply affected every American; New Yorkers took it personally. So to see the Queens native there and talk with him about the importance of what they’re doing deeply affected me. The people with the PRT believe in the mission there. I left Panjshir with a renewed sense of hope that if they can be the model for every other province in Afghanistan, if every other PRT can have success similar to that of Colonel Hommel’s team, there is great promise for the people of Afghanistan. They’re the ones doing it right. One down, 33 to go.
Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski is a public affairs journalist currently deployed with a Combat Camera Unit. They travel around the Middle East to report on and document the efforts of Airmen in the joint fight.