Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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A Major from the 489th Civil Affairs Batallion that spent 9 months in Afghanistan, helping to rebuild, give some thoughts on what needs done in Iraq.
"We were a part of what was known as the Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force," he said. "We did everything from keeping civilians away from the battle to setting up refugee camps to providing aid and reconstruction after the conflict to assessing local areas and infrastructure and giving advice to the battlefield commanders."
Williams' experience in Afghanistan gives him insight on what must be done to rebuild Iraq after 23 years under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. He predicts Civil Affairs forces will have an easier time than he did in Afghanistan.
"Iraq has much stronger infrastructure than Afghanistan, between the Soviet invasion and their own civil war after that and the Taliban taking over, the devastation was (bad)," he said. "Konduz was a good-size city - it would be kind of like what Gadsden is to Alabama - but the road getting to it was so bad that it was considered so remote.
"There was no electricity, no running water, it was like living in the Old West. We had as many camels and horses and mules and everything else running up and down the street as we did automobiles.
"But in Iraq, from all appearances, they have a much stronger infrastructure, and the bombing, of course has been pinpoint, so we have really minimized the collateral damage.
"I think we're going to see the biggest task in Iraq is reinstituting a government."
"I favor exactly the plan President Bush has proposed," Williams said. "I believe there is a significant role for the U.N. to play, because they can help to gather some of the international aid, but in terms of establishing the plans and putting the plans into effect and monitoring the plans, I think the coalition that went in and did the dirty work now should be allowed the opportunity to bring smiles where there haven't been smiles.
"If we're going to be the ones to wipe off the dirt, we need to be the ones to see the shine underneath, and not give it to someone else. I doubt seriously this will be another Bosnia," Williams said in reference to the protracted, expensive rebuilding effort after the Bosnian civil war.
"I think that, long term, the international community will likely take over, and I think that's good."
Williams and his battalion served as a liaison between the United States and the new Afghan government after U.S. forces ousted the ruling Taliban. They often met with local warlord, Gen. Muhammad Daoud, and civilian governor Aamer Latif.
"I was the U.S. military link to their government, and then my team was also in charge of developing what we called high-impact projects, things that have an immediate impact on the civilian populace," he said. "Using U.S. dollars, we contracted local labor to build, I think while I was there, eight schools, we dug 14 wells, we built two women's centers and we also started a number of other building projects that weren't schools.
"The best part about using the local labor was we not only built the projects, but we were able to employ hundreds of local artisans who didn't have work prior to that. And we also assisted Special Forces in looking for al-Qaida and the Taliban, although I've got to say that was not our first priority."
The soldiers also worked on winning the hearts of the people of Konduz. They saw the liberation of women and children, who had been second-class citizens under the Taliban.
"We made it a point, the first three projects that were done in our area were two girls' schools, because the girls and boys don't go to school together there, and a women's center. At that point, we hung the moon."
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