Posted By: Sarah and Marla B.
We wanted to send you an update on our first day in Lebanon. After landing last night and spending a couple of hours finalizing a grant proposal, we arose bright and early this morning to a day packed full of meetings. As we prepare for our trip to Southern Lebanon - where most of the civilian casualties occurred in the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel - we're feverishly obtaining information from our contacts here. What's most clear is the complexity of the situation.
Two of our contacts today described the country as a 'juxtapose'. With every step forward, there is a step back. As we sat at a lovely outdoor cafe in downtown Lebanon, Gilbert, a witty and articulate founder of a local NGO mused: It is easy to think that this is how all of Lebanon is, but it is simply not true.
So, over the next five days, we set out not to define this country but to better understand its people and what they endured - particularly how those harmed in the 2006 war were helped and if they have been helped at all. We want to know who helped them, why and what they still need. To be sure, it's a challenge, but one that we'll tackle as we continue to expand to new regions of conflict - ones that don't always have the simplest of answers.
Posted By: Erica
In some conflicts, PRT involvement in humanitarian aid is essential because the area is too dangerous for civilian aid workers. Especially in the immediate wake of combat operations, only the military may have access to a civilian community. This is where things get tricky in war. While it is always the right thing for warring parties to support aid for civilians they harm, this aid does not always have to be directly given by the military. In fact, in some cases, military involvement may do more harm than good. It has the potential to blur the line between civilian aid workers and combatants, putting humanitarians at greater risk. It also may not be as welcomed by the community. As one United Nations officer (and former British military colonel) here told me: "Imagine you're a civilian and one day the military comes in with their guns and blow up part of your village and the next day they come back, still fully armed, to hand you food and water."
On a more practical note, military units likely will not have the training or resources to take on the many complicated and medium- to long-term humanitarian aid projects that are needed in post-conflict zones like Afghanistan. US units are only deployed for a year and many NATO military units are here for only 6 months -- barely enough time to get settled much less learn the ins and outs of Afghan communities and the spiderweb of governmental and non-governmental programs available to work with them.
I received a harsh reminder of this a few days ago when I got a call about three recently orphaned children and the PRT that was trying to help them out -- a story which I'll share in the next posting.
Posted By: Jon
I spent March 3rd and 4th visiting and participating in training at the United States Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Located in the High Mojave Desert, Fort Irwin is the Army’s preeminent training center for soldiers. It provides realistic training for commanders and soldiers to prepare them for success in actual conflicts. The unique invitation to observe and engage in training at Fort Irwin allowed CIVIC to learn from the U.S. military and offer our perspective on how the military can do a better job of providing honest recognition to civilian casualties on the battlefield.
During my visit, the staff for the Third Brigade of the First Armored Division was participating in a week long training exercise. The entire brigade staff was there to write their campaign plan for the brigade’s 14 day stimulated battle that will occur in two months. This campaign plan will serve as the brigade’s primary set of standard operating procedures they will follow for the full spectrum of their operations. I had an opportunity to brief the primary members of the brigade staff including the brigade commander and all of the battalion commanders. I offered CIVIC’s perspective on the importance of establishing a comprehensive and successful claims and condolence payment program. The brief provided specific details on how the brigade could then implement that program “on the ground.” A healthy dialogue continued throughout the brief. I also had the opportunity to provide more specific details on creating and implementing a claims and condolence payment program with the brigade’s judge advocate.
I also spent time briefing and informally talking with several members of the NTC staff who conduct the training at Fort Irwin. We talked about potential methods to better train units on the proper way to run a claims and condolence payment program. CIVIC hopes that this dialogue will continue. Our goal is to ensure that all commanders and soldiers understand the importance of treating civilian casualties in a just and humane manner and to offer concrete ideas about how to do this.
Posted By: Erica
While much of the humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is channeled through non-governmental organizations, government aid agencies, or development budgets of foreign missions here, many of the US and NATO military officers may also be involved in direct humanitarian aid and development in the areas that their Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) control.
PRTs are the regional military command centers created to support the stability of the Afghan government beyond Kabul. However, some NATO countries also give their PRTs discretionary funding for more humanitarian work. At one US-operated PRT I visited, there was an on-site staff member from the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) who had a budget for development and reconstruction projects in that region. Another US PRT I visited had no explicit civilian aid staff but there were few to no humanitarian workers operating in that region so the US military personnel there decided to fill the gap themselves -- from funding road and school construction to helping local officials get out to meet their constituents to trying to formalize de facto democratic leadership structures at a village level.
In the next post, I'm going to discuss in greater detail some of the pros and cons of PRT involvement in humanitarian aid, and the implications it had for three Afghan orphans whose story I learned of recently.
Posted By: Erica
Hayatullah Khan listens to English language radio every day, like clockwork. "He listens to the science program," his brother told me. "That is his favorite thing because one day on the program, they talked about a treatment in the US for [restoring] eyesight and it gave him hope."
Hayatullah lost his eyesight six years before, when US Air Force bombs mistakenly hit the road he was walking home on. One person was killed and four others were seriously injured, including Hayatullah. Shrapnel from the bomb embedded in Hayatullah's right eye and the bomb blast caused him to lose all but a faint light sensitivity in his left eye. He also lost his left hand in the explosion, and one finger from his right hand. Hayatullah was 19 at the time.
"Before the bombing, my brother wanted to go to school outside Afghanistan to get better educated," his brother told me. "His dream was one day to go to London. Right before the incident he was working hard on his English. …All the time he was studying and then [the bombing] happened. Now he can study nothing."
After the incident, Hayatullah's family wrote to local US military officials, to the military base at Bagram Air Base, and to the US Embassy in Kabul to find medical assistance that would help Hayatullah get his eyesight back. The doctors at the Bagram clinic saw him but said that the resources to help him were simply not available in Afghanistan. They told him about the US condolence program, but the family refused the money: our priority is Hayatullah's vision, they said, we don't want anything else.
It has been seven years and one operation and repeated multiple medical check-ups and inquiries have done nothing for Hayatullah's eyes. Despite this, he and his family remain hopeful. They recently found out that the necessary medical treatment may be available in India. If they are able to demonstrate that a viable treatment exists and find a doctor in India to certify that he can do it, then ACAP can help Hayatullah get to Delhi to have the operation.
When I talked to Hayatullah, he insisted on speaking with me in English, without the use of a translator. I asked him what he would do if he were able to get to Delhi for the treatment "I would like to start studying again," he said. "When I get [my vision] again I can finally do what I planned to do before the incident." His mother pulled me aside afterwards, "We are all praying for him," she said. "Please anything you can do to help him."
Photo of Hayatullah (top) and a copy of one of the many letters his brother has written on his behalf to get treatment for him (bottom).
Posted By: Erica
Not far from Hazi Sharif's construction materials shop, I met a shy young man who was finishing his apprenticeship to become a mechanic. "I was a student of [the senior mechanic]" Masood told me, "but now I am better than he is."
Masood was not always so beaming. In December 2006, Masood, then 17, was walking home from school when a suicide bomber targeting a nearby convoy of Afghan National Army and Coalition Forces blew himself up a few meters away. Three others who were walking with Masood were killed, and three other nearby civilians were injured. Masood's wounds were severe -- he was hospitalized for one month after the incident for shrapnel and blast wounds to his head, and to his right arm and leg.
Masood had started learning mechanics part-time in addition to school before he was injured, so when The US-funded program for war victims -- ACAP -- came to him and told him abou what they could do to help him, he said he would like to become a mechanic. ACAP arranged vocational training with a local, experienced mechanic, and is also helping to provide some specialized machinery to help the business grow. Masood is the oldest of seven children and plays a big role in supporting them, so ACAP has also arranged to provide his siblings with school materials. Efforts like efforts like these to efforts like these to help war victims are so important in conflict -- and so often overlooked by the warring parties. This US program should be a model in other places where civilians' lives are torn apart by war.
Masood says he is fully recovered now, although his right arm is still not as strong as it used to be. He never lets that interfere with his work, though, he is quick to add.
Photo of Masood's shop.