Anup Kaphle recently traveled to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province to follow the soldiers of the Royal Gurkha Rifles. These young men, mostly from rural Nepal, have long been recruited for service in the British army; Kaphle followed them as they worked as trainers and mentors for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Kaphle perhaps overstates the cultural bond between the Gurkhas and the Pashtuns of Helmand — they both speak a bit of Urdu, and share a love of Bollywood songs — but he does spotlight the importance of building genuine rapport between Afghans and the forces advising them.
Which brings me back to one of my favorite complaints: The generally abysmal level of cultural and language training the U.S. military gives to deploying troops. Sure, it can take years to learn how to tell a joke properly in Pashto (or in any other foreign language), but basic courtesies and survival-level language skills are essential in what’s supposed to be a sophisticated counterinsurgency. Hell, if we were serious about this nation-building business, we’d make Farsi, Pashto and Arabic mandatory in our schools. But no, we’ll stick to contract interpreters and “human terrain” experts instead.
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