A new report from the Wall Street Journal sheds light on one reason that the United States has had such a difficult time gaining traction in the war in Afghanistan. According to the article, a staggering 92 percent of respondents to a survey of 15-30 year old men in Afghanistan’s war-torn southern provinces said that they didn’t know about “this event which foreigners call 9/11,” even after being read a three-paragraph description of the attacks.
“I have no idea why the Americans are in my country,” said Abdul Ghattar, a 16-year-old Afghan who lives in a refugee camp as a result of the decade long war. His teacher, Mullah Said Nabi Agha, echoed Ghattar’s views. Agha claims to have never seen the iconic image of the Twin Towers burning, and all he knows about the event is that some kind of explosion happened in America.
“I was a child when it happened, and now I am an adult, and the Americans are still here,” Mr. Agha said. “I think the Americans did it themselves, so they could invade Afghanistan.”
Such conspiracy theories are apparently very common in Afghanistan; even Abdul Hakim Mujahid — the deputy chairman of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, which was created to help bring the war to a peaceful conclusion — doesn’t believe that Al Qaeda was responsible for “the unfortunate incident” of 9/11.
The United States has long considered winning over the local population to be the key to success in Afghanistan. General John R. Allen, the current top commander of America’s forces there, was specifically selected because, as a U.S. official put it, he “understands this is a perceptions war, a hearts and minds war, and a diplomatic war.” But how can the United States expect to win Afghan hearts and minds if only a tiny sliver of the Afghan population even knows why we are there in the first place?
This new survey is just further evidence that the United States should not create military policy in a vacuum. Just as it was ridiculous for the Bush Administration to expect Iraqis to welcome the American military with open arms, it is ridiculous for the Obama Administration to expect Afghans who have never heard of 9/11 to wholeheartedly embrace our mission in their backyard. The Obama Administration clearly needs to clarify its mission and objectives in Afghanistan not only to the American people, but to Afghans as well.