Mayor Visits Kabul

F.C. Ex-Mayor Gardner Cites Gains There

Former Mayor of the City of Falls Church Dan Gardner, in his capacity as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, was part of a Pentagon entourage that visited Afghanistan last month to evaluate the effectiveness of the U.S. training of Afghani forces.

He provided an extraordinary exclusive interview with the News-Press on his observations.

While rooting out and containing the “bad guys” is a critical part of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, he said, building infrastructure and schools, getting young Afghanis into those schools and training the Afghani police and military are the aims that will eventually stabilize the region, deter terrorist radicals and allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Contrary to most media reports, Gardner said, there is measurable progress going on there on all those fronts.

Gardner was mayor of the City of Falls Church from 2000 to 2006, the first to serve that long since the 1980s. During his tenure, his “day job” was at the Pentagon, and he was in the building when it was hit by the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. He continues now as the board chair of the City’s non-profit Falls Church Education Foundation.

“The average Afghani doesn’t want radicalism in any form,” Gardner told the News-Press. “The people want freedom and national security. They need stability.”

He said the goal is to enable the young generation of Afghanis to “gain a foothold” in the operations and destiny of the country. The fact that new schools are educating both boys and girls “bodes well for the future,” he said.

Radical Islamic elements count on illiteracy to spread their hate and to recruit, he said, because they depend on people not being able to read the Koran for themselves.

He said the average age of the 30 million Afghanis is 44, and that the people are very resilient, although few have a sense of commitment to the nation as a whole. “They think tribe first, then religion, then country,” he said. Right now, the country is dominated by “a loose conglomeration of tribes” and nine different languages are spoken. These problems are complicated by the fact that the country is a vast series of deep valleys that can be very isolated from each other and difficult to move between.

But school construction and educational efforts include developing a sense of rule by law, rather than by tribal conflicts. Among other things, it involves an integrated system of taxation and tolls, instead of bribes.

“We have to address other basic needs, as well,” he noted, citing refrigeration as one. That depends on developing electrical grids around the country.

There is also a considerable effort to provide effective substitute crops for the regions where illegal drug cultivation and trafficking are thriving, he said.

He said that the U.S. military’s “provisional reconstruction teams” are not only building schools, but clinics, wells and roads. The planning and construction of a transportation grid of roads going both north to south and east to west is underway.

Gardner acknowledged the glaring problem that emerged in the aftermath of the U.S.’s efforts to arm Afghani tribal forces to resist the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, which was underscored in the popular Hollywood movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

That is, after the Soviet withdrawal, the U.S. walked away from the country, leaving it in squalor and disarray, making it vulnerable to domination by the Taliban and other radical forces and groups.

While the current U.S. military effort there continues to be containment and the rooting out of radical Islamic elements, it is also dedicated to correcting the error of the 1980s by providing the country with the seeds and tools of sustainable development and self-government.

“The quality is there and the morale is high among the U.S. military and civilian forces there now,” Former Mayor Gardner reported. “There are challenges, but things are pretty much in hand.”

Prior to this week’s report of a beefing up of U.S. forces there, Gardner said, “The more you put in there, the more you contain and ferret out the enemy and the more you increase security overall to do more of the positive things.”