(This is the second article in a two-part series. See the previous post for part one.)
Operation Frigid Air
The warm weather months in Afghanistan long have been considered the prime fighting season. In winter, it’s just too cold to fight. Key roads and passes also become too difficult to travel with all the snow and ice. But I also believe that the considerable heat of the oppressive Afghan summer months brews irritability and anger in the breasts of many Afghans, who must leave their homes that have been transformed into literal mud-brick ovens by the summer sun. It is no coincidence to me that southern Afghanistan, the traditional home to the Pashtuns who comprise the majority of the Taliban, is also the hottest region of the country. Unable to stand the heat of their homes, many Pashtun men must loiter out-of-doors enveloped in a surly, violent funk, which makes them easy recruits for the Taliban who can promise immediate relief with a cooling, windy ride in the bed of a white Toyota pick-up truck. After a brief respite from the heat, the new recruits are more likely to take up with the Taliban and look for women to whip, books to burn, and children to chastise for such unGodly activities such as kite flying and marble shooting.
I theorize that an air conditioner in the home of every Afghan would keep most males inside during the summer fighting season, and render impotent the aforementioned Taliban recruiting strategy. At my base in Kabul, we make great use of the Chigo brand of air conditioner, manufactured in China and readily available in Afghanistan. Many Afghans have an aversion to Chinese goods, which the natives here think inferior even to Pakistani products. But I don’t think any Afghan would reject a free air conditioner, no matter what the brand.
The cost to install in every Afghan home a Chigo air conditioner would be substantial. At a unit price of $300 and an estimated five million homes to cool, Operation Frigid Air would generate a bill of $1.5 billion. Consider, though, that the US already has spent $172 billion in Afghanistan since 2001. At less than $2 billion, we could pacify a country for less than it costs to rescue a major US bank. Consistent, clean electricity for all the units would be problematic, but with potential Talibani indoors luxuriating in their pleasant 70⁰ F environs, the countryside and cities would be quiet. Development teams would then have the opportunity to build the utility infrastructure the country lacks, without the danger of insurgents destroying power lines and applying dynamite to hydroelectric projects.
Perpetual Star Strategy
One of the most popular television shows in Afghanistan is Afghan Star, a glorified talent show modeled on American Idol. The founder of Tolo TV, which produces Afghan Star, estimates that 11 million Afghans, or nearly one-third of the population, are avid viewers. You have to be a little suspicious of a viewing audience estimate from a television producer who surely will overestimate his production’s popularity, much like a D.C. protest march organizer’s participant estimate will usually quadruple the National Park Service’s figure. But I work with Afghans, and I will testify that they were all talking about the final episode of Afghan Star in March. One interpreter told me that it not only was his grandmother’s favorite television show, but the only program she watched.
The United States should assist in producing a continuous run of Afghan Star, perhaps even creating regional shows in the native languages that send their winners to a national competition. Afghans and Americans are alike in many ways, but especially similar in our avidity for televised camp. Entire villages gathered on common ground to watch the final episode of Afghan Star on the single small television available in their locale. The Afghans who did not watch the last season of Afghan Star likely missed the show only because they had no access to a television. Several thousand large-screen television sets distributed throughout the country and a perpetual dose of Afghan Star would leave the vast majority of the country too mesmerized by the national singing talent to ponder subversive activity. The interest in Afghan Star is so intense here that any noise or disturbance promulgated by the Taliban during an episode would draw swift vigilante justice by offended locals who would then scurry back to catch the remainder of the televised entertainment.
A Professional Approach to Finding Osama bin Laden
Although recent reports claim that he does not control the day-to-day operations of Al Qaeda any longer, and efforts to locate and capture him are not truly counter-insurgency operations, Osama bin Laden remains a fugitive that many Americans would like captured. Military experts and diplomats argue that the forbidding, tribally controlled terrain of northwest Pakistan, where bin Laden most likely hides, foils attempts to locate him. However, the difficulty in determining bin Laden’s whereabouts does not stem from the mountainous, rugged geography that engulfs him, but from the fact that the United States has not utilized available experts to pinpoint his whereabouts.
bin Laden’s full name, estimated wealth and last known location should be forwarded to an aggressive university development office with the additional misinformation that Osama is an alumnus known to distribute his wealth liberally to initiatives dear to him. If the Cornell University alumni donation experts were given the incentive to track down bin Laden, they would likely have a viable address for him in 2-3 weeks. I have attended three major universities, and I cannot shake free from any of them no matter how often I move. Sometimes I think that the schools each surreptitiously placed a LoJack beacon somewhere under my skin before I left the institution. The US military and our intelligence agencies are capable of amazing feats; but to find Osama, they should move over and let university development personnel, the true bloodhounds when it comes to this sort of work, take over the mission.