Camp Victory, Afghanistan: The Human Faces Behind the Headlines

L to R: Austin Long, Colonel (Ret.) Michael V. Shute, and Carol Dysinger at Asia Society New York on Nov. 11, 2010.

NEW YORK, November 11, 2010 - In day-to-day operations in Afghanistan, a lack of consistency in American mentors is seriously hampering coalition efforts to train the Afghan militia, according to Colonel (Ret) Michael V. Shute, former Senior Staff Officer of the New Jersey National Guard.

With less than nine months remaining until President Obama's promised July 2011 drawdown of US combat forces from Afghanistan, Shute joined documentary filmmaker Carol Dysinger and moderator Austin Long, assistant professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, for a discussion at Asia Society following a screening of Dysinger's documentary Camp Victory, Afghanistan, about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

Shute, whose mission was to mentor a two-star general in the Afghan National Army and train a  unit of Afghan troops, explained that among the many challenges he faced was the continuous turnover of training responsibilities from one country to another. The lack of continuity in leadership has delayed the eventual handoff of the conflict to the Afghan forces. 

"Imagine going to a university and having six professors teach you the same subject in one year," Shute said. "It's virtually impossible to learn."  

According to the Dysinger, another major factor plaguing the American exit strategy is the amount of corruption at all levels of government in Afghanistan. "There is certainly a lot of corruption that is happening in Afghanistan because of the amount of coalition money that is being shoved through that whole system," the filmmaker said, "and certainly saying that we're going to leave at a certain point means people are trying to make sure they have enough for when [we leave]."

In spite of these challenges, Shute was encouraged by the level of seriousness and commitment displayed by his Afghan counterparts. "I went out on a night ambush [carried out by Afghan troops]," Shute recalled, "and it was incredible. The only thing they really did different than the Americans was when they got out there, they set their prayer rugs out, they faced west, they prayed, they rolled them up, and they got to business. They got to work. [These are] things you don't see or hear about."

Reported by Ben Linden