Thursday, January 7, 2010

Act One: A Lesson in Afghanistan Geography and Demographics

I live in Oregon. When President Obama made his televised speech at West Point, I asked myself “Why?” Why continue the war in Afghanistan? Why escalate it?

Yes, it is possible to be in an inhabited place on Earth that is farther away from Oregon than is Afghanistan, but most of the world is closer. On a globe, locate one end of a string in Central Oregon and the other end of the string in Central Afghanistan by going up the 120 degrees west longitude line from Oregon through The North Pole and then down the 60 degrees east longitude line to Afghanistan — that is how the crow flies if the poor bird is in a hurry. But that “shortest distance” convenient route flies directly over the Ural Mountains in Russia, which is probably not to the liking of the Russians, so a circuitous route is necessary.

If you flew the same distance as the “shortest distance” through Iceland instead of The North Pole, you would end up in Jerusalem, Israel. If you flew the same distance as the “shortest distance” along the 45th Parallel, you would end up in Greece. Quite literally, if you adjust distances to allow for the necessary circuitous route to get from Oregon to Afghanistan in a troop deployment, the only inhabited places on Earth that are farther away are South Africa and Madagascar!
Afghanistan is located in the heart of south-central Asia. It has an area of some 251,825 square miles (652,225 square kilometers) and is completely landlocked, the nearest coast lying along the Arabian Sea, about 300 miles to the south.
The boundaries of Afghanistan were established in the late 19th century in the context of rivalry between Britain and Russia.
The Hindu Kush (mountain range) and subsidiary ranges divide Afghanistan into three distinct geographic regions, which roughly can be designated as the Central Highlands, the Northern Plains, and the Southwestern Plateau. The Central Highlands, actually a part of the Himalayan chain, include the main Hindu Kush range. Its area of about 160,000 square miles is a region of deep, narrow valleys and lofty mountains, some peaks of which rise above 21,000 feet.
The Northern Plains region, north of the Central Highlands, extends eastward from the Iranian border to the foothills of the Pamirs, near the border with Tajikistan. It comprises 40,000 square miles of plains and fertile foothills sloping gently toward the Amu River (the ancient Oxus River). … The Northern Plains region is intensively cultivated and densely populated.
The Southwestern Plateau, south of the Central Highlands, is a region of high plateaus, sandy deserts, and semideserts. The average altitude is about 3,000 feet. The Southwestern Plateau covers about 50,000 square miles, one-fourth of which forms the sandy Rigestan Desert.
The population of Afghanistan is 28,396,000, according to the "significantly revised" October 30, 2009 CIA Factbook.
The majority of Afghanistan's populations are Iranian peoples, notably the Pashtuns and the Tajiks.
Pashto and Persian (Dari) are the two official languages of the country. Persian is spoken by at least half of the population and serves as a lingua franca for most. Pashto is spoken widely in the south, east and southwest as well as in western Pakistan. Uzbek and Turkmen are spoken in the north. Smaller groups throughout the country also speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.
99% of Afghanistan's population adheres to Islam. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni; 19% is Shi'a. Despite attempts during the years of communist rule to secularize Afghan society, Islamic practices pervade all aspects of life. In fact, Islam served as the principal basis for expressing opposition to communist rule and the Soviet invasion.

Literacy in Afghanistan:
Definition: Age 15 and over, and can read and write
Total population: 28.1%
Male: 43.1%
Female: 12.6% (2000 est.)
KABUL, 5 November 2009 (IRIN) - The average per capita monthly expenditure of nine million Afghans is less than 66 US cents a day, and millions of other Afghans spend about $42 a month, according to a summary of Afghanistan’s new National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA).

NRVA 2007/08 was produced by the government with European Union funding and in collaboration with aid agencies.

A bleak picture is painted:

* 26 percent literacy rate (12 percent female and 39 male)
* 24 percent of all child deliveries are attended by a skilled birth attendant
* Less than 30 percent of people have access to safe drinking water
* Over 90 percent do not have access to proper sanitation
* About 20 percent have electricity in their homes.
* Half of the estimated population of 25 million is under 15

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

Afghanistan Population Centers: Provinces and Cities:

By comparison: Texas
Texas has an area of 268,820 square miles (696,200 km2), and a growing population of 24.7 million residents.
Texas is the second largest U.S. state. It is 10% larger than France and almost twice as large as Germany or Japan, though it ranks only 27th worldwide amongst country subdivisions by size. If it were a country, Texas would be the 40th largest behind Chile and Zambia.
Texas's population density is 34.8 persons/km2, which is slightly higher than the average population density of the US as a whole, at 31 persons/km2. In contrast, while Texas and France are similarly sized geographically, the European country has a population density of 110 persons/km2.
Two-thirds of all Texans live in a major metropolitan area such as Houston. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area is the largest in Texas. While Houston is legally the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest city in the United States, the Dallas-Fort Worth conglomerate is much bigger than Houston and all surrounding suburban areas.
Texas has the highest percentage of people with a religious affiliation in the United States. … Approximately 400,000 Muslims live in Texas while the Jewish population stands at approximately 128,000.

Literacy in Texas:

The mountainous region of Afghanistan (the Central Highlands) covers approximately 160,000 square miles and is largely uninhabited. Some of its Himalayan peaks rise above 21,000 feet. The State of California covers 163,707 square miles. The populated regions of Afghanistan cover an area approximately equal in size to the State of Minnesota, which covers 86,943 square miles. The ten highest mountain peaks in the United States are all in Alaska, with Mount McKinley being the highest at 20,320 feet elevation.

So the tangible truth is this: The U.S. is fighting a war in a country that is approximately the same size and population as Texas in almost the most distant from Oregon inhabited place there is on planet Earth. We are fighting for and against peoples who speak multiple languages, none of which U.S. soldiers understand. Furthermore, the vast majority of the peoples we are fighting for and against are illiterate, including in their own spoken language. Compounding the difficulties is a cultural/religious gulf that is incomprehensible in its immensity. And we are losing the war with no real hope of ever winning it.

The truth about Afghan soldiers and the Afghan army:

Inside an Afghan hospital:
Dodgy cars clogging Kabul’s roads:

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