Friday, April 10, 2009

Diplomatic Surge: Can Obama's Team Tame the Taliban? - Time

Admiral Mike Mullen is an odd one. He eschews the crisp, classic aura of command; he comes across as a no-drama, common-sense-dispensing country doctor from downstate Illinois (actually, he's the son of prominent show-biz publicists from Los Angeles).

But as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mullen is still the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, and so it was a bit disconcerting to see him taking flak from a group of Afghan farmers and international agricultural experts in Kabul the first week in April.

"The military is giving away free wheat seed to Afghan farmers, and that's undermining our efforts," said an expert whose USAID-supported program gave farmers vouchers to buy seeds, which was helping build a secondary market of seed- and farm-supply businesses.

Instead of taking umbrage, Mullen took notes. In fact, he seemed close to excited as ideas flew around the table. It was not the normal fare for an admiral, but agriculture — specifically, how to get Afghan farmers to plant something other than opium poppies — is a central issue in this very complicated war.

Mullen was thrilled to hear positive news about the relative merits of wheat and pomegranates, and the success of U.S. Army National Guard farmer-soldier teams, which were helping to plant and protect in remote Afghan districts. "There are possibilities here we couldn't imagine a year ago," the admiral said at the end of the meeting. "So please keep thinking about how we can do this. Let your minds run free." (See pictures of soldiers in Afghanistan.)

For the full article on the Time website click here

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