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The most dangerous hills in the world: Why we shouldn't leave Afghanistan

:: Lt. Col. John Loomer of Delavan talks about his tour of duty

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Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published July. 27, 2007, 9:58 a.m.)


Editor's blog: Unlike most of us, Lt. Col. John Loomer has seen the war Afghanistan first hand ... read comments


If only people heard the good parts of what our troops are doing-the accomplishments they've achieved, the lives they've rebuilt, the opportunities they've created for the people-they would see this war differently.

Of course nobody wants to be at war, but the job the United States has started isn't done yet. To leave now would undo all that has been done.

That's how Lt. Col. John Loomer sees the state of the war. And who would know better than someone who's back home in Delavan after a year long tour in Afghanistan?

Loomer lives in Delavan with his wife Lisa and their three children, Anna, 12, Daniel, 11, and Johnny, 9. Before being deployed he was the graphic arts teacher at Badger High School.

"People don't get enough of the positive stories and I don't know who's to blame for that," he said.

Loomer was in Afghanistan for a year. His orders were combat service support and mentoring the Afghan National Army (ANA).

The Taliban is the enemy there.

They retreated following the United States invasion, but continue to launch their attacks from the mountains and valleys that define the landscape of the country.

"We were where the Taliban are-in the mountains at 8,000 feet in the freezing cold. We've killed some and there's more coming. It's the long haul," Loomer said.

Afghans had been suffering since the 1970s as the Soviets occupied them before the Taliban.

"The Soviets left Afghanistan polluted, stripped of all of the trees and they became a third-world country," Loomer said.

"The Afghan Army was decimated in the war with the Soviets," he said. So they had no way to defend themselves against the Taliban, who ruled the country until the United States invasion following the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Countries in this shape are prime pickings for groups like the Taliban, Loomer says. The Taliban pays $3 a day for joining the military, growing the poppies that make the opium they use to support themselves, being spies-and sometimes just to keep quiet.

"They forced their rules on the Afghans-no women in public unless fully clad, no school and they were the only people who could have weapons.

"They killed and raped to remain in power."

They also found a sympathizer in Osama bin Laden, who systematically built his Al Qaida terror network. With the tacit approval of the Taliban, Al Qaida was able to train, plan for and launch terror attacks around the world, culminating with the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

In recent months, the Taliban has worked to once again destablize Afghanistan's government and regain a toehold on power.

But, Loomer says, the people of Afghanistan aren't interested in going back to the days of the Taliban.

One young man told Loomer that he joined the Afghan National Army because his father asked him to help make Afghanistan what it was in the 1970s, before the Soviet invasion and subsequent rise of the Taliban.

In addition to organizing their army, the highways, wells and schools, the Afghan government, with the support of the United States, has made huge changes too.

"Now that the Taliban is gone the kids can go to school. They really needed supplies and vast donations came in-my school sent supplies. Every student got a notebook, a pencil or two, a ruler, glue-it was like Christmas. You should have seen their faces."

Loomer sees building the hospitals and clinics one of their biggest accomplishments.

"They really appreciated it. They've done without for so long."

Seeing these changes is encouraging Afghans who are tired of being used and manipulated and are beginning to tune their radios and cell phones into Taliban frequencies and give the information to ANA soldiers.

So when Loomer hears talk of troop pull-outs and less money, it frustrates him to no end.

"There is so much yet to do," he said. "What needs to be done takes time, more time. We have to make sure they can sustain themselves. The job isn't done yet."

Afghanistan is closer to its old self now than it's been in over 30 years, but they have a very long way to go.

"It's still piss poor, but it's 10 times better than it was in '02. We did all of that in four or five years.

"They've had enough and that's what's turning the tide in Afghanistan. It's the same in Iraq."

These trends make leaving now an even more horrible mistake, Loomer says.

"That's where this long-term presence needs to take place. If the enemy knows we're going to be there for a long time, they're going to say, 'Forget this. It's not worth dying for. We're going to go somewhere else.'

"That's why we have to give them time."

The instant gratification tendency of Americans doesn't exist in war, he says. It's a long well-planned process.

"Why anybody would want to allow the Taliban back in, I don't know."

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Editor's blog Unlike most of us, Lt. Col. John Loomer has seen the war Afghanistan first hand ... comment

 

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