The Pentagon issued a release today to say that it is sending farmers to Afghanistan. Okay, the program was most definitely in the works, but the symbolism of making the announcement a day after Barack Obama is sworn in is striking.
Army Secretary Pete Geren and Army National Guard Lieutenant General Clyde Vaughn are to flesh out details during a press conference tomorrow. They will say soldier and airmen-farmers from Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma are going to Afghanistan this year to provide training in soil science, irrigation, agronomy, horticulture and animal husbandry. In addition, they will give insights into marketing, storage and ice production so farmers can market products in Afghanistan and overseas.
This blogger has been on the Pentagon electronic mailing list for a number of years. He can’t recall the Pentagon ever touting agricultural development teams.
President Obama says the “forgotten war” in Afghanistan is a top priority. He wants to shift 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan from Iraq to fight the Taliban. Obama also is a proponent of exercising America’s “soft power,” and the Pentagon’s agricultural effort is a fine example of that.
More than 70 percent of Afghans are farmers, agriculture accounts for half the country’s gross domestic product. Let’s hope the army wins the hearts and minds of the Afghan farmers, especially those in the poppy business, which is the country’s biggest cash crop.