Commentary

The personal impact of an American general on an Afghan officer

An officer who was a second lieutenant just a year before my birthday in 1983 has earned the trust of Americans and Afghans alike. Now a four-star general, Gen. Austin Scott Miller is the longest-serving commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. His reputation seems to be as solid here in the USA as it is in Afghanistan. In my country, people from all walks of life know his name and his compassion for a peaceful Afghanistan.

I did not get to know General Miller until I wrote a letter to Maj. Brent Taylor’s family in early November 2018. Major Taylor was a civilian contractor working with the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. Their team was responsible to train and conduct joint operations with elite Afghan commandos. He was mentoring Afghan commandos at Camp Scorpion (after Major Taylors’ death the camp was named after him, Camp Taylor). A generous man, Major Taylor was the only American who participated in daily running with Afghan commandos, solely because he wanted to spend time and make friends with them. When I heard about his assassination by an Afghan commando, I was shocked and horrified. The first thing that came to my mind was his family — his kids, who he often spoke about. I wanted them to hear something good from Afghanistan along with the news of their father being killed. Therefore, the least I could do to ease their pain was to write a condolence letter. I wrote the letter and in a matter of hours, it was trending on Twitter. When the letter made news, I was invited to Resolute Support (RS) headquarters to see General Miller. Just a major at the time, I was escorted by a VIP vehicle inside the RS compound, without being searched. This was my first hint at how much General Miller had learned about Afghan culture since 2001.

To my surprise, General Miller had also invited Gen. Yasin Zia, the current chief of General Staff of the Afghan Army, and Masoom Stanekzai, director general of National Directorate of Security at the time (now our current head of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s peace negotiating team). In our meeting, he said that the letter was historic and its impact on Americans, especially Major Taylor’s family, will be tremendous. He said that the U.S. has fought many wars — from Europe to Korea, to Japan, to Vietnam — and has been recognized by many nations for their efforts; however, this letter sets Afghanistan apart. It represents the personal bonds that have been made between the two uniforms, Americans and Afghans. It represents the trust that has been built throughout the last 20 years between brothers in arms.

That meeting changed my life forever. In the meeting, he introduced me to General Zia. He told me that he and Ambassador John Bass (former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan) had mentioned the letter and its positive impact on the American public to the president of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. President Ghani assured them of mine and my family’s safety. A few days later, I was invited by Assadullah Khalid, the minister of defense, and was asked to serve as his acting strategic communications director. That position allowed me to work closely with General Miller, his aides, and former spokesman Dave Butler. We held regular joint meetings (Dr. Zia, Minister Khalid, Minister Andarabi, and Minister Stanekzai, as well as General Miller, were usually present). In those meetings, I was able to get to know him more.

General Miller was personally and professionally attached to Afghanistan and its future. He always spoke about winning. He emphasized several times that winning the war in the information domain was as important as winning on the battlefields. For example, because of his emphasis on the information domain, the Afghan Security Sector (Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and NDS) established a joint center (we called it “media nexus“) for the first time to counter propaganda by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. At the same time, he encouraged self-confidence in younger officers like me. As a leader, he gave us the strength we needed and let him put his trust upon us. He rarely made promises, but when he made them, he would fulfill those words. I remember in one of our meetings he asked me of my wishes, to which I said: studying at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. I am studying here today. That’s his impact. Coming from a poor family, having no connection to the political apparatus in the country, I would never have imagined working for our national security adviser and our president. I worked at the Office of National Security Council as the head of the Presidential Information Coordination Center (a center similar to the White House Situation Room), responsible for collecting and analyzing data related to national security and to provide daily, weekly, and monthly reports to the president of Afghanistan. I could not occupy this position without General Miller’s support and trust.

Beyond supporting young officers, General Miller, as a fearless and honest representative of the U.S. military, would visit provincial and corps commands regularly, speaking to young soldiers, and appearing before journalists to answer their questions in regards to peace and war. Not only that, he would bounce between Doha and Kabul to negotiate peace with the Taliban while at the same time hold meetings with security sector representatives to ensure the Taliban could not win the war militarily. With such a tight schedule, he still appears in local markets to strengthen the sense of hope in ordinary Afghans. In those appearances, he always emphasizes to his aides and bodyguards to respect Afghan culture and traditions.

I might never get the opportunity to say goodbye to him when he leaves Afghanistan. But I am sure that our nation’s history will remember him as a true friend, a guide, and a leader who gave all he could to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Col. Abdul Rahman Rahmani is a student at National Defense University in Washington and former staffer at the Office of the National Security Council, Afghanistan.

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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