Why would U.S. want Afghan pilots trained in Lebanon or Syria?
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C — The U.S. Department of the Army put out a request for information on “Afghanistan National Army Air Corps English and Pilot Training.”
The Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training & Instrumentation (PEO STRI) is conducting market research by seeking sources with innovative business solutions to (1) train and certify up to 67 Afghani student pilots to an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) English level 4 in the English language; and (2) provide basic rotary wing or fixed wing Commercial Pilot Training to the European Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) standards.
It is desired that the English language and basic pilot training take place within South West Asia. PEO STRI requests information on sources available to perform training in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, U.A.E, Uzbekistan, Yemen or other locations in Southwest Asia with the capability to provide requested training.
How is it possible that Syria, a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorism-supporting countries, is considered an acceptable place to train Afghan pilots? Or Lebanon, which has Hezbollah as a member of the governing cabinet in Beirut? Hezbollah is a charter and current member of the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations, and until September 11, 2001, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. Didn’t Kyrgyzstan just have a coup inspired/financed by Russia? Wouldn’t training pro-Western Afghan pilots in Pakistan send those people from the frying pan into the fire? Isn’t Yemen home to some of the most virulently anti-American, anti-Western al Qaeda operatives and preachers, including Anwar al-Awlakiwho was talking to U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan before he killed 13 Americans at Ft. Hood?
Aside from the fact that some of the countries listed are not in South West Asia, as the request for information requires, not one is remotely democratic. OK, we’ll give Jordan a few points and some to Iraq, but that’s it.
What would possess the United States Army to expose Afghani pilots, who are supposed to secure a functional and consensual state in Afghanistan, to countries where the governments are almost uniformly totalitarian, functionally repressive, less than hospitable to reform or dissent, and have women in positions of legal inferiority? Saudi Arabia is the financier of a particularly repressive, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic form of Islam exported around the world.
We did not expect to see Israel on the list, although Israel certainly is capable of training pilots to the European Joint Aviation Authority standards, and a few months in Israel would impart some Western governmental, judicial and social norms, including religious and political tolerance.
But if not Israel, why not Britain or Italy or France or Spain or Portugal? Why not Denmark or Colombia or Mali or Uruguay? Why not India or Indonesia or Taiwan or Japan?
The list is clearly weighted toward the part of the world to which President Obama wishes to show American comity. Unfortunately, it is also a part of the world in which neither American policies nor American values are particularly welcome items on the agenda. The list and the thinking behind it are political mistakes that should be corrected. Certainly, they should be corrected before we give the Afghanis the idea that the norms of Syria and Lebanon are ones we want them to adopt.
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member