Students review the Afghan mission

A handful of Clark High School students dressed in formal business attire had a meeting with the commander of the joint anti-corruption task force in Afghanistan — over video conference.

Sixteen-year-old Greg Grigoryan, who arranged the call for the school’s Geopolitics Club, said he’s been a fan of Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster since watching him on “Charlie Rose” in 2008.

From his hub in Afghanistan, McMaster explained the military’s stance on the war.

“Our forces here are engaged in an enemy that is the enemy of all civilized people,” he began. “What brought us here is the mission to beat the Taliban regime, to attack Al Qaeda, and to deny them a safe haven, supportive base.”

To do that, he said, Afghanistan’s government needs to be built up, along with their ability to enforce the law. But the drug trade is feeding corruption.

Afghanistan is home to 90% of the world’s opium production, McMaster said, and 1.5 million Afghans have become addicted to heroin.

One pressing challenge is the terrorists’ connection to wealthy drug traffickers and the money that buys off officials, particularly police.

“These are really wealthy, organized crime figures who are engaged in the narcotics trade who build really big houses right down the street from where I am right now,” he said.

Grigoryan asked about the war’s end.

“We know that there’s a plan to withdraw in 2014,” he said. “What do we expect to see at the end of this war?”

The year will encompass Afghanistan’s next presidential election and signify a transition, but not an absolute end, McMaster said. Local police forces will increasingly take the lead on security.

If the military and its allies do not succeed in attaining a sustainable transition, McMaster painted the country’s future as “pretty grim.”

“We could have a narcotics trade that funds transnational terrorist organizations that already enjoy, to some extent, a safe haven across the border in Pakistan,” he said. “That would be a huge threat for our international security.”

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