Newly returned from his second tour in Afghanistan, Professor Kevin “Kit” Parker said yesterday that investments in low-tech fighting methods will offer lasting advantages.
In an event at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the professor of biomedical engineering, who first went to Afghanistan in 2002, described ground conditions in the war and assessed the challenges facing U.S. forces.
He said “fighting in the third world and developing countries is here to stay” and emphasized the importance of information dissemination and communication in waging these wars effectively.
Parker, a major in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, said that while advances in armored vehicles have saved lives, the army has, in many ways, “overengineered this battlefield.”
Focusing primarily on non-combative tactics, Parker stressed the importance of securing the populace, training the Afghan army, mentoring local leaders, facilitating legal commerce, and building infrastructure.
“We always try to live with the Afghans,” Parker said at the Maxwell Dworkin Forum.
Parker said he encouraged rural villagers to network, trade, travel, get involved with the government, and join the army.
Referring to the rural regions as “medieval,” Parker emphasized the societal disconnect in many of these communities by telling an anecdote about how some Afghans initially believed that American forces were Soviet soldiers, who invaded the country more than two decades ago.
For soldiers, it’s important to be able to communicate with peoples of seemingly different worlds. Parker said effective battlefield diplomats are those who could walk into a bar and strike up a conversation, rather than cling to the wall.
“Can you make a friend if you have nothing in common?” Parker asked rhetorically, talking about the skills necessary to make a difference in Afghanistan.
In conclusion, Parker reflected on the changes he observed between his tours of duty, noting the limited gains made in the country. “We are still waiting for a leader class in Afghanistan,” he said.