Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
Dr. David Gray, an expert in national and international security, U.S. foreign policy, terrorism and intelligence, presented “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia: Staring into the Abyss?” to about 200 Marines and civilians from various units aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Friday morning.
“It’s important for Marines to understand what’s going on when they’re over there,” said Gray, referring to the Corps’ focus on the Central Asia region.
Gray, a former foreign service/CIA officer and retired Air Force officer with nearly 30 years of experience teaching international studies, began with a historical overview of Central Asia up until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.
The majority of Central Asia traditionally operated in tribes led by warlords. The “Great Game” of the 18th and 19th centuries, a struggle between England and Russia for control of Central Asia, led to the creation of boundaries that cut through tribal lands and grouped divergent tribes into nations, according to Gray’s presentation.
“The idea of a central government is foreign,” Gray said of the region. “It just does not compute.”
This mentality extended to how the mujahedeen in Afghanistan resisted the Soviets in the 1980s and 1990s, using decentralized command, control and operations to attrite Russian troops, he said.
U.S. involvement began when Russia moved into Afghanistan. Once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1994, U.S. interest declined and conditions worsened.
“It’s utter chaos; it’s a disaster,” said Gray. “That set the stage for the Taliban.”
The Taliban grew more radical, and U.S. involvement resurfaced in 2001 following 9/11.
Gray’s 50-minute presentation was followed by an hour of discussion. Most questions began with “what if” or “should we.”
“It was worthwhile,” said 1stLt. Kirby L. Wedekind, commanding officer of Engineer Company, Marine Wing Support Squadron 271. “Though the information was strategic level in nature, it will make us more effective at the tactical level.”
The presentation generated further understanding, while simultaneously sparking more questions among most of the attendees.
“It’s a complex problem,” Gray said. “It’s not just that we’re going to Afghanistan and doing (operations). It’s global. It has implications beyond Afghanistan, and it is important. The outcome of Afghanistan is important for U.S. as well as international security.”