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Afghanistan: Ghost Students, Ghosts Teachers, Ghost Schools

category central asia | imperialism / war | non-anarchist press author Tuesday September 15, 2015 23:37author by Azmat Khan - Buzzfeed Report this post to the editors

The United States trumpets education as one of its shining successes of the war in Afghanistan. But a BuzzFeed News investigation reveals U.S. claims were often outright lies, as the government peddled numbers it knew to be false and touted schools that have never seen a single student.

ZHARI DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Here in the birthplace of the Taliban, children would climb up on Joe DeNenno and hang off his Army-issued rucksack as if it were a jungle gym. “Ruckriders,” he called them.

The 24-year-old first lieutenant didn’t just play with the kids. He also tutored them. He even convinced his commanding officer to spend some of the money the military had earmarked for winning hearts and minds on building the children a school.

In that summer of 2011, as he helped negotiate with local elders and the Afghan Ministry of Education, the fighting intensified. Three men in his unit fell to gunfire, and three more were blown up by roadside bombs. And Afghans who helped the Americans, he recalled, lost their lives “in just brutal torture, decapitated, terrible ways.”

Still, by early October, a dozen of DeNenno’s students — a few no taller than the shovels in their hands — smiled alongside U.S. soldiers, local security forces, and government officials, all gathered to break ground on a new school in the little village of Kandalay.

An Army press release lauded the groundbreaking as important “for the future of the children.” For DeNenno, it was an “antidote” to the bloodshed and “the rut of chasing this specter of victory.” It felt, he said, “like progress.”

Nearly four years later, water seeps through the leaky roof and drips onto students in this more than $250,000 construction. Doors are cut in half; some are missing altogether. There is no running water for the approximately 200 boys — and zero girls — who attend. But the school did enrich a notorious local warlord. In exchange for donating the land on which the school sits, he extracted a contract from the U.S. military worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

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