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Making Afghan Friends With Photos

2nd Lt. Jason Smith, Combined Joint Task Force - 82 PAO

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Greenberg, Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir vehicle operator and Parma, Ohio, native, takes a photo of a local mujahedeen guard at Forward Operating Base Lion, Afghanistan. Greenberg said he tries to take instant camera on his missions in the Panjshir Province because most Panjshiris enjoy getting an instant photo. Since getting a shipment of film in late April, the instant cameras have been out on most missions, and some PRT members are seeing a genuine benefit to the pictures.

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan 05.21.2010 Provincial Reconstruction Team Panjshir Airmen and Soldiers have started shooting photos of local Afghans in order to make friends.

PRT members are regularly taking instant pictures of kids and adults as the team conducts its missions throughout the Panjshir Valley.

Since getting a shipment of film in late April, the instant cameras have been out on most missions, and some PRT members are seeing a genuine benefit to the pictures.

"It looked like at first they were afraid of the camera or maybe us," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Greenberg, PRT Panjshir vehicle operator originally from Parma, Ohio. "We made a gesture to the guard to show them their photos. The guard talked one kid into doing it and once he had his picture, they were all jealous."

As a vehicle operator, Greenberg often stays with the PRT vehicles while other PRT agencies conduct business. There are always local mujahedeen guards with the vehicles also. Greenberg said he found the best way to promote the picture plan is to take instant photos of the guards before the mission. When local residents approach the vehicle, the guards are able to show them their pictures and explain the pictures. None of it requires an interpreter.

"Three or four kids quickly turned into 20 or 30 people," said Greenberg, deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "They were really excited. Maybe it was something they hadn't seen before. We actually ran out of film."

One of the mujahedeen guards Greenberg photographed said he doesn't have a computer or digital camera and the photo Greenberg gave him was the best one he's ever had.

"I'll put it in a frame at home," said Guard NoorGul. "Thank you. Nobody ever took a picture for me before. I had a picture in the past, but it wasn't a good one. This one is the best."

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Curtis Velasquez, PRT Panjshir commander, said the instant cameras have found their place in the counterinsurgency fight.

"The use of what is considered an old technology is offering immediate feedback from local Afghans," said Velasquez. "You can see the genuine smiles, and that speaks a stronger message than a shura or key leader engagement can accomplish. This is a great tool that can be used on any mission to provide immediate positive feedback."

Only a very small number of Panjshiris have computers or even know how to use them, according to Khalid Siddiqi, PRT Panjshir political advisor. Digital cameras and computers with printers are definitely not the norm. Siddiqi said the kids like getting the photos, and they are a big hit with parents as well.

"Mostly, it's the first picture of their children," said Siddiqi. "They will keep it in a very fancy frame on the wall."

Siddiqi said the photos are helping build friendships, especially with school kids and the younger boys. That's good news for the PRT in counterinsurgency operations. From a PRT perspective, it's best to make friends with the boys now and lessen the chance of having an enemy in the future.

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