"This experience in Afghanistan is a complex and human professional challenge, unique, certainly difficult, but above all exciting. For our officers, non-commissioned officers and graduates is a real, great "professional gym".
Division General Massimo Panizzi is in charge of the Supports Division of the "Resolute Support" mission, a Division that includes logistic activities, management of NATO bases (strategic and tactical) and airports, communications and cyber defense, personnel management of the mission, financial and health aspects and the monitoring of relations between Afghanistan and NATO Forces. About 800 people (military and civilians) from 21 nations depend on him. The general also represents, on behalf of the Defense Staff, all the Italian soldiers, guaranteeing among other things that their national mandate is respected.
General Panizzi, what does he respond to who asks why we are in Afghanistan?
I respond that NATO is here to train, advise and assist the Afghan Security Forces and their related institutions. Recently, at the Brussels summit, the Atlantic Alliance confirmed its commitment to the 2024. A definite support - as the name of the mission, Resolute Support evokes - is indispensable for the peace hopes of an unfortunate people, who are tired of living in precariousness after decades of war. This is the NATO-led mission that is the most impressive for the complexity, commitment of the international community, variety and number of actors involved and for interests at stake.
The news that comes to us is a situation that seems to get worse. Are there any hopes for improvement?
Beyond the dramatic news reported by the media, at our level we perceive some important signs of change: the recent "ceasefire" has generated a real internal debate between the various souls of the Afghan social and political fabric. The Security Forces improve their operational standards, there is a new awareness. There begins to be a vision of a different future. Of course, it is an ambitious project, an arduous journey, especially a long one. Solid institutions are not created overnight, especially in a complex context characterized by terrorism. It is no coincidence that the international community (41 countries) is strongly committed to this challenge, which is not only military, but also diplomatic and social.
But it seems that Afghanistan is currently ungovernable ...
It is not accurate. There is an elected president, there is a government of national unity with its own ministers, there is, in other words, a regular political-administrative structure that seeks to make the young Afghan institutions, the provinces and the districts. There are huge problems, among them corruption and, above all, the simultaneous presence of terrorism of various extractions and criminality.
Someone said that it would take a "Mandela for Afghanistan", others a Marshall Plan and entrepreneurs of the highest level to change the status quo. They are interesting ideas and theories, but they must always be adapted to reality. Those who read the book "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk, well understand why the complexity of this land.
I personally met some young Afghan leaders, who have innovative ideas and are optimistic. In time, they will be able to transform this country, if they have real operational capabilities and a clear vision of the future of their land. And then there are the new generations (the average age of the population is 20 years) that push for a different future. This country needs to find its own identity and to rise from the abyss. Afghanistan, then, is a land rich in extraordinary natural beauty. From Alpino, I can not but admire the Hindu Kush mountains when, on the occasion of our travels by plane or helicopter, we can look at them from afar. The dream is that one day they become accessible to all fans. Not to mention the archaeological sites: their exploitation could be an investment in every sense.
And if NATO left, what would happen?
The 29 member countries of the Alliance have recently confirmed their support until 2024. A clear sign of continuity and serious and, indeed, "resolute" commitment. I don't like hypothetical questions, but I'll answer them with a metaphor. Try to think of a person who begins to walk on his own legs, with the help of a crutch: she suddenly takes it off and says "Now do it yourself". I let you imagine the consequences ... In a short time, most likely, we could return to an even worse situation than the initial one, which would nullify years of effort and also the sacrifice of many soldiers (ours, the coalition and Afghans). I add that I was able to see how positively the Western presence is perceived, especially now, by the population. But it is clear to everyone that the future of Afghanistan is and must remain in the hands of the Afghans.
What struck you most, in negative, of this experience?
Indiscriminate violence, blind, against the students of a school, aimed at striking not only innocent young people, but also the idea of future and progress. Imagine this scene: her children are at school, enthusiastic, they think about the future and she eagerly awaits their return home. But they will not come back. Someone blew them up and their poor remains. The horror ... the denial of everything, of the very idea of life and of the conquests of mankind. There are those who live to kill. This also happens in Afghanistan, last August and responds to an absurd ideology: the annihilation of the human being through terror. Striking a school escapes all logic. You can not remain indifferent, nor let this land become the undisturbed den of terrorists. We train the Afghan Security Forces also because episodes like this do not happen anymore.
And what has hit her on the positive side?
I was struck by the value, the sacrifice and the "resilience" of the Afghan soldiers who fight daily for their land. The Army improves, also thanks to important reforms of generational renewal and leadership development. Their Special Forces are growing and also Aeronautics makes important progress. It will take time, perseverance and patience, but the courage they demonstrate every day is extraordinary. They fight and die for their country. Then, I was amazed at the moral strength and faith of some nuns in Kabul, who courageously and obstinately continue to assist the most needy children abandoned by their families. There is an Italian association here, which makes authentic miracles.
What do the Allied commanders say about us Italians?
In over 4 months of mission, I have repeatedly, personally, verified the great consideration that the Coalition commanders have for us. It is not new, I could attest it also in previous operations. But where I find the observatory is so privileged that you realize if the compliments are of circumstance or correspond to real skills and results. It was not by chance that General Nicholson, before leaving, wanted to go and say hello. It is no coincidence if General Miller (Photo), his successor, wanted to commemorate the date of the September 11 - a wound that was always painfully open for American friends - in Herat, together with our Contingent, and that he was impressed by the words of our defense minister. It is not accidental, I believe, that the gen. Dunford, Chief of Staff of the American Defense, at the end of the weekly ceremony in honor of the Fallen, asked me to greet our Contingent of Kabul, reminding us what is our presence in this land. Not to mention the defense secretary Mattis and the president of Croatia, who have asked me to sincerely greet all our soldiers.
Believe me, they are not accidental or circumstantial attestations. Our Armed Forces, in all these years, have unquestionably been able to achieve something extraordinary and the results are so evident that they can not be kept silent. A very positive chapter in the history of a country whose past is full of tragedy and sadness. The Tricolor flag waving in Herat and Kabul is part of Afghanistan and the history of this battered country.
What do our partners appreciate Italians?
I think it's that mix of professionalism and flexibility (that is the ability to adapt to any situation), together with the usual generosity. As for professionalism, it is certainly the result of the work carried out patiently over the years by the Defense Staff and by the major Armed Forces, which have focused heavily on the modernization of the military instrument. The constant participation in operations like this - a real test for our officers, non-commissioned officers and graduates at all levels - has definitely contributed to the achievement of this result. Our commanders who have alternated over the years, in Herat as in Kabul, according to our allies, have demonstrated leadership and great reliability.
On the other aspect, flexibility and generosity, I think it is typically Italian quality: adaptability to new situations, the ability to learn, knowing how to always find creative and effective solutions, even in the absence of resources. We are also recognized the art of mediation and of being able to put around a table local interlocutors that are not always easy and make them dialogue. This is part of our genetic-professional heritage.
How do we live in Kabul, in this environment, under threat of attacks?
We are aware of the risks and we take all the precautions and predispositions provided. We are soldiers, it's part of our job.
Moreover, the work environment is stimulating, every day is a new challenge to find the best way to effectively support the Afghans. The Italians of the Headquarters - of all the Armed Forces - are employed in different disciplines: logistics, operational communication systems, security, development of the Army, Police and Afghan Aviation, planning, stabilization, Strategic Communication, relations with Pakistani armed forces, in addition to the development of projects and medical-health procedures to train the Afghan military to assist the wounded in combat.
How is it working in such a multinational environment?
In my opinion, multinationality is the true added value of this mission. Without prejudice to the prevalence of the US component, the presence of qualified representatives - at all levels - of so many nations, is a continuous stimulus to learning different cultures and procedures. I have direct dependents on a general and 6 American colonels, in addition to Dutch 2. But within the respective branches I also have personal (military and civilian) English, Macedonian, Georgian, Bulgarian, Croatian, German, Czech, Slovak, Turkish, Greek, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Australian, Bosnian , Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. An inestimable wealth in terms of professional and human culture.
It is a continuous exercise to listen to the other and - I would say - to mutual respect. Working in operations in an international and multinational environment is an incentive to give the best of yourself (to represent your nation) and, at the same time, obliges you to relate in the best way with each other, all united by the goal of bringing at the end our common mission. As the motto "Many Nations, One Mission".
And there are no problems?
The problems only concern the complexity of the activities we develop, not the internal functioning. On the contrary, it is our diversity that ensures that different solutions are always found and reasoned. There is a climate of great collaboration.
The fact of using English as a working language obliges everyone to stick to a technical language, essential, eliminating the superfluous.
Besides working relationships, we have also organized English language courses for those who want to perfect it. And also designed Italian courses for foreigners with over 50 memberships. Not to mention how good it emerges from the exchange of experiences and the observation of the other contingents.
Which initiative of the foreign Armed Forces did you particularly like?
For years in the US, Great Britain, Germany, there is a national television channel dedicated to the military and also to the issues related to the Defense. On the one hand, this public service gives support, information and visibility to the military on mission, and on the other hand it helps to increase the culture of security in the citizens. It is not a trivial matter. Our Armed Forces have made extraordinary progress in institutional communication. A television channel would complete the information on Defense issues very effectively. Security is a supreme and common good for every state: educating for security is important. And television is the means of communication par excellence.
The image of the Mission that is most impressed?
The moment of recollection, every Friday morning, in front of the Flags and the War Memorial: is the image of the sense of the Honor.
(photo: US Air Force / Nato / Al Jazeera / Resolute Support)