Hugging the Cactus – America and Pakistan


by Ken Smith


Like many Americans I follow the war in Afghanistan though the media.  I watch our troops perform their duties with honor and courage.  I actively search online for stories about how our armed forces are performing to better understand the difficulties and sacrifices that they make every day.

I don’t understand how our ground commanders are hindered by some invisible fence that seems to divide Afghanistan from Pakistan.  It seems odd to me that our troops take fire from insurgents on the Pakistani side of the border, and yet are restricted from firing back.  I use the example of rocket and mortar fire recently, that was undeniably coming from Pakistan.

(See:  KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai accuses Pakistan of firing 470 rockets into two of its eastern border provinces in a three-week barrage.)

When are we going to understand that the “frontier” sections of Pakistan are not under the control of the Pakistani government, and this lawless region has been this way for hundreds of years.   Didn’t we learn anything from the British who attempted to bring peace and services to this part of the world that appears to be living in the 7th century?

I advocate that our battle commanders should have clear and concise “Rules of engagement” that allows US Troops to defend themselves regardless of geography.  How to do we explain to an American family that their son or daughter was killed by insurgents operating 10 miles inside of Pakistan, firing rockets or mortars from inside a country that appears to the world to be a country that is incapable of controlling its own territory?

I understand like most Americans the complexities of the geo politics of the region and I applaud our president for accelerating the use of drones to target those who are killing our troops in cross border fighting.   At the same time, I wonder, like you, how we are going to extradite ourselves from this fight.

I am planning a trip to Afghanistan as a free lance reporter next year, and have submitted my request to the Defense Department to see first hand how difficult this insurgency is to fight.

I have tremendous respect for those Americans who are on the front line right now, working to change the paradigm and insure that this region of the world doesn’t foster anymore terrorists that come to our country to harm Americans.

I also wonder to myself what is happening along the Afghanistan –Iranian border?  We hear very little news from this part of the theatre of war, and is it because we have an unwritten agreement with Iran?

Let there be no mistake, our relationship with Pakistan is like hugging a cactus.


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For more than twenty-five years Ken Smith has been a leading advocate for veterans. A combat Vietnam veteran, Ken served during 1971-72 as a paramedic and an infantry squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. After his discharge, Ken continued his work as a paramedic in New England. On the streets of Boston he encountered growing numbers of homeless Vietnam veterans, and he became determined to both assist them and draw attention to their plight. In 1989, Ken founded the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, located in a former VA hospital at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston. One of the first facilities designed for homeless veterans and now a national model, the shelter has served over 35,000 of America’s veterans who, for whatever reason, find themselves living on the streets. In 1992 Ken was awarded Point of Light #142 by President George H. W. Bush, and later that same year received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, considered the “Oscar” for American veterans. As one of America’s foremost veterans service organizations, AMVETS (or American Veterans) has a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. Ken was awarded this honor along with Peter Coors, with whom he still maintains a personal friendship. Over the years Ken has appeared on many national media programs including Good Morning America, Prime Time Live, ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN, 60 Minutes, and The Geraldo Show. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and numerous international newspapers, magazines, and websites. In 1992, Ken had the distinction of addressing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a keynote speaker on the subject of veterans. Ken recently left his last assignment with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, where he was the chief technology architect of the Veteran’s Vocational Technical Institute, Purple Heart Car Donation program, Purple Heart Call Center, Purple Heart Radio, Purple Heart Tech Support, Purple Heart Services, and over thirty new Purple Heart websites. Ken Smith provided the vision and has overseen the implementation of innovative, virtual, work-at-home training programs for veterans with combat disabilities. Ken has designed, upgraded, and supervised the integration and installation of Purple Heart Service Foundations computer and telephony systems, upgrading features from legacy POTS phones to SIP-trunked communications systems including establishing new VPN networks for teams of remote virtual employees. An adventure sports enthusiast, Ken enjoys extreme skiing, competitive sailing, flying, and travel. He has traveled extensively worldwide, delivering his positive message to the veterans of other countries that a paraplegic veteran of the United States suffers the same as a paraplegic veteran of India; that an amputee veteran of Nepal suffers as much as an amputee veteran of France. Ken’s mentor was Harold Russell, the two-time Academy Award winner who starred in the 1946 film Best Years of Our Lives. A World War II veteran, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Harold lost both of his hands. This ghastly misfortune did not stop him, and he went on to become the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For over fifty years he served US presidents from Truman to Clinton. Ken was humbled and grateful when Harold agreed to serve as the best man at Ken’s wedding. Ken has been instrumental in the planning stages for the Veterans Workshop, a new nationwide veterans’ advocacy group building a new “Veterans Hotline, and the development of special programs for those who have lost their sight or their hearing, or who have suffered spinal cord injury, as a result of their military experience. The Veterans Workshop provides a forum where new technology and advancements in the fields of prosthetic and orthotic solutions, many designed by Ken, are shared along with virtual training and employment programs. A 1970 graduate of De La Salle Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, for the past twenty-five years Ken has continued his education with extensive college courses in computer technology and related social service fields. He resides in his native state of Rhode Island with his wife and children.