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I know we have a lot of Greg Mortenson fans in Kindleboards, so I thought you'd be interested in this Wall Street Journal article:

http://sec.online.wsj.com/article/SB123024938351734255.html?mod=article-outset-box

Military Finds an Unlikely Adviser in School-Building Humanitarian

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN

Washington

Greg Mortenson, a humanitarian and co-author of the best-selling book "Three Cups of Tea," has a surprising new job: advising the U.S. military on how to fight Islamic extremism.

Mr. Mortenson is a former mountain climber who has built 78 schools in remote, poverty-stricken parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His foundation, the Central Asia Institute, also runs 48 other schools in refugee camps in the region. More than 28,000 children in the two countries attend Mr. Mortenson's schools.

In recent months, Mr. Mortenson has begun a second career as a guru of sorts for the military. In November, he was invited to the Pentagon for a private meeting with Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In December, he flew to Florida to talk to senior officers from the secretive Special Operations Command, which directs elite units like the Army's Delta Force.

Mr. Mortenson believes providing a moderate education to young Muslims is the most effective way to curb the growth of Islamic extremism.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, read Mr. Mortenson's book, which recounts his school-building efforts, and recommended it to his staff.

Mr. Mortenson's popularity in military circles stems from a shift in thinking about the war in Afghanistan. In the war's first years, top commanders focused on working with the Afghan central government. But with the insurgency worsening and the Kabul government struggling, many senior officers have begun to seek Mr. Mortenson's advice on how to build stronger relationships with village elders and tribal leaders.

Several of the officers said they have also come to share Mr. Mortenson's belief that providing young Muslims with a moderate education is the most effective way of curbing the growth of Islamic extremism.

"Education is the long-term solution to fanaticism," says Col. Christopher Kolenda, who commanded an Army brigade in a part of eastern Afghanistan where Mr. Mortenson founded two schools. "As Greg points out so well, ignorance breeds hatred and violence."

The long counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have forced the military to transform itself from an organization focused mainly on killing enemies to one that devotes equal attention to rebuilding war-shattered societies. U.S. troops in the two countries run jobs programs, provide medical assistance, and work to rehabilitate captured militants. "Nation-building," a phrase once scorned by many senior officers, is now a central part of the U.S. strategy.

In an interview, Mr. Mortenson, 50 years old, said he respected the military's willingness to admit past mistakes and seek new ideas about how to accomplish its objectives in Afghanistan and in the broader war on terror.

"I get some criticism from the NGO community, who tell me I shouldn't talk to the military at all," he said. "But the military has a willingness to change and adapt that you don't see in other parts of the government."

Mr. Mortenson didn't always have a high opinion of the U.S. military. "Three Cups of Tea" details how his initial support for the war in Afghanistan faded after he read accounts of the civilians who died in American airstrikes or after accidentally touching unexploded U.S. bombs.

In early 2002, he was invited to the Pentagon to address a small gathering of uniformed officers and civilian officials. As he recounted in the book, he told the audience that the $840,000 spent on each of the Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into Afghanistan could have been used to build dozens of schools. "Which do you think will make us more secure?" he asked them.

Afterward, Mr. Mortenson wrote, a man in a civilian suit offered to secretly funnel him $2.2 million in military funds. "We could make it look like a private donation from a businessman in Hong Kong," the man told him.

Mr. Mortenson wrote that he seriously considered the offer because the money would have allowed him to build at least 100 more schools. In the end, though, he decided to turn it down.

"I realized my credibility in that part of the world depended on me not being associated with the American government, especially its military," he wrote.

Mr. Mortenson still refuses to take any money from the military. The Central Asia Institute has an annual budget of $2.8 million, virtually all of which is raised through small individual donations. Last year, the Pentagon offered Mr. Mortenson $2.8 million, which would have doubled the foundation's funding, but he says he turned it down.

"The conditions would have stipulated that they could decide where the schools go, and I couldn't accept that," he said.

Still, Mr. Mortenson's relationship with the military continues to deepen. In the past year, he has spent time with Marines at California's Camp Pendleton and Special Operations troops at their U.S. base. He has also spoken to cadets and airmen at the Naval Academy in Maryland and at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

After high school, Mr. Mortenson spent a few years as an Army medic. "It's a bit strange to be back in that world," he said. "But there is a positive learning curve in the military."

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at [email protected]
 
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