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The Atlantic: Enlisting Allah

Author: Brian Mockenhaupt
August 15, 2011


The Atlantic'Brian Mockenhaupt describes how marines in Helmand province are teaching the locals to read the Koran as a way to thwart the Taliban.

Soon after he deployed to southern Afghanistan this spring, Lieutenant Commander Nathan Solomon, a Navy chaplain, learned of a disconcerting and persistent belief among the locals in northern Marja: the Afghan soldiers stationed there weren’t Muslim. The Taliban had convinced many in this stretch of Helmand province that the Afghan soldiers—most of whom were from northern and eastern Afghanistan and spoke Dari instead of Pashto, the local language—were nearly as foreign as the U.S. marines patrolling alongside them.

Solomon and his Afghan liaison, Abdul Khabir, a mullah and an army captain, suggested that installing audio speakers at the joint patrol bases to announce the five-times-daily Muslim call to prayer might help. The first speakers brought quick results. “We didn’t know they pray like we do,” one man told a joint patrol of marines and Afghan soldiers. “It makes us trust them more, knowing we all share the same faith.”

A chaplain since 1999, Solomon had arrived for his first Afghanistan deployment ready to deliver sermons, lead Bible studies, and offer counsel about marital problems, fear, and the sharp grief of losing friends. He has performed those staples of military chaplaincy, but he and his colleagues have also increasingly found themselves in the unexpected role of counterinsurgent.


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