Beards, robes for soldiers in new Afghan program

There was another brazen attack Wednesday in Kandahar, the key city to the war effort in southern Afghanistan. The city's mayor was assassinated by a suicide bomber who had a bomb in his turban.

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark was in Kandahar recently, doing a story about an American soldier who is playing an unusual role there. She also happened to do an interview with that mayor who was murdered.

Jim Crawford may not look like it, but he's a U.S. Army major, and part of a program called Afghan Hands, designed to mentor government officials to break down barriers. He wears local clothing and a full beard like most Afghan men.

When we visited Kandahar earlier this month, Crawford was anxious to introduce us to the city's mayor: Ghulam Haider Hamidi.

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"There are a lot of good Afghans here working very hard and risking their life and he is one of them. People are really lucky to have him as mayor," Crawford said.

That luck ran out today. A suicide bomber got into the same corridors of city hall the mayor had guided us through. On that day he told us he was fatalistic about the dangers he faced. The Taliban had already tried to kill him with a bomb aimed at his car and failed.

"I believe that God will kill me one day. That day and time will not be changed," Hamidi said.

Crawford's job means he often takes the same risks as the Afghans he works with.

While most U.S. soldiers travel around Kandahar in heavily armored vehicles, Crawford suggested we see the city from an auto rickshaw.

"It's a huge advantage, but first of all it gives me an insight into Kandahar. I'm able to understand them a bit more than if you are driving around in an armored vehicle. It's sort of from inside looking out," Crawford said.

Crawford is mindful of the danger.

"The biggest threat is assassination," Crawford said.

We went for a walking tour of Kandahar's markets, Crawford advised I'd be safer wearing a burkha. Crawford said he is finally used to wearing local clothing.

Although the outfits helped for a while, eventually a crowd began hurling stones at Crawford and the CBS News team in the market.

It can be a painful process, but working through cultural misunderstandings is part of the job. In this case, the crowd may have mistaken a female foreign news correspondent for an Afghan woman walking with foreign men. This is a very conservative, segregated society."

The Afghan Hands volunteers commit to 6 years in the program, including two-year-long deployments in Afghanistan.

"It's like no other job I've ever had," Crawford says.

The idea is to create a core group of regional experts. There are roughly 400 serving in Afghanistan and Pakistan so far.

"I hope it is the future. I think this is something we probably should have done right after 9/11," Crawford says.

Crawford believes that small groups of U.S. soldiers like him will still be living with the Afghan people long after the combat troops are pulled out.

  • Mandy Clark

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