Yochi J. Dreazen
The Wall Street Journal
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’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.