A few years ago, people learned about a little-known chapter in the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan through a book and,
later, a movie called "Charlie Wilson's War." Wilson was a
maverick Texas congressman who found ways of funding Afghan insurgents
with prodding from his Houston socialite girlfriend, Joanne Herring.
Wilson was played by Tom Hanks in the movie and Herring was played by
Julia Roberts. Herring is now 80 years old but she remains actively
involved in projects to help Afghanistan, where U.S. forces and their
Afghan partners are now fighting the Taliban. She is using her widespread influence to
promote economic and social development in the war-ravaged country.
In the 2007 Universal Pictures movie "Charlie Wilson's War," Joanne
then-Second District Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson to find funding
for the Afghan resistance.
Hanks: "What do you want me to do, Joanne?"
Julia Roberts: "This is what I want you to do. I want you to save Afghanistan for the Afghans."
Herring says the main story told in the film is true, although some of the scenes were invented.
never went upstairs in the middle of a party and got in a hot tub with
anybody. Nor do I drink triple martinis with three olives," she said.
Herring did risk her life to enter the war zone in 1980 and she did
work hard back home to promote the cause of the Afghan resistance.
came to her Afghan cause by way of Pakistan. For more than a decade she
served as Pakistan's Consul General in Houston, where her husband,
Robert Herring, ran an energy company. It was through the Pakistanis
that she learned about Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan and went there
with a small crew to make a film, which she later showed to Charlie
Now Herring is dedicating herself to a different cause in Afghanistan, this time for peaceful development.
are proposing a totally humanitarian plan where we are going to go into
the villages and give them food, water, education and medical care." she said.
Herring has identified 10 non-governmental organizations doing projects on the
ground in Afghanistan and her goal is to get US government funding to
support and expand what they are doing. Among the organizations is
Living Wells, which develops water resources, ARZU, which helps Afghan
women support themselves selling rugs and a project to grow castor
beans for both food and biofuel.
She says it is important
these projects operate without US military involvement and avoid
the high costs associated with current US aid programs.
Afghans have never seen an American without a gun. If we get some
government help, which we hope, we can take these plans and multiply
them," Herring said. "It will cost a third of what it is already costing and we know it
will work," she continued.
Herring says the non-governmental
groups she works with have already proven their effectiveness and just
need further funding to expand operations.
do not want to tell them what to do. We want them to do what they do.
But we want each organization to do one thing that they do better than
anybody in the world," she said.
Herring says it would
be money well spent since social and economic development would
compliment the security operations of the US and Afghan forces and help
prevent the Taliban from turning the country into a base for terrorists
"Where are the leaders
trained? Afghanistan. No other place, Afghanistan. Do you think the
Taliban is going to quit training them?" she asked.
even as the Obama administration sends more troops to fight the
Taliban, there are critics of the war calling for a negotiated exit.
Joanne Herring thinks the United States has a responsibility to stay
there long enough for Afghans to develop a modern and prosperous
society that they are capable of defending on their own.