Monday, December 29, 2008

Military Finds an Unlikely Adviser

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

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.

"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."

"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."

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