Take a few minutes and read this article from Canada's The Star about a group of expats doing difficult but vital work down in Kandahar.
As Tim Lynch at Free Range International has pointed out many times, the only way to truly influence the population is to be outside the wire of the big FOBs, interacting with them on a daily basis. These guys with "Team Canada" have been doing that for several years in one of the toughest operating environments in all of Afghanistan. ISAF, NATO and the Pentagon could all take a lesson from them.
If you roll into a village in Strykers and MRAPs, with wrap-around sunglasses and bristling with high-tech weaponry, it should be no surprise that the locals don't come running to have a chat. Too often, ISAF forces* look and act like Imperial Stormtroopers, fearsome, intimidating and alien. Not exactly the best way to get the locals to trust you.
*The U.S. Army is particularly guilty of this sort of behaviour. Note that this is entirely due to Big Army's restrictive force protection rules, and not necessarily the choice of soldiers on the ground. Those rules are the result of the fact that the American public in general has not yet grasped the concept that we can't have a war without casualties.
An important distinction to bear in mind is that "low profile" does not mean "low security." With the exception clients who require it, we never move in armored vehicles and always strive not to be "guns up." Knowing the environment and the people in it is a much more effective guarantee of security than all the armor and firepower in the world. I'd rather ghost through unnoticed with help of friends and allies than trust to armor and firepower. Better to avoid the confrontation in the first place than to count on winning it.
This country has a myriad of problems that need fixing, but it all starts with two simple concepts: jobs and security. Everything else can wait. Without sufficient employment to give Afghans the chance at a better life, and the security to enjoy that life, nothing else matters.
The Ghost Riders of Team Canada are doing both simultaneously.