AfghaniDan

A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Coda


Glamour shot, Mazar-e Sharif, 11/7/10

Right from the start, I wonder if I should prattle on about the myriad of reasons I don’t write anymore...about why such a significant period of my life, spanning two Operation Enduring Freedom deployments and beyond, will mostly remain boxed, gathering over time the type of dust and cobwebs that blur and warp the memories that aren’t already erased.  I won’t prattle, not too much anyway.  But I’ll restate something I’ve said before, at least once: It gives me no satisfaction to write about the experience of being in Afghanistan when I’m not in Afghanistan.  Many literary types manage to do that, but I’m not James Joyce…hell, I’m not even a writer. I’m just someone who absorbed what he could, and passed on as much as possible, while in the midst of some experiences.  When those experiences were done, my urge to write about them was done too.

I write now, after a deliberate stop to the post-post-deployment entries a couple of years ago, because the good people at The Sandbox have given me the opportunity to add a new post from AfghaniDan as they wind down that impressive collection of milblogs from the past two wars.  Not to sound like an acceptance speech, but I give them enormous credit for ending their valuable web page in such a way.

ANA cadets await a concert, Kabul, 10/21/10

For the purpose of a standard timeline check, and just to make this feel like even more as if I’m in a confessional, it’s been more than three years since I returned from the last deployment and four exactly since I was heading to Camp Lejeune for another inprocessing cluster---k.  It was eight (!) years ago this month that I took part in Operation Mountain Lion in Kunar Province during my first deployment to Afghanistan.  And just for the heck of it, it’s been 14 years exactly since I was in Kosovo with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, reinforcing a thin NATO peacekeeping contingent amidst a nervous population, thinking that was the hairiest thing we would be doing for a while (in fairness, most of us thought that).

Afghanistan elects a new president in two days, and Taliban attacks intended to disrupt it have failed, though they’ve brutally slain innocents and beloved patriots.  As our international coalition sharply draws down its numbers there, it is finally true that Afghan national security forces have the lead.  March closed as the first month in over seven years with zero American fatalities, while still we have military personnel and civilians heading over (the media rarely bother to explain troop rotations).  Welcome to 2014, the ‘year of transition.’

Afghanistan Electoral Alliance (source N/A)

I’d like to say the world has watched, or at least our nation has, as this era of American/NATO intervention in Afghanistan has flowed, ebbed, flowed, and ebbed again…but if you’ve paid attention, you’ve been in the distinct minority.  That’s one of the reasons it’s bracing to hear the chattering class bring up “America’s longest war” when a milestone is passed, because only the very few and far between have maintained any awareness of their nation being “at war.”  Over there, of course, it’s a different story, but in many settings, including the most populated ones, daily life generally has a normalcy to it.  A normalcy that’s often closely related to the presence of large numbers of international forces, if not directly feeding off the odd system that seemed as if it would retain semi-permanence for decades, but a normalcy nonetheless.  I tried to highlight that as my observations shifted from those of a fairly clueless newcomer to those of a more attuned participant, and one located mainly in Kabul in the advisory go-round.

Fruit vendors, Kabul, 10/31/10

Was it worth it?  Gen. Jim “Chaos” Mattis (ret.) – he who commanded the initial Marine Expeditionary Brigade that swept into the south of Afghanistan in 2002, before achieving far greater responsibility, fame and notoriety in Operation Iraqi Freedom and eventually at US Central Command – opined recently on the question of whether it was “worth it” for those who served in these conflicts (as my readers may recall, I’m not a fan of lumping the two together, but that’s apparently how it was asked and answered in this case).  The “Warrior Monk” went on to break down his answer in terms of national strategy and personal considerations, and while it’s all worth a read, it’s the latter that truly resonated with me.  These are summaries by the piece’s author, not direct quotes…

For veterans, "Was it worth it?" should be intensely personal. The focus should be on experiences while deployed and since returning home. What sorts of relationships were formed at war? How deep and rewarding were they? How have you stayed in touch with your buddies since returning home? Have you been able to integrate into civil society in a healthy and sustainable way?
You have some control over the answer to these questions, even if doesn't feel like it a lot of the time. This is where the ultimate judgment must reside for each of us. We claim - or lose - that mantle through our actions.


Iraq and Afghanistan vets pull no punches with General Mattis

Without subjecting you poor readers to a point-by-point breakdown, my reflections confirmed what I’ve long felt…that I’ve failed pretty miserably at reintegration, i.e. becoming a civilian, and that I’ve led a transient postwar existence.  I wasn’t exactly sticking to one career like glue before a return to service and the subsequent deployments, anyway, so if it wasn’t serving in Afghanistan twice (and in a few other scattered commands) as a Marine, who knows what my job(s) might have been.  But that jolt, that incredible jolt, of being on high alert and in incredibly heady situations for months on end, only to return to some place you idealized but instead seems to be fraught with uninteresting choices…that has played quite a role in my lack of a healthy and sustainable reintegration.

This reflection business is harder than I even thought it would be.  I won’t say every day is a struggle, the way it is for so many brothers- and sisters-in-arms, because for me that’s not always the case…I get to escape the doldrums, sometimes through my ongoing positions through the Reserve, sometimes outside of it completely, and not everyone is so lucky.  We’re all dealing with different shit, and as I was recently reminded, just about every single veteran refers to some who had it worse.  Still, it is never far from my mind how easy I have it, compared to the challenges in adjusting to postwar life that must be faced by the war's casualties: the multiple amputees, the traumatic brain injuries, the PTSD sufferers who struck an IED one day, or more than once…

Daybreak at Camp Mike Spann, 11/8/10

It was a welcome break from my issues, and a distinct honor, to spend two weeks recently augmenting the staff of the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment as they staged the Marine Corps Trials in Camp Pendleton, CA.  The event is an extraordinary international competition among teams from the regiment’s east and west battalions, nine allies ranging from Colombia to the Republic of Georgia, as well as Marine Corps veterans who’ve been discharged but still qualify to compete.  I can’t imagine another experience that could be so simultaneously humbling and inspiring as this one was.  If you’re looking for the true warrior spirit, you need look no farther than the wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans of these games, or of the more widely known Wounded Warrior Games…

“I thought, ‘I need to get out of this funk. The world’s not going to stop moving, I need to get out and do something with my life,’” Sears said.

Battling it out at the Marine Corps Trials, 3/11/14
  
Marine overcomes obstacles, becomes mentor to peers

“Try and make it far enough…to the next time zone”  - Son Volt
- One of those lyrics that just stays in my head, after many long drives across and around the country over the past few years

Life isn’t bad in Colorado, despite constant indecision that has me stuck spinning my wheels.  If this was a video post, I’d probably do a voiceover with scenes of my energetic jackal-dog Daly playing, with the Rocky Mountains beyond.  It wasn’t bad on balance in the self-imposed exile to Miami either, or back in New York City before the western spirit ever succeeded in calling me out here.  But when it’s too much to unpack your boxes, filled as they are with smaller, more compact collections of notes, contacts, receipts, gifts sent to you overseas or ones you bought for others but never sent, REMINDERS all…you’re left to wonder if normalcy will ever arrive.

Was it worth it?  I guess “Mad Dog” Mattis is right (gotta get every major nickname of his in there)…it’s intensely personal.  How Afghanistan does in the next few years will certainly factor into my answer, as mission success has been defined for a good while now as a stable and secure nation.  But even if it’s deemed a ‘failed state’ once again, that would be due to so many more factors than how ably U.S. and allied troops performed their given missions.  For me it was worthwhile.

Cramped ride, Herat City, 11/4/10

If you’re enough the empathetic type, or just ever the overthinker, or especially both, you understand more and more why some adrenaline junkies (be they security pros, aid workers, journalists, many others) never stop traveling to the latest conflicts.  You also understand how the least fortunate lose hope entirely, how all the goddam flailing just gives way to morose resignation that some get left behind.  No matter how empathetic or not you may be, you don’t want to see another one go down that awful road.  And you definitely understand the pull of returning to a place where you fought for something, worked your tail off for something, sacrificed for something, and bonded with those who’d give their last breath for their country – or a stranger’s country – to make it.

Tonight I attended an event called “Failure to Communicate: Homefront Myths of Veterans and Civilians”, put on by Veterans Helping Veterans Now (VHVN), a group with which I was unfamiliar.  I usually avoid veterans’ organizations entirely, likely to my detriment, but I was compelled to check out this discussion.  With a new approach, its stated goal was for community members and veterans to come together and break down reintegration stereotypes.  Interesting concept, I thought, all the more so because of my difficulties in moving beyond Marine duty orders and becoming a part of the fabric of a community, whatever that means.

Krak and me, 8 years later… Boulder CO, 4/2/14

A bonus feature was that the guest speaker would be Jon Krakauer, the bestselling author I’d met in Afghanistan as he began the embed for what would become “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman”.  Reconnecting with him was great, but what really stuck with me is what he pointed out in his humble remarks: that after volunteering for years now with VHVN, he couldn’t believe how many veterans described coming home and adjusting to ‘normal’ life as much harder than anything they experienced over there.  In the group chats that followed, I expressed a similar sentiment and seemingly for the first time, saw that fellow veterans – of a few different eras – fully understood and could relate. 

Up until that moment, I was still gripped with fear of telling a few strangers that I’m still figuring out what to do with myself after Afghanistan…but once I did, and found no judgment there, the relief was extraordinary.  It was a fitting ending to the days I’d spent contemplating what I’d write in this space in order to sign off as AfghaniDan. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

No one is safe

Ministry of the Interior, Kabul...where two advisors were murdered.

That is hyperbole, dear readers.  Most of our men and women in uniform, and those in civilian roles, are plenty safe...a lot safer than they'd be in some neighborhoods in our own country.  Those inside the wire, at large and secure bases -- which is something like 90% -- stand little chance of coming under any form of attack.  So this is not about them, and it's not about the trigger-pullers who've shouldered the lion's share of risk all along.  This is about the advisors, those from NTM-A and elsewhere throughout ISAF who are tasked with partnering with Afghan counterparts in order to get the job done.  And the job is nothing short of leaving a self-sufficient military and police force in place throughout one of the most volatile, unstable places on Earth.

Two American officers were shot dead at close range in Afghanistan's Interior Ministry on Saturday, a U.S. official said, as rage gripped the country for a fifth day... (Feb. 25, 2012)

The Afghan Defense Ministry went into a near-total lockdown on Tuesday after the discovery of 10 suicide vests and the arrests of more than a dozen Afghan soldiers suspected of plotting to attack the ministry... (March 27, 2012)

What's next?  Those on the job can't worry about that, despite the fact that Kabul seems to grow dicier every day.  The brass are attempting to mitigate the risk, by protecting advisors with assigned "guardian angels" who will watch their backs.  But I keep thinking back to two fellow advisors who were shot in cold blood at the Ministry of the Interior, in a building I often visited as one of my duties.  What would have prevented one of the ubiquitous guards from doing that, short of our treating a routine meeting like clearing a hostile building, sweeping rooms in full kit with rifle barrel first?  

June 2010: The then-peaceful grounds of MoI


An eager new guard we knew...would you trust him now?

I think now of the Ministry of Defense, to which I walked literally every day and sat for chai with my colleagues.  The morning routine was to squeeze into the office in which a dozen or so Afghan officers and soldiers would already be packed, to be offered a chair at their insistence (accepted only after the due amount of refusal), and to exchange pleasantries and small talk for a while before getting down to business.  Can I imagine that routine with a couple of armored-up soldiers crammed in there too, staring down the collection of guys in suits?  Or the more spacious sessions with Maj. Gen. Azimi?  No way.  In fact, when a few officers from another command joined us at meetings there, wearing their full battle rattle, it was all we could do to keep from busting up laughing...that was the security situation at the time.  But these days, if the presence of an "angel" or two will help prevent a rogue ANA soldier from spraying an AK-47 or detonating a suicide vest, then sure...I get it.  It just sucks.

Insurgents, meet Maj. Daoud.  You're not getting past him.

This is just one piece of an ugly trend, the murdering of Coalition troops by Afghan security forces.  Some argue that it's not a trend, but it's officially the second-highest cause of death for our comrades so far this year.  It's one hell of a successful tactic for an insurgency, and not a new one.  In some cases, the bad guys just luck out, reaping the benefit when an argument spins out of control, compounded by vast cultural barriers, resulting in a shooting.  That may be what happened earlier this week, when a pair of British troops were killed while on guard duty by an ANA officer.  Even when such tragic incidents weren't as common, we'd discuss and debate the 'end game'...how is it possible to equip and train a force of almost 300,000 new guys without taking on the chance that an occasional insurgent (or just a fed-up, stressed-out, ready-to-snap Afghan soldier) will get trigger-happy when your back is turned?  I guess by now we know that you can't.  And I just hope the trend doesn't continue.

And I wonder if the new MoD HQ ever got built...

In my initial posting of this, the not-even-wee-anymore hours of this morning, I neglected to include a note about the bravery of Spec. Dennis Weichel, and more surprisingly, the coverage of it.  If you're unfamiliar, Weichel was killed while rescuing an Afghan child from a gruesome fate, pushing him out of the way of a rolling military vehicle.  His story went viral by way of a Facebook tribute from his friends, and then the usually anonymous nature of 'cause of death' became public lore seemingly overnight.  The governor of his home state of Rhode Island was even there today to greet him on his final journey home.  To me, that is testament to the power of our rapidly-evolving information age: the groundswell of emotion once the story was out forced the more mainstream forms of media into coverage.  It's a more useful method all around than attempting to guilt people into it by way of a 'Whitney Houston vs. noble service members' comparison, which really goes nowhere.


For more on Spec. Weichel, and on the routine-yet-heroic actions of a medical unit in Paktika province, see the link below.  Our field hospitals and the daily work they do, almost always treating Afghans, and the crews who transport the injured, the sick and the dying, are some of the strongest recurring examples of the goodwill our men and women do sow...a rare chance to set aside the politics of 'why' and 'should' in order to see the best of humanity...


Good Deeds in Afghanistan Interrupt the Grim Narrative


Friday, March 16, 2012

Fallout from the massacre



[Ed. note: This was actually put together two weeks ago, as the date implies - it just didn't post until 3/31 because once again I was trying to align/fix messed-up fonts...to no avail, as you can see. Sorry.]


Karzai asks NATO to leave Afghan villages


...the headlines scream.  Various press accounts state that according to President Karzai, "international security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to (larger) bases" since "all efforts have to be done to avoid such incidents in the future."

Protesters in Jalalabad (AFP/Getty Images)

This is of course due to the biggest shit sandwich yet, one I haven't yet written about: the bloody rampage of an apparently unhinged American soldier, who slaughtered 16 civilians in their Kandahar homes on Sunday.  The news of the rampage sickened everyone who heard about it, and it outraged much of Afghanistan's population...it didn't take much awareness to realize immediately, even half a world away, how strategically significant a setback this could be.  Of course at the same time, Karzai's response angers me, reminding anyone paying attention that his words and actions are always -- ALWAYS -- those of an opportunistic politician: "The massacre hurt the trust Afghans had in foreign forces." 


So his solution is to vacate the towns and villages.


True enough about trust taking a hit, but reverting to the unsuccessful feudal-colonial system of imposing security from only behind massive fortresses will rebuild that trust?  That is ridiculous.  One of the great failings of this entire counterinsurgency strategy was the amount to which that very approach dictated troop employment and operations for years, thereby sequestering the (menacing, sci-fi-looking, giant) Americans and their allies from the people who needed to get to know us and trust us...thereby surrendering the true battlefield -- the population centers -- to the enemy.  


July 2010: Women in a village outside Kabul


Karzai is doing what he always does in these situations: he's biding his time while gauging the lasting impact of the calamity of the moment, and then acting to personally capitalize on it.  ISAF is doing what it actually does a better job of lately: immediately and profusely apologizing, though to little avail since anger over the Quran burnings remains at a high level.  And the rest of us are trying to comprehend how one soldier can walk solo off an outpost and without an official mission, and how he can snuff out the lives of women and children whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Jalalabad again: more protests (AP Photo)


It's an irresponsible practice to speculate as to what went on in the head of Staff Sgt. Bales.  Just as it's irresponsible of columnists in the United States and elsewhere, sitting safely and comfortably in their homes and offices, to deduce that it's the deployment cycle that did this.  Correct me if I'm wrong here, but at last count over 100,000 of our uniformed military have deployed three or more times without incident in this Long War.  So let's not chalk up the seemingly psychotic actions of a soldier who may or may not have just "snapped" to the fact that he was on deployment #4, or that he was exacting an irrational revenge because a buddy lost a leg previously.  The experts exhibit a collective shrug on the issue...which is worrisome.


“I think it’s definitely disappointing that we don’t know. I wish we did,” says retired Navy captain William Nash, a psychiatrist studying resiliency in Marine battalions.


Multiple deployments’ effects unknown on troops


I'm worried, as many are, about the effect this will have on trust (there's that word again).  Not just the larger trust referenced above -- that which the people must place in forces deployed far from home to protect them -- but more specifically, the mutual trust between Afghan security forces and their ISAF advisors.  Whether it's the team of colonels and civilians advising the Minister of Defense or the fire team of Marine NCO's imparting driving lessons to a platoon of green Afghan National Army soldiers, there must be a bond stronger than mere understanding.  There must be a belief that the other party is also risking something, and for the right reasons...and a conviction that you're on the same side.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mayhem



For once, I don't know what to say.  I've been dwelling on our future in Afghanistan all month, long before fellow advisors were shot dead in a ministry where I would sometimes work, long before the riots even kicked up.  And now, for what seems like the first time in over ten years, everyone everywhere has something to say...few, of course, know what the hell they're talking about (in my humble opinion).  Some certainly do.  I'll attempt to discuss in a following the post the tragic killings at the Interior Ministry, and the grave fallout from that.

Some background, in case you're just catching up...

Afghanistan Koran protests claim more lives

An Afghan friend asked in an email the very same question that baffled my former comrades as we discussed the incident that triggered it all, the day it became widespread public news... Why would they burn the holy Quran of all things, and if they had to, why on earth would they leave evidence of that for Afghans to see?  This has all been pretty well obscured by everything that has transpired since, as Americans in increasing numbers angrily demand that we leave, now.  But it's so incredibly frustrating.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, has presented such convincing evidence that we just aren't learning a thing, if members of our coalition -- 11 years into this conflict -- order the burning of the population's most sacred relic...and then leave half-charred examples behind for locals to discover.


Some apologists have pointed out the reason for the burnings: detainees were passing inscriptions to each other in the texts.  Well then, handle it delicately...urge Afghan authorities to deal with it appropriately, for example.  And don't claim from the highest levels later that it was inadvertent.  Others have said, "So what? It's just a book! Now people are dying."  That is true...but it belies a grave misunderstanding of how fragile an environment this counterinsurgency presents.  You play the hand you're dealt, and the hand we've been dealt is Afghanistan, with all its immense challenges and sensitivities.  You cannot hope to win over a population when you're found to be burning their Quran...that should have been made 100% crystal clear by now.


Some personal context is relevant here.  When a previously obscure "pastor" named Terry Jones (pardon my cynicism over that title -- he lacks even a degree in theology) decided to make a point by announcing his plans to burn copies of the Quran in 2010, it ignited a round of deadly rioting in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world...just based on the intention of a few radicals in Florida.  He relented then after public pressure from many, including Gen. Petraeus, but then would eventually do it anyway after a "trial" in March 2011, and further mortal riots ensued.  It was evident from my conversations with Afghan colleagues, based solely on the threat, that it mattered little how relatively insignificant this man was and what his rights are in the United States.  What mattered the most to them, as senior military officers and Defense Ministry officials, was how this act would go over with the Afghan people...since it reflected upon US troops, and Afghan government and military by extension, a dark stain of insult to their religion and way of life.  Those perceptions were emphasized over and over throughout that period, by thoughtful and intelligent men who want only stability and progress for their country.

Protestors outside Bagram, eight days ago.

We spoke often, with our counterparts/advisees and within our training command, of the repercussions from Jones's intention, and that's what we were trying to prevent by bitterly opposing 'statements' such as that.  Many in the United States angrily denounced the good general and others who took that stand, in the interest of our protected right to free speech and (I believe) a genuine desire that Afghans would begin to show greater tolerance for viewpoints at odd with theirs.  But it's simply impractical, as those on the ground know too well.  Our mission, at least in my training-focused command, was to build the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and institutions so that they could protect their people and gain their trust.  We were trusted by our colleagues, but the 99.99% of Afghans without international advisors had no one to trust but their family/tribal/religious leaders, who saw a culture in their midst that would burn their holy book.  And regardless of the circumstances, that's what they see now...only it's being done directly by those in uniform.

Meanwhile, the fighting among armed combatants continues, far from the glare of Kabul and the other cities.  This could have (should have) been the story of last week...

Marines sweep uncharted areas of Khan-Neshin during Operation Highland Thunder


Or even better, this could have been it.  It warms a skier's heart, that's for sure...as it should the heart of anyone who would like to see a positive sign of peace and stability in Afghanistan...

Afghanistan set to host second national ski race


Friday, February 03, 2012

Groundhog Day: Peace?

Note: I have absolutely no idea what is going on with the spacing and font sizes on blogger.com.  I've tinkered with it endlessly, and what's on my editing screen winds up nothing like what displays.  It should be single-spaced, and in a consistent font you can easily read.  Just know that I'm frustrated...and may need a new template or entirely new hosting site.


This time last year...CO-bound from NC


I continue to look back a bit lately, as almost every date over the past few weeks brought to mind something or other from a year prior.  It's not as if the days of January and early February 2011 were so individually significant once I was stateside and reunited with family and friends, but they're etched in my consciousness as reminders, at least for now.  I think a great deal of the previous year's emotions, observations and frustrations were jammed up, and I was much more interested in enjoying the fruits of a existence uncontained by wire and guard posts than I was in processing that weighty jumble.


Jan '11: happy arrival at BWI with a new old friend

1/31/11: Arapahoe Basin, CO - Hindu Kush with lifts

1/31/11: Skiing = welcome break from the blues


Almost anyone who's been deployed at length, whether on ship or out in remote FOBs, will tell you that Groundhog Day holds a special meaning.  Not Feb. 2nd per se, but the phenomenon that the Bill Murray movie made all too real: the sinking feeling that every single day is merely a repeat of the last.  It's a very STUCK feeling.




As predictability is about the last quality I regularly seek in a routine, I've come to realize that I experience more of that sensation now than I did in Kabul.  The major difference, of course, is that it's within my power to change my current situation, whereas orders are orders, and responsibilities require a certain daily diligence.  It was anything but an ordinary day for me six years ago, when I attended my first memorial service in theater...


AfghaniDan: Farewell to a brave Marine


Rather than a large rodent anyway, I prefer to think of the 2nd of February as the birthday of James Joyce...properly commemorated in my college days with a session of music and reading of passages from the iconic author at a local pub -- to this day I thank you, Dr. Jim Murphy, for that fine tradition.


"There is not past, no future; everything flows in an eternal present."


On to the present... Peace talks.  If you're looking to become seriously baffled by what exactly is taking place -- or about to take place -- or possibly about to potentially take place, in Qatar -- or Saudi Arabia -- or Qatar and Saudi Arabia simultaneously, feel free to continue reading.  Here's a choice quote...


It is also not clear whether the United States would welcome two tracks of talks, especially if it is excluded from one track, though American officials have said often that any negotiations would ultimately have to be “Afghan to Afghan.”

Got that?  It's clear as mud, even by US-Afghan diplomacy standards.


Afghan Officials Consider Own Talks With Taliban


Aref Karimi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


Perhaps it feels like Groundhog Day for the Afghan people in the larger scheme of things, with generally a longer view of history and the forces taking shape, despite a much shorter average life span...for it looks to me like a sequel to the devastating civil wars of the 1990's could still take shape unless the will of the people prevent it.  Coalition forces are exiting over the next two years, the reconstituted and confident Taliban enjoys the support of Pakistan's ISI and will almost certainly at least share power, and the former Northern Alliance would like to preserve strong ties with the West but is severely hampered by the rampant corruption associated with it.  Most Afghans say that the public does not want draconian Taliban rule, and I believe they are right, but with a crucial qualifier: given the choice between Sharia-backed law and order and unchecked corruption, I believe the rural majority currently fence-sitting will choose the former once again...and in a land where 75% of the population lives in rural areas (wait, that's a utopian's dream, right?), that's enough to force at least a split if not a tragic re-run.

While I don't take every word of what I've read from the report at face value (and neither should you, for reasons laid out in the article), it would be foolhardy to dismiss it entirely.  Brig. General Jacobson's cautions are relevant -- this is largely the perspective of the recently-detained being interrogated, and there are likely various motives for saying what they say -- but to then add this comment could strike the public as being very...inflexible.  


"No reason for ISAF or the Coalition to believe that there is anything to be changed."


Excerpts from the report itself can be found in the link below...I think it's an important enough compilation to peruse.  You may notice that I did something below against my inclination toward complete editing integrity, and changed the BBC's capitalization manipulation of NATO.  I'm sorry, BBC...yes, you're English and all, and should be the authority on this, but it's not "Nato" and it's not "Isaf", which turns them into what could be mistaken as Finnish and Algerian first names, respectively (no offense to either culture).  They are organizational proper names, in all capitals.  I'm waving the American flag and not relenting on this one.


A more optimistic view of prospects for peace is espoused by Yahya Massoud, brother of the late national hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud.  It's worth a read for its insight and advised course of action, though I'm afraid that a key component of his approach involves a robust ISAF presence locking down the border with Pakistan -- something that increasingly looks to be unavailable as an option, as Coalition troops depart and turn over areas to Afghan security forces.

This passage in particular stood out, as it falls within my former 'lane'...

So far, the government has missed an opportunity to use the media to advertise the Taliban's shortcomings and rally its supporters in popular protests against the insurgency. The voice of the people must be heard on this matter. Media, civil society, and local leaders should open channels to express popular resentment against the Taliban -- and ISAF and the Afghan security forces should publicly commit to ensuring their safety when they undertake these efforts.

I believe he has a good point, in that the government (starting at the very top) can do much more to criticize the Taliban and rally the opposition...but that's the intent of a government looking to strike a deal with that opposition.  There, clearly, is the divide between President Karzai and his former allies.  Resentment of the movement is expressed by other officials more often, most notably the Ministries of Defense and the Interior, but their orders come directly from the presidential palace too.  The problem with ISAF committing to ensuring safety of leaders down to the local level is that it's foolhardy to make promises that can't be kept, and too much of that has happened already.  Despite the best of intentions and the most diligent of security, breaches happen and informing happens...too much, in some quarters.



A closing excerpt, also from brother Massoud, serves as a poignant reminder to those who -- in the interest of peace, withdrawal or general naivete -- believe that a kinder, gentler Taliban is upon us...

Indeed, the Taliban are prepared to go very far in their jihad. They will spare no human life or piece of their country's history in their attempt to remake Afghanistan in their image. If it were within their powers, they would not even stop with the sun.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

One year later...

It wasn't this one, I am sure...

It was perfectly bizarre, and ironic, and somehow appropriate, to see and hear a helicopter in the airspace ahead of me as I left the Boulder Vets Center today.  There are rarely helos ("choppers" if your service insists on that term) above this town, so rare that it's practically jarring to hear the rotors.  It caused me to smile and shake my head, as I'd realized earlier why the dates of January 8 & 10 consciously stood out to me -- they were the dates I left Kabul and Bagram, respectively, one year ago.

Kabul, Jan '11: Conference Room in Winter

Jan '11: Bagram bus stop

Jan '11: Bagram, amidst the haze...

Jan '11: Dawn over Hindu Kush...and barriers

Jan '11: Final departure...for now.

Not that it's the first time I find myself marking the passage of time since a deployment shook me from a completely different life in the U.S. and then returned me half-dazed...but as this latter experience was longer, and somehow more personal, I find that I'm paying more attention to the anniversaries.  The blog has definitely languished again, and for that I'm less than pleased with myself.  There are the experiences I never caught up to recount, as well as the developments and incidents which continue to unfold, including major shifts in strategy, organization and approach.  I'll highlight a couple of those here, and hope still to finally post photos and stories from the archives...and I tremendously appreciate every reader who has encouraged me to keep this active.  While my motivations for blogging from Afghanistan were many, that isn't the case for blogging from here.  In contrast, it's only the occasional urge to keep it up that motivates me to do exactly that, especially a full year removed.

Jan '11: Last glimpse of Afghan mountains...

Dec '11: Usual glimpse of Rocky Mountains

It gets harder and harder to find news out of Afghanistan, which often is attributed to 'war weariness' -- an excuse I truly doubt when such a small percentage of the U.S. population is even aware that the war trudges on.  The news that does emerge usually covers the latest attacks, which tend to occur outside of Kabul, therefore rarely are covered at the site by western media...and therefore lack context as a result.  A typical rundown from today follows, with discouraging news from completely different and unconnected regions cobbled together (and a quote from my old colleague Maj. Gen. Azimi)...

10 die as Taliban storm Afghan government building

More relevant to my forecast from last month's post about bitter divisions coming to the surface between Northern Alliance leaders and Karzai supporters is this intriguing development, brought to my attention by my former colleague and NTM-A counterpart Joe Holstead.  I find it significant that some of the leaders with whom the United States sided in 2001 now feel so threatened by the concentration of power in Kabul and the government's future direction that they openly warn against the peace process that our Coalition officially supports, something not much heard openly just a year or so ago...

AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop

Afghan opposition urges caution in Taliban talks

I hope to have more on-scene accounts of the 'view from the ground' as some good friends are either back in parts of Afghanistan now in various capacities, or on their way.  In addition, my cousin should be on the ground there by late Spring, and my younger brother continues to play an unheralded part in the war effort, as he and his soldiers train Jordanian forces to serve in the Coalition.  I look upon their deployments with a big brother's concern, but I admit a touch of envy too, as the restlessness rises to not only find relevance again in this pivotal struggle, but to see my Afghan friends again, and to witness firsthand the changes that are sure to come in the next couple of years.

Finally, here's wishing everyone a very belated Sal-e Now Mubarek (Happy New Year)!  I joined the Twitter beast at last, and have been forwarding insight, analysis & updates on Afghanistan -- I post much more often when it doesn't keep me up all night.  Follow me: @ MayorDelMundo