Bigwigs & VIPs
Afghan National Army recruiting poster
August 19 was Afghanistan's Independence Day: a fine day to be a friend of the Ministry of Defense, where they hold the largest commemoration of it. As it turns out, it's a short ceremony...and if you're stuck collecting up weapons and sitting it out because your 'friends' didn't tell you that President Karzai's security detail is calling the shots and won't permit them anywhere nearby -- even on Coalition troops -- well, you just might miss it. But at least you could still get to see lots of colorfully attired folk mingle on their way out from it!
The grounds of MoD: miles of roses, with TV Hill in the background.
Alas, my mutts Casper & Shaamook are still absent for Ramazan...I hope they've got a second home for the month! So this bomb-sniffing shepherd had to stand in for them on this day.
Those who remember Sesame Street, please sing with me now: "One of these guys just does-n't belong here!"
Standing center group, just to the right of the bold Navy chief in cammies, is Minister Wardak, one of the country's most powerful figures. The Soviet-style uniforms are something that a lot of us would love to see change. To many Afghans, they are still indicative of a dark era...and to many Coalition advisors who work to build and modernize an Afghan army, they are too indicative of an overly centralized system of patronage. There is hope in some honest leaders, including even a few of the old hands, to set things right. But as with everything, it takes time, and we are racing against a clock...
Yodel time! I didn't get to meet this signore, but something tells me his has got to be a Tyrolean regiment.
Speaking of Soviets, look at this...real live Russians in Afghanistan! Grabbing the opportunity to pose with the Naval Attache and his very KGB-reminiscent cohort, in the unlikeliest of lands.
Another irresistible one for Chief's wall...a pose with a British officer. Naturally, Independence Day is the 91st anniversary of the treaty ending the THIRD Anglo-Afghan war. As I've joked to a few of our allies by now, "Don't you guys ever learn? Now we're mixed up in it!"
"Hey what's going on down the road?"
"I heard AfghaniDan was here, and with a camera!"
"Well, quick - distract him with General Joe Kool and Afghan Obi Wan Kenobe!" Done.
Here are a few more, shot by the skillful Davis, who was NOT high on Meow Meow at the time...
Even the top dog has a smile for this guy's lens.
So the unusual couple of days didn't end there. On Friday the word went out to interested parties to meet with Sen. John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for lunch. Being neither a resident of Massachusetts nor a current eater of daytime meals, I wasn't initially tempted. But having never taken up one of these VIP occasions, and interested in doing my part to give visiting government officials the straight scoop on how it's going here, I showed up anyway...
"So YOU'RE the guy writing all those Yankees-bashing posts? Bravo!"
"Thanks, JK! It's in my blood!"
"Did I tell you this guy was a riot, or what?"
The laughter in the photo is honestly baseball-related, as he was glad to meet a Sox fan letting him know the latest standings...something I haven't tracked well myself this deployment, but what can I say -- my bro Paddy and sis Kate do their best to keep me up to speed. Kerry's first question when he sat down, after politely making the rounds of introductions and filling his plate at the buffet, was where I was sitting...so we could share the hope that if Boston can't make a miracle run with an injury-decimated team, Tampa Bay can beat out the Yankees for the division. Hey, I can charm just about anyone.
As the photographer put it, Sen. Kerry makes an "Uh oh" face when the AfghaniDan is talking...
Regardless of one's political leanings (and I know that the entire political spectrum is represented among readers of this blog), you would probably have been impressed at the senator's approach to this lunch. After the quick baseball bit, he turned to all of us and asked for our honest opinions on how the training effort is going, how the Afghan people are responding lately, and so forth. It was a candid conversation, and I took the opportunity to share what I hear from my host colleagues regarding pervasive corruption and popular support for the insurgency in places vs. support for the Afghan government.
"Holy cow! This guy is either full of blarney or gunnin' for my seat!"
(Ed. note: I most certainly am, and certainly am not.)
For more on the reasons behind Kerry's sudden visit, see the link below...
Karzai: Anti-corruption units can be independent
(From another story on the Kerry-Karzai meeting came this quote regarding the persistence of corruption at high levels: "It's going to be very, very difficult for us to look American families in the eye and say, 'Hey, that's something worth dying for'.")
An Independence Day banner adorns the trees of the ministry.
For one more glance of Kabul today, here's one that caught the attention of my office. Hash hound harriers here? Yep...and one of the humanitarian doctors recently slain in Badakshan was one, sadly. But they run on...and as one who'd love the freedom to run outside the wire (not to mention, to drink a beer afterward!), I am very envious.
Kabul's frustrated expats run the streets