Kabul from above: Afghan helo!
A view of the city's surrounding farmland, from the window of an Afghan Mi-17 helicopter.
Last week I got to check a most satisfying box: my first transportation by the nascent Afghan Air Force. Accompanying my advisee General Azimi, I flew with a couple dozen others led by the Minister of Defense to a sprawling military training center just outside of town. Let me tell you...given Kabul traffic, there is no other way to travel! But alas, now I've been spoiled.
Our chariots 'turn' for a good while as we await the VIPs...
"Man, guard duty sucks badly enough. But getting blasted with rotor wash, to boot? This is just cruel..."
My new buddies, the first Afghan air crew I've been ferried by.
"Roger, Roger. Over, Ovuert. What's our vector, Victor?"
Dusty, dirty Kabul isn't so bad from above on a beautiful day.
Ladies and gentlemen, your tour today takes you past endless mile of brown land and walled compounds...
...as the Kabul River snakes its way towards the West.
This rectangle of asphalt truly looked bizarre from above: a miniature world, with a formation of tiny toy soldiers in ranks in front of a little fort. I hoped with all my might that they weren't the ones waiting for us, as they stood at attention in the desert sun. It wasn't our destination, so there must have been another reason for the tableau...
I've got to tell you, the ride was as smooth as any helicopter ride I've ever taken. Now, for the downer: I was disappointed to meet American pilots as I approached...they seemed like nice enough gents, but it took some of the fun out. There are Afghan pilots flying these birds, however -- just not enough pf them yet. In fact, it was just announced the other day that more selected flight officers will be heading abroad for training. One of the longer-term goals of this extensive and varied NATO training command is an Afghan flight school, along with dozens of other 'branch schools' for military specialties that are only beginning to open. What you come to realize here (and what you wish important people had thought about, oh, eight years ago) is that it's not enough to train, it's not enough to mentor, it's not enough to advise...if what you seek to build are lasting capabilities in a country that won't easily support them and can't count on massive foreign aid forever, you've got to first build the institutions that will nurture capacity for continued growth. And that takes serious time.
I kept thinking of Machu Picchu during this portion of the flight...it's not hard to conjure up 'ancient' here, even in newly settled areas.
I haven't been posting stories much, but in fairness I've only written a few, and they are usually giving the lowdown from a press conference that English-language media outlets don't seem much interested in. Time doesn't feasibly allow for me to wear a journalist hat here in addition to my duties -- though if it was an old school fedora with a tag in the brim that said "PRESS", I'd think about it. Anyway, here is a brief story about a most unlikely and uplifting event: International Day of Peace, celebrated in a festival in Kabul.
OK, folks -- the wireless upon which I rely for posting photos has proven too brutally slow this early morning to be worth messing with any longer. This concludes our virtual tour of the capital for the most part, anyway. And if anyone out there knows how Blogger's new version of "add photo" allows you to post a vertically oriented one without rotating it to horizontal, please let me know. Crazy Eyes was the only one that worked, out of about a dozen tries. Shab-e khosh! (good night) -AD