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

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Social Studies

Afghan and AfghaniDan, celebrating peace

This entry started off as a short current events piece, which is virtually impossible to do when one wishes to give background and context to an Afghan update.  So it got a bit longer, as tends to happen with wordy types who never even needed to kiss the Blarney Stone...and I remembered that only on social media did I post the photos from last month's UN International Day of Peace festival in Kabul, which I attended along with Maj. General Azimi and his aide.  It was a fairly incredible day, to be commemorating the victims of war and expressing hope for world peace right in the heart of one of the world's most unstable regions.  Here are a few of the unforgettable moments, before my lecturin' begins...

Gateway to a war-free zone, next to a banner of Afghanistan's greatest modern war hero.

"Brothers don't shake hands...brothers gotta HUG!"
Now that's a nice start to Peace Day.

Drawing a crowd is easy when you're handing out kites.

Jagran "De Niro" Dawod

All about the peace dove.

The general and his muscle check out the class tent...

As students discuss the terms "peace" and "violence."

Tomb of Nadir Khan, popular kite destination. 

And on this day, music destination!  The band warms up.

Little man gets a front and center spot for the concert.

While Afghans working for peace schmooze with Azimi.

So, the update I promised, then more happy snaps.  In the south (and in the news), there are much-heralded clearing operations taking place in Kandahar province, which indeed seem to be demonstrating a growing capability on the part of the Afghan National long as one views it with saintly patience.  But with a military effort in its tenth year and political considerations at home being what they are, there isn't much stomach for patience from a nation of the "war fatigued", so we hear -- to the extent Americans are aware of the ongoing war at all.  What it means for us in HQ land is a frenzy of metrics and measurements, because progress by the NATO Lisbon Conference in November means progress for the U.S. Government review in December, which leads directly to decisions about plans for 2011 and the start of withdrawal, transition, whatever it is now termed when we begin to reduce forces and turn responsibility directly over to the national security apparatus, nascent though it is.  What does all this equal?  PRESSURE.  Pressure to deliver results, and fast.  Which brings us to the increased 'activity' you may have read about recently...

The view from some who've spent long portions of the last decade in Afghanistan is that combat is only truly getting started in the Pashtun belt, which is the swath of the country most amenable to the Taliban and most opposed to U.S./NATO/Coalition presence, and therefore, the government in Kabul.  And even that is not as simple as it sounds...because to many in that key population, 'governance' means that soldiers, bureaucrats and politicians from their traditional enemies in the north are there to exploit and control them.  They tend to take a softer line toward relations with Pakistan in the south and east, and family and tribe alone account for much of that.  It's in these regions that the closely-watched reintegration (swaying insurgents to switch sides) and reconciliation (peace deals) programs will succeed or fail in their respective goals...goals that are seen as crucial to any potential end of conflict.  And that's only one rudimentary explanation of one corner of the tangled web that is weaved here.

Of course in other parts of the country, sympathies can be found with other regional 'actors': Iran (west), Turkmenistan (northwest), Uzbekistan (north), Tajikistan (northeast)...and India, which allies in some form with any or all of the above as it plays Afghanistan as its proxy in the endless bloody dispute with Pakistan.  These subplots are all manifested in some way here in the capital, plus the significant involvement of the always-squeezed and oft-subjugated Hazara, likely descendants of the Mongols who have occupied much of the country's central regions for many centuries.  Mix it all together and you get a sense of why I actually felt relief after the much-maligned election day last month (three days before these photos), rather than disappointment...there were many attacks, there was widespread fraud, but the nation didn't fall apart.

View of Kabul from the hill top.

"So General, when is it OUR turn?"
This young talent got the best interview of the day.

"And now it's time...for the Feats of Strength!"

The kids left out of festivities probed for a break-in opportunity...
(Check out the guy bolting into view from the left!)

And found great success.  Hallelujah, the floodgates opened!

Waving the flag of peace with schoolchildren...

As a thousand balloons are released into the azure sky.

I thought this a cool scene...peace balloons and Massoud.

Normalcy, even relatively, is a beautiful thing.

I got snagged for an interview of my own that day.

And I'm pretty sure the rust showed through.  
Ah well, who follows the Associated Press, anyway?

Speaking of AP, two quotes from this recent story grabbed me...the first is a common refrain even in Kabul.  I've heard it numerous times as an excuse.  The second is just hard to argue.  And it's the immediate thought that comes to mind each time I hear that a clearing operation is going faster than expected.

"They always ask us, 'why do you need our help anyway? You're the ones with the guns ... you have the planes, you have the helicopters,'" Martin said.

Today, U.S. troops are knee-deep in a classic guerrilla war, in what sometimes seems to be an endless turf battle against an often-invisible enemy that fights one minute, pretends to farm the next.

In my own (albeit limited) operational experience in eastern Afghanistan, an absence of enemy fighters means that they have left, to safer locales for the time being or across the border for a longer stay, with perhaps some staying behind to play the part of the neutral local.  Time is on the side of those who look to wait out our involvement, obviously...and so the keys to success are nothing short of capable and proficient Afghan government, economy, military, local security, etc.  But remember, it's NOT nation building! 

Somehow the guy on the left is the "Advisor"

It was a good day.  Hoping once again for more of them.


Blogger Joneser said...

Great post--you are spot-on about how, even after all this time, so many people in the US have no idea about what our troops are doing and trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. Your blog helps people like me understand it better. And the pics are amazing, especially the one with the kids waving the flag of peace. Very powerful.

October 24, 2010 at 7:09 PM  
Blogger yomistast said...

as your brother said after the yankees were eliminated, "the immortal words of Ice Cube 'I gotts say it was a good day."

Sorry I've been slacking with the posts, but I think I'm all caught up. See you soon.

October 24, 2010 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger FrenchFried said...

Always an interesting reading. Thanks to your posts, I get to learn a bit of what is positively going on in Afghanistan, a country somehow forgotten in Europe.
Keep up with the good job.
Read you soon

October 25, 2010 at 7:46 AM  
Anonymous LilSisArmyWife said...

Very interesting, as always. Thanks for helping to clarify somewhat a very complicated situation...with wit and good photos at that!
One question: Were the Airing of Grievances before or after Feats of Strength?

October 26, 2010 at 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, thank you for your dedication-both for peace, and truth in your quest of peace.

October 26, 2010 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

My thanks to all of you! I would have already decided that it's not worth it if I didn't receive such positive feedback. Peace, indeed...

November 2, 2010 at 2:00 PM  

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