So I finally made it to the south of Afghanistan, albeit briefly. In my head all along was the idea that I just couldn't NOT see Qandahar (preferring the Q spelling over the K, as it sounds more like how Afghans say it), and I even tried every lever I could to serve down here for the last couple of months of my last deployment. This time I traveled for an advisory mission, and wish I could have stayed longer for the 3 days I squeezed in. Above is my first view of the area beyond the gigantic airfield: an expensive-looking foot bridge I deemed the area's own "bridge to nowhere" and the Soviet era apartments beyond, which are used for senior officer (+ families) housing...despite still being visibly bomb-damaged from the war.
Another night spent in an airport was this time a rewarding one, as I spoke with my travel companions Dagarwaal (Colonel) Sobhan and Jagran (Major) Akhtar about the extensive problems inhibiting Afghanistan's progress, and how we should best work together to counter them. Our fourth member, my friend Esmat, was absolutely essential to translating such a discussion. Sobhan, who I'm convinced is somehow a relative on my Dad's Irish side of the family, was with me to attend the regional Afghan National Army corps' communications conference and hold meetings with their public affairs officer. Akhtar just needed an escort back to his unit in order to fly on Coalition air, and had been stranded in Kabul for weeks.
I immensely enjoyed getting their perspectives, even if it did mean battling sheer exhaustion and pesky flies for 4 hours in a dimly lit coffee shop with no coffee (but occasional tea) while we waited for delayed manifesting of the next flight south. Somehow I think I'll always remember our shared dinner of my collective snack foods: trail mix, granola bars, Clif bars, beef jerky and cranberry-flavored buffalo jerky (the Tanka Bites above). God bless you care package senders! We didn't have to simply observe Ramazan early, as the colonel suggested, in lieu of food.
It is hot as Hell down there, as you'd expect, though really I caught a bit of break in the weather...no 120's. The Gulf-like mugginess does permeate the air, and throws up a sort of morose haze around everything all day. But the conditions of life in a small camp, far more spartan than cosmopolitan Kabul in comparison, are actually pleasant in their simplicity, and more than worth the getaway from 'the flagpole'. Even better was the enhanced ability at the operational level between advisors and Afghan colleagues to actually train...something occasionally lost in the Kabul shuffle of parallel or overlapping chains of command, and mixed up lines of administration and cooperation all over the place.
The above are scenes of an ANA PAO in action. That's Afghan National Army Public Affairs Office, if you're not following the acronyms. The interpreter asked me why every American has something to say about the Yankees (he doesn't know what they are) because of his hat, as he just likes it because it says NY. So now I wonder how much of the hated empire's worldwide merchandising is just due to that...
More to follow...