Salaam alaikum, 2011
I don't know about most...judging by what I saw of the camp, the majority were sticking to their usual early bedtimes. I simply went up to the roof of my work building around midnight, lit up a Swisher Sweet (classy, I know -- failed to plan ahead for a cuban or anything), popped open a nonalcoholic Beck's, and stood around freezing for a while with some sailors and airmen who work in the Public Affairs Office for the command. Unlike all of those scenes on CNN of every capital city bursting into a party at the stroke of midnight, Kabul was completely and utterly silent. Honestly, it was refreshing to have a year change over without one of those silly countdowns, which always amuse the hell out of me in a grotesque sort of way. Have you ever stood on the fringes of a party and simply watched as a roomful of people frantically count down to midnight? It's fascinating! But knowing that I could have been doing one of those silly countdowns as it's led by Phish, in Madison Square Garden, with my younger brother...well, that was harder to stomach. Still, this one will be memorable in its own way. That is, if the homecoming tour doesn't demolish my memory entirely.
So what's going on around here as the western calendar turns, you ask? In Kabul, it's politics, politics, and...did I say politics? Everything is political in nature here: the alliances, the business relationships, foreign policy, monetary policy, social policy, and on it goes. Within the bubble, it can be very difficult to gauge how things look to the commanders, foot soldiers, aid workers and others in the field...and as a few seasoned reporters have pointed out, it remains night and day: you get one story in the capital, you see another in the provinces. Now and then, a piece of journalism stands out, and I thought this one to be an astute and honest look at the challenges taken on by the overall commander (and by extension, all 150,000+ NATO/US/Coalition troops and civilians here)...
Washington Post: Questions for Gen. Petraeus
You know, I rant plenty about the frustrations of duty in Kabul...while careful always (I hope) to caveat that with the admission that we do enjoy safety and security here, compared to troops in daily danger in some places around the country. But working under the big flagpole has its upside, which is particularly illustrated when you get to unexpectedly cross paths with some guests of the command you're happy to see around. (What's that, a teaser? Damn straight it is...) Consider especially how marginalized Marines are in the joint forces commands of this city, and everywhere in Afghanistan but for Helmand (aka "Marine-istan"), with very Army-heavy ranking officers, staffs and troops...then you might understand the lift from this surprise.
General Amos, the newly minted Marine Corps Commandant, came to town the other day after spending a whirlwind Christmas visiting every command and outpost in the Southwest of Afghanistan where he could find Marines...which is a lot. Read a bit about it here from a reporter who traveled with him:
(Kabul Shahan, one of many glitzy wedding halls)