Monday, May 24, 2010

Through the Windshield

It's not the worst way to see a country - through a windshield - but it certainly isn't the best. Most of the countries I have visited were safe enough to get out and walk around in. I like visiting markets, eating out at restaurants, chatting with people.
I am lucky that my job requires me to travel. The law that provides our raison d'etre requires four trips a year. I have done eight in the last six months and hope to do at least eight more.

Most often, I am in the back seat when not in Kabul. I am the "guest" of the forces whose job it is to work daily with the Afghan forces or to conduct patrols or (re) construction projects.
I envy them the ability to get "out of the wire" daily and interact with the people. I know it is tremendously frustrating at times for a US Army captain to "train" an Afghan Colonel, but can it be anymore frustrating than another powerpoint presentation?

So while I would prefer to drive, any trip outside of Camp Eggers is by definition a good one.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dogs and Soldiers Keep Out

I apologize for this rant. I normally laugh these things off, but I am using the blog as a form of therapy tonight.

We got kicked out of the US Embassy for swimming yesterday. You'd think there’s a story there. You might think it involves alcohol, nudity, and raucous behavior. Nope. Just the fact that we are soldiers.

The State Department is very jealous of perogatives. We were told that they have very strict and limited funding and so using their washers and dryers, their pool, their volleyball court, would stress the budget to the breaking point.

This would be believable if: we were carting off buckets of water, wheelbarrows full of sand, or even knew where the laundry facilities were and didn't want to use the free laundry service at our camp.

Friday morning until lunch we have "off." This is the only time, perhaps four hours a week, that we could possibly use the pool. And if the State Department people stayed on the Embassy compound and didn't use anyone else's services, then I would find this to be fair.

Of course, this is not reality. They descend like locusts every Friday and Saturday (they get two days off a week, not four hours a week) to strip our camp store, or PX. The line for lunch and dinner swells to hour long waits because of the two hundred or so Staties who come for a change of scenery and barbecued burgers.

I once tried to eat dinner at the Embassy with some FBI types. I was unwelcome. The FBI guys had to pay my way in. Somehow the FBI doesn't consider the Army to be beneath them.

If the military must visit the Embassy for official duties, we are told our weapons must be concealed. Rifles of any sort are forbidden. They are too scary and give the wrong impression that there is a war in Afghanistan.

I guess it's like a country club: the elite Staties with noses in the air and teeth clenched want to keep their lawns green and pool clean while retaining the freedom to slum with the low-class soldiers.

Maybe someone could write a country song, or better, make a movie.

Oh wait, Caddyshack. I just don't want to be Danny.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Driving in Kabul

Writing the instructions for how to drive in Kabul for my office:

1. Don't be stupid.

2. You have the Right of Way when:
- your car is ahead of theirs;
- they hesitate;
- they are smaller than you (most of the time);
- they flinch first;
- you can convince them you are NOT stopping.

3. Stop at intersections - NEVER. Turn left, right or go straight through as if they have the red light every time.
4. Traffic circles in Kabul are not directional - just go where you want to.
5. Stop for National Directorate of Security checkpoints only when the RPG is pointed DIRECTLY at you.
6. If they point the RPG at you, close to within 20 feet as slyly as possible - it won't go off, honest.
7. They are ALL one-way streets - or rather, they are all TWO way streets no matter what the traffic or sign may say...

8. "Smile and wave" or "Cute and Cuddly" are great attitudes to have, but "I will bring all my people home no matter what." is better.

9. Convoy "Success" is measured by Everyone Home Safely. Everything else is negligible.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reality Bites

This photo is in black and white not for effect, but to tone it down. I make light of things on this blog, but there really is a war going on. I wish it were a clean one. As clean as war could be, that is. There haven't ever really been wars in history that involve only the people who want to fight them.

I don't believe that this war will be won with guns. The trite phrase of "winning the hearts and minds" while cliche garbage comes closer to the truth of this war than any other. War is the ultimate expression of politics - persuassion at the end of a gun or the last word in any argument.

This is a war of Information. A war trying to establish the supremecy of ideas and ideology. The gun fire is just for effect. Effect upon the minds of the populace, of the press, of the politicians.

Maybe most wars are fought this way in "modern" times. But with the media of today it is so much more potent and pervasive.

So when President Karzai makes inflamatory remarks against the "West," it is that much more serious. When the NY Times prints an article discussing the supposed hopelessness of our presence here it is an attack against our "cause." And when the USA Today prints an article about the ineffectiveness of the Afghan Government for entertainment purposes and "eyeballs" on their paper, they are playing on the side of the "bad guys."

If it's about ideas and ideology, any support for the "other side's" position or any comment criticizing "our side" no matter how deserved is an attack.

This isn't a call for censorship or a demand for us to develop a propaganda machine. But it is a call to recognize that words are weapons. Today's battlefront may take lives with guns, but the war will be won by one idea proving superior to another. By enough people choosing one idea over another. It may take a gun to protect that idea, but the idea is the thing. Not the gun.

The AK-47 variant, the Chinese Type 56-1 in this picture is an example of an idea - the Russians invented it. The Chinese copied it. An Afghan insurgent got it. Then died with his brains all over it. His idea proved insufficient to the task.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Sometimes pride in your uniform, your job, your appearance is taken just a little far. This was not a joke, this was a real picture of his weapon.
This "jingled" weapon isn't that common, but decorating trucks, weapons, and other implements of war is an age-honored custom here in Afghanistan. I guess pink doesn't carry the same meaning here.
Another thing I have learned to love is the saying "There is NOW and NOT NOW." It's wonderfully zen, but not wonderful for getting things done. We mostly use this in terms of planning or the lack thereof. It doesn't necessarily apply to the Afghans.
We have many many many many many many many (many) chiefs out here. From many (times 50) countries. Each country brings political legitmacy with them - very important that - but also good ideas and political agendas and baggage. This makes getting things planned, resourced and executed challenging.
When putting a plan together, the different parties - coalition and Afghan - all bring different priorities to the table. Their national pride is often at stake. It is often misunderstood, out of place or ridiculous from our perspective. I am sure the policeman in the picture was just bringing a little pride to the formation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I am not sure if this police car impresses me in the attention to detail the police paid to it or....
makes me laugh - or both.
We are out here trying to build an Afghan National Security Force. There are many successes and many failures, but one thing that stares you in the face every day is that the culture here is not all that similar to that in the US.
For example, we issued enough pistols to the Ministry of Interior for every policeman to carry one in the country. One thing we overlooked is that here, only the officers in the organization carry pistols. Regular police carry AK47s. So, in most of the arms rooms I have inspected, boxes of unissued pistols are stacked to the ceiling.
There are many issues with training the police. In my opinion, the biggest is that it is hard for active duty military people to do. It requires a different mind set, an understanding of different culture not just of another country but another service and way of life. Infantrymen are not good policemen.
The funny thing is that the National Guardsmen from the US are much better at this than the regular army guys. They have the experience of performing a very wide variety of jobs that they aren't trained for and so are much more adaptable and flexible. We need more of them as mentors.
And the guy who decorated this truck for the police. We need many more of him.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Which one is more cute? Little girls with headscarves off to school or a HMMWV with whitewalls? It's really a difficult call, but I'm going with schoolgirls. Maybe it's the Sailor Moon Backpack.
The variety of uniforms I encounter around Afghanistan is another cute thing. If "cute" is the right word. With just American uniforms, you have Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines each with their own camouflage patterns. But it gets better. Each has their own version of flight suits, so we're up to eight, then the Army is testing six more patterns of camoflauge, so what? 14 patterns? And then the Navy has its tan dessert pattern that everyone else has abandoned, but has also come up with what I can only call "aquaflage."
The best part is when someone tries to quote uniform standards and regulations. Really? How can anyone tell? And then there are another 15 countries or so represented on our camp each with another four to ten types of uniforms.
Does any of this chaos of uniforms make sense when the word "uniform" is violated by the the very presence of so many different styles?

The little girls in the picture are uniformed to go to school and look to be marching in step. That's more than you can say about where I work. Go figure.