Archive for the ‘Deeply cynical’ Category

Band-e-Amir National Park makes a nice tourist destination. *

It's free of landmines AND flesh-eating wasps! **

No matter how long or hard my day has been, I know it’s been better than Ghulam Nabi Farahi’s.  He has what is surely the toughest job in the world: Deputy Minister for Administration, Finance, and Tourism, working in the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture.

I’ve written about Afghan tourism slogans before (twice, actually).  But to help out the Deputy Minister — and with apologies to The Late Show — here are a few more ideas:

#10  Afghanistan:  Not bad, except for the giant flesh-eating wasps. In your bunker. Even though “giant flesh-eating wasps” sounds like something from a REALLY bad movie, they’re real.  In fact, watching them pull small chunks of chicken from your plate was just one of the many things that made Kabul dining an adventure.  But building a nest in the bunker closest to my office?  Well, that was just going too far…

#9  Afghanistan:  Cool, in a Mad Max sort of way. Anyone who’s ever driven Highway 1 knows exactly what I mean.

#8  Afghanistan:  The world’s toughest story problem. Inspired by this classic Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson.

#7  Afghanistan:  The crossroads of everywhere.  The graveyard of everyone. People have been trading and fighting in Afghanistan for over 50,000 years.  From the original Silk Road to the Modern Silk Road Strategy, and from Alexander the Great to tomorrow’s news, Afghanistan has a well-deserved reputation as a formidable trading partner.  And the graveyard of empires.

#6  Afghanistan: Where the kids are friendly. And have AK-47s. Eid Al Fitr is a three-day holiday at the end of Ramadan (‘Ramazan’, in Afghanistan).  Traditional gifts for children include dresses for girls and toy AK-47s for boys. Which means a bunch of boys standing at traffic circles shooting airsoft pellets at convoys…from REALLY realistic toy guns.  In general, they’re not being mean-spirited at all, that’s just what boys DO in Afghanistan.  All’s well…as long as the boys run out of pellets before a Coalition member in a gun turret gets spooked or an insurgent figures out how to exploit it.

#5  Afghanistan: Where the only law is the law of unintended consequences. Intervention in a complex system — and nowhere is more complex than Afghanistan — ALWAYS creates unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes.  Like this.

#4  Afghanistan: In a horror movie when the music shifts to a minor key and you’re all, “Don’t open the door!!!”? Well that door leads here. Loosely based on the opening lines of this article by Eugene Robinson.

#3  Afghanistan: The major historical sites are expected to be landmine-free! A quote from the this article by Heidi Vogt about tourism in Afghanistan.  Really.

#2  Afghanistan: That’s not debris.  That’s just air. Overheard after a rocket attack.  Really.  It’s funny until you find out it’s too true to be funny.  During my time in Afghanistan, exactly zero NTM-A members died from rocket attacks.  Two died due to respiratory disease.  Not surprising, since Kabul has “the highest amount of fecal matter in the atmosphere in the world,” according to Pushpa Pathak.

and my number one recommendation for an Afghan Tourism slogan…

#1  Afghanistan:  At least we don’t have evil flying attack squids! Which makes it better than San Diego.  Really.

Bottom Line: All joking aside, Afghanistan has much to offer; with victory we’ll being able to enjoy it.  And as I’ve written, that’s worth fighting for.

* Photo by Paula Bronstein of Getty Images, from USA Today

** Photo by Stephon Sterns


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Afghan Policeman

ANP Policemen in Kunar province*

ANA Commandos

ANA Commandos in Khandahar**

There was a great article by C.J. Chivers in the NY Times earlier this week about the Afghan National Security Forces operating in Marjah.

It’s a great article NOT because it’s got great news.  On the contrary.  It’s great because transparency about ANA and ANP deficiencies is the first step to fixing them.  Some excerpts:

Fundamental to plans for undermining the insurgency is to set up Afghan security forces — robust, competent, honest, well equipped and well led. If such forces can be created, then the plan is to hand them responsibility for the security achieved by the Army and Marines, allowing for an American withdrawal.

But the bad reputation of the Afghan police forces, in particular, along with the spotty performance of Afghan forces in Marja, suggest that the work and the spending of billions of American dollars to date had not achieved anything like the desired effects.

The Afghans in the meeting with the colonels were blunt: ‘We’re with you. We want to help you build. We will support you. But if you bring in the cops, we will fight you till death.’

Afghan soldiers … looted the 84-booth Semitay Bazaar immediately after the Marines swept through and secured it. Then the Afghan soldiers refused to stand post in defensive bunkers, or to fill sandbags as the Americans, sometimes under fire, hardened their joint outpost. Instead, they spent much of their time walking in the bazaar, smoking hashish.

Bottom line:  C.J. Chivers describes the next phase of the Marjah operation perfectly:  “It is a race for Afghan government competence and a contest for respect and for trust, in a place where all are in short supply.”

* Photo by Liu Jin, from Foreign Policy.
** Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery.

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Dr Abdullah

Dr Abdullah and Ahmad Wali Massoud discuss security challenges*


The crumbling remains of old Afghan presidential election posters

Boy, it was nice to see the Afghans postpone their parliamentary elections.  Here’s my outsider perspective on elections in Afghanistan:  A few brave Afghans head to the polls.  An insane amount of fraud makes it almost impossible to tell who wins.  Our return on investment, after spending TONS of effort and money (personally, rolling out a BUNCH more comm capability, to help the ANA and ANP protect voters and respond to incidents), is near-zero.

Here’s a few others:

Insurgent perspective:  Targets line up to vote, making them easy to shoot.  Or explode.  Good thing there’s lots of press around watching!

Afghan perspective:  All politics is local, but here it’s REALLY local.  And I can make my voice heard just fine in a local shura.  So tell me again, why should put my life at risk to make my voice heard in a blatantly fraudulent process?

On a more optimistic note though, here’s the perspective of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon:

The Presidential elections undermined confidence in Afghanistan’s leadership and affected international support for the engagement in Afghanistan, but it is also important to clarify what did work.  Fraud was widespread, but it was detected and addressed by the institutions created under Afghan law to do so.  President Karzai accepted a second round; and Dr Abdullah accepted a result from a process that had evident flaws and which gave him legitimate grounds to contest.  [The elections] ultimately yielded a result that was acceptable to Afghans and respected Afghanistan’s laws and institutions.

Interestingly, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with President Karzai’s main challenger, Dr Abdullah, before the Presidential elections.  One of our major network contractors hosts a lunch once a month for all their regional directors, and they’ll often invite people from my Directorate as well.  Well, Dr Abdullah was using some of their office space as his campaign headquarters here in Kabul.  So we’re just sitting down when in walks – at the time – The Candidate.  Next thing you know I’m sitting directly across the table from him.  Sitting to my immediate right was one of Abdullah’s running mates (the Afghans have two Vice Presidents).  And to my 1 o’clock was Ambassador Ahmad Wali Massoud.  Ahmad Shah Massoud was a Mujaheddin leader during the Soviet occupation…essentially, the George Washington of Afghanistan.  Ambassador Massoud is his younger brother and Dr Abdullah was a close adviser.

I was kind off worried about the conversation, because for Coalition members, politics and religion are pretty much off-limits as topics.  Which makes small-talk with the Presidential Candidate for the Govt of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a little tricky.  It turned out to be easy though; we spent the whole time talking about what it was like growing up with and then fighting with Massoud!

Bottom line: Elections are tough in the best of circumstances, and I’m not sure Afghanistan has EVER experienced the best of circumstances…

* Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski, USN

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Money-changer in Kabul, with afghani, dollars, and other currency*

ANP checkpoint

ANP highway checkpoint...keeping people safe or shaking them down?**

Afghanistan: Less corrupt than Somalia!

That’s not exactly the kind of slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism wants, but unfortunately, that’s the best they can do.  According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is the second-most corrupt country on the planet.  Only Somalia is worse.  Haiti is a whopping eight spots higher on the list.   And that has a direct impact on the counter-insurgency fight here in Afghanistan.

The Afghan National Security Forces performed well during this week’s attacks in Kabul, but as Alissa J. Rubin of the NY Times found, Afghans like Noor ul-Haq Uloumi, a member of Parliament who sits on its Defense Committee, can’t help but wonder, “How come these terrorists are able to come all the way from the border to Kabul with all their ammunitions and stuff?”  The obvious answer:  Corruption.  “There are many reports of cases where guards have been bribed to enable criminals or insurgents to move through an area…if we cannot eliminate corruption in the government and cannot make a government based on the rule of law to serve the people of Afghanistan, this corruption can bring many of such attacks.”

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime recently released the results of a survey on Corruption in Afghanistan, and it’s sobering.

Poverty and violence are usually portrayed as the biggest challenges confronting Afghanistan.  But ask the Afghans themselves, and you get a different answer: corruption is their biggest worry.  An overwhelming 59 per cent of Afghans view public dishonesty as a bigger concern than insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).

Obviously, as part of the Coalition supporting the surge in Afghan National Security Forces, my focus has been almost entirely on security.  But it’s clear I need to take a broader view.  Part of that is simply keeping a more watchful eye on the senior Afghan communicators with whom I interact.  They have ample opportunities for corruption – selling permission to use radio frequencies, forcing contractors to pay bribes (commonly called “pen fees” if a signature is needed to complete a bureaucratic process or “walking fees” if it requires simple facilitation), and smoothing the transfer of communications equipment through Customs.  I haven’t seen much, if any, of this.  But I haven’t been looking closely.  Another part is providing support to efforts like the Ministry of the Interior’s Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) and Anti-corruption Hot Line call center.  The biggest challenge, as a communicator, is that these efforts require a level of computer security not often seen in Afghanistan.  There are not many electronic records in Afghanistan worth killing for.  The electronic records of the MCTF and the telephone records of the call center may well be exceptions…

Bottom line:  Perhaps the Editorial Staff of StrategyPage say it best:

Behind the war is the real battle for Afghanistan, and the future of the country…poverty, illiteracy, ignorance and corruption.  That’s the real war.

* DPA/Corbis photo by Marcel Mettelsiefen, from Time

**USAF photo by TSgt Francisco V. Govea II, from Defense Imagery )

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The jezail, made with a captured flintlock, a comfortable stock ...


... and a rifled barrel, laid waste to many a British soldier.

Rudyard Kipling is most famous of course for all his stories and poetry about India.  But he also wrote about Afghanistan.  His Arithmetic of the Frontier is about the second Anglo-Afghan War (which was going on when he was 14, growing up in India).   Here’s an excerpt…

A scrimmage in a Border Station,
A canter down some dark defile.
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.

In 1879, it was well-educated British soldiers vs. Afghan insurgents with deadly-accurate rifles.   130 years later, it’s Afghan National Army and Police forces, plus a huge Coalition vs. Afghan insurgents with Improvised Explosive Devices.

Bottom line: Afghanistan = timeless.  But not necessarily in a good way…

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