Posts Tagged ‘history’

Zooming from TV Hill

The Gardens of Babur

Mount Asma-i, known by Afghans and Coalition members alike as TV Hill, is a high mountain in the middle of Kabul.  On a clear day, the view from TV Hill reaches across not just miles, but centuries…

Raju Gopalakrishnan writes about one of the views: The Bagh-e Babur, or Gardens of Babur.

The empire of Babur, the 16th century founder of the Mughal dynasty, stretched from Samarkand to central India, but he died pining for Kabul and insisting on being buried in the place he called paradise on earth.

His open-air tomb on a hillside in what is now the capital of Afghanistan is set in an oasis of greenery. With the snow-fringed Hindu Kush ranges providing a majestic backdrop, the tomb is set amidst a garden of walnut, mulberry, apple and pomegranate trees as well as a small marble mosque, fountains and water channels.

But the views below are far from paradise. These days the tomb overlooks a war-ravaged city of about four million people, dusty and choked with garbage.

Bottom line:  The inscription on Babur’s tomb reads,

If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!

Frankly, it’s been a LONG time since anyone described Kabul as paradise.  And that won’t change soon.  But maybe someday…

Want more info?  Try the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage or the American International School of Kabul.

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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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Print Plant

The MoD Print Plant, without mines


Civilian and military Print Plant workers*

Your slightly-cryptic but cool Afghan phrase of the day:  The hand is a flower.

In America, wild flowers exist…fields of bluebonnets, columbine, and bear grass bloom without human help.  And fields of dandelions bloom despite human help!

In Afghanistan, not so much.  There’s PLENTY of dirt here, but without nurturing Afghan hands, few – if any – seeds or bulbs would ever flower.  Thus, “[due to] the hand, a flower exists,” usually translated as…

The hand is a flower

I learned this phrase while visiting the Ministry of Defense (MoD) Print Plant.  The Print Plant is a real gem.  There, soldiers and Army civilians work together to print everything an Army needs…stuff like certificates, forms, posters, maps, training materials, and manuals.

The Print Plant is located in an ornate building, originally built in the 1930s.  When the ANA first moved in though, just over 5 years ago, the facility grounds were still littered with Soviet air-dropped landmines…I guess clearing the roof was more than a little sporty.  But Afghan hands cleared the building and then, with Coalition hands helping out, trained and equipped the men and women of the Print Plant.  Today, the MoD operates and maintains the Print Plant machinery with only a little help from a supporting contractor.  And they do all the graphic design work themselves.

Unfortunately, this level of autonomy is still rare within the Afghan National Security Forces.  But the MoD Print Plant is existence proof that transition of responsibility to Afghan hands can work REALLY well.

Bottom line:  The best things don’t just spontaneously happen.  But Afghan and Coalition hands can make flowers grow in even the most unlikely places.

* Photo by LtCol Dean Vrable, USMC

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Coalition forces

Coalition members commemorate all those who've served*


Two minutes of silence, in honor of those who've fallen*

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t do many ceremonies here at Camp Eggers.  But Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day) last November was an exception.

It’s a very powerful thing to pause, even for only a brief moment, and honor those who have served before us.  And it was even more powerful to do so, here in Afghanistan, with other members of the Coalition:  Albanian, American, Australian, British, Dutch, French, Polish, South Korean, Spanish, and Turkish forces alike.

Bottom line:  There’s a poem, famous within the Commonwealth, that speaks to  the need to keep the faith with our veterans:

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

Thanks to all who help hold that torch.

* Photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from DefenseImagery

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Soldiers of the Comm Support Unit set up a satellite dish ...


... in direct support of ANA Commando Brigade operations *

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the Communications Support Unit (CSU) is three companies of well-led ANA communicators, trained to deploy and quickly set up fully functional command centers.  Anytime, anywhere.

Earlier this month, they did exactly that!  On 16 January, the unit deployed elements of Aleph Company to Rish Khvor, just south of Kabul, to provide direct support for the ANA’s Commando Brigade Headquarters as they get ready for upcoming operations in central Helmand.

Previously, the Commando Brigade Headquarters only had radio communications.  For anything but short messages to and from the National Military Command Center (NMCC), they had to send runners–almost a 2-hour convoy.  Within a day though, the Commandos had video teleconference, telephone, and commercially encrypted data capabilities.  Only two days into the deployment, these links were used operationally, connecting Commando leaders with the NMCC to help put down the 18 January insurgent attacks in Kabul.  Finally, within three days, the Commandos were at “full operational capability”, with 25 phones and 18 laptops operating throughout their headquarters.

The unit’s support during the attacks in Kabul was a Seriously Big Deal – the first operational deployment of the unit, ever.  But as perhaps an Even Bigger Deal, this was the unit’s first-ever NCO-only deployment.  I have a small team of eight military advisers that work with the 400+ members of the CSU.  They’ve been pushing hard lately to develop the unit NCOs as leaders, and training the Afghan officers to trust their NCOs.  It appears those efforts are actually paying off!

Coincidentally, on 16 January elements of Bey Company deployed as well.  They traveled to Pol-E-Charki, east of Kabul, with field phones and switchboards to support an Army Command and Staff Exercise for the 215th Corps.  The 215th is a new unit, developed specifically to partner with the Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Helmand.  During this period, Jeem Company remained on “ready alert” to support the NMCC or emerging taskings…for example, CSU planners are now working with Coalition SOF, the Commando Brigade, and the Afghan Ministry of Defense to deploy communications capability for Commando units working from Khandahar.

Bottom line:  Only 5 years ago, the Communications Support Unit was a good idea, a funding line, and three ANA soldiers living in a bombed-out building, hunting for firewood.  Today, it’s an amazingly capable unit, on par with the best deployable comm units in the world.  And it’s an honor and a privilege to be part of that evolution.

* Photos by ET1 Peterson, USN

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Khan Neshin

The Afghan national flag, raised above Khan Neshin castle the first time*


An all-too-common sight at Camp Eggers: US, Afghan, and UK flags at half-staff...

I always appreciate seeing the Afghan national flag flying from a building or tower.  To me, it represents a symbolic acknowledgement that Afghanistan is more than just a loose collection of tribes…that there’s a real nation here, proud and strong.     

There are conflicting descriptions of what the colors represent, but I like this one, paraphrased from Flags of the World:    

The three colours of the flag represent a different page in the history of Afghanistan.  The black represents the 19th century era when Afghanistan was occupied and did not have independence, red marks the fight for independence and the green shows independence had been achieved.    

Additionally, the colors have specific meanings within the Islamic faith.  We’re taught that green stands for service to Allah, red for sacrifice, and black for martyrdom.  Along those lines, I see the flag colors as symbolic of the members of the Afghan National Security Forces and the Coalition serving here in Afghanistan.  To me, the green vertical represents service, writ large…service to each other, our families, our Service, our nations, and the God of our choosing.   The red vertical is the sacrifices we make in order to build Afghanistan and protect its people…for some, a blood sacrifice.  And the black signifies those who have given their lives for Afghanistan…445 Coalition members and 1,030 Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army members in 2009 alone.    

Bottom line:  Strips of cloth can be damaged easily, especially in a country like Afghanistan.  But a flag represents an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.    

* USMC photo by Cpl Aaron Rooks, from USCENTCOM

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View from TV Hill, with zoom

Zooming from TV Hill

Kabul wall

The old city wall

There’s a wall running along Sher Darwaza Mountain that’s hard to miss from almost anywhere in Kabul.  It appears big from a distance, but I understand it’s HUGE close-up…something like 7m high and 4m thick.  It was built by Zanbilak Shah, the last King of Kabul-Shahan , as protection from invaders during one of the innumerable wars that swept Afghanistan during the 5th century (as I’ve mentioned before, Afghanistan is timeless…and not necessarily in a good way).

Zanbilak had all the men of the city working on the wall 24/7, almost as slaves, and the project was utterly grinding the people into the ground.  Legend has it that one day a couple was married in Kabul, but Zanbilak wouldn’t allow them their wedding night because the husband had to work on the wall.  Well the new bride, mightily ticked off, went up to the wall to confront Zanbilak.  In her anger, she ended up throwing a rock at him, knocking him down.  All the men were shamed–if a woman would dare to take on the king, there was no way they were going to put up with the oppression.  So they rioted.  And then, after the riot, they built one last bit of wall.

Zanbilak remains buried under that section today.

Bottom line:  Not sure Zanbilak’s Wall would work as a bedtime story in America.  But it does in Afghanistan.

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