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Posts Tagged ‘ISAF’

HQ ISAF

From the posh courtyard of Headquarters ISAF...

Helmand

...to a shallow pit in Helmand, this country has it all!*

A few folks have stumbled upon this blog while searching for “Poster Experience May Vary”…you may even have been one of them!

And though they found a bunch of cautiously optimistic posts (and a few snarky ones), they never found the poster they were looking for.

Until now.  Here it is, the official Afghanistan: Your Experience May Vary poster!

This poster is also available on a light background, if you prefer.  Both are protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence.

Bottom line: Thanks for reading!  Hope this was the poster you were looking for!

* Photo by David Guttenfelder, from Time magazine.

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Kabul 02

Kabul in 2002: About as bad as it could get*

Kabul now

Kabul now: Not deteriorating**

Afghanistan: Not deteriorating!

This is another slogan the Afghan Ministry of Tourism probably doesn’t need.  But ‘not deteriorating’ is REALLY good news for a country that – less than a year ago – seemed to be in a death spiral.

Yesterday morning, the Stars and Stripes ran an article by Julian Barnes of the Chicago Tribune, quoting GEN McChrystal, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force:

I still will tell you the situation in Afghanistan is serious, I do not say now it is deteriorating.  We [made] significant progress in setting conditions in 2009 and we will make real progress in 2010.

Put another way, it increasingly seems the insurgency is loosing momentum.  And in a counter-insurgency fight, momentum is a Big Deal.

A friend of mine talks about the country as if it was a bowling ball, with the insurgents as a bunch of ants trying to move the ball backward and us – Afghans and Coalition members alike – as ants trying to move it forward.   For a while, the momentum was with the insurgents.  But the bowling ball is slowing, and soon we may even be able to turn it around.  Which is making many insurgents think VERY seriously about reconciliation.  The alternative (being crushed like an ant by a bowling ball) is looking less and less appealing to them by the day…

I’m not trying to overstate this, we – both Afghans and the International Community – still have a LONG way to go.  Or, as GEN McChrystal says,

I am not prepared to say we are winning, but I am confident we will see significant progress.

Bottom line:  Victory is far from inevitable.  And WAY too many ants will die in the process of stopping and then turning the bowling ball that is Afghanistan.  But the momentum is shifting…

* Photo by Ismail Eren, from DeviantArt

** Photo by Pietro Calogero, from his blog

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Waiting for Mi-17

Some things change: Afghan and Coalition forces wait for an ANA Air Corps Mi-17*

Airdrop

Some stay the same: A USAF C-17 drops supplies in Afghanistan**

It’s been pretty amazing watching the transformation of airpower in Afghanistan over the last 9 years.  Initially, airpower was entirely about the Coalition and almost entirely about killing people.  On the first night of the war in Afghanistan, for example, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described attacks by B-2 stealth bombers from the continental United States, B-1 and B-52 bombers from Diego Garcia, 25 strike aircraft from the USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise, and cruise missiles launched from US surface ships, a US submarine and a British submarine.

By 2009, the Coalition’s ability to plan and execute precision strikes – with minimal loss of civilian life – had never been better.  But it wasn’t good enough.  For example, a UNAMA report that 595 civilians were killed by insurgents, compared to only 200 by Coalition air strikes in the first half of 2009 was interesting but irrelevant.  Because statistics don’t matter to the families of the 200 killed by air strikes.  Afghans and the International Community alike were asking, “I don’t get it – how come you guys are losing?

The answer?  We had the wrong focus.  Because, as Brig Gen Kwast, commander of the Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Air Base says,

Counterinsurgency is not about killing the enemy.  It’s about protecting the people.

So, on 2 July 2009, Coalition airpower changed dramatically.   As part of a far-reaching tactical directive, GEN McChrystal, the Commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, directed that air strikes could only occur under “very limited and prescribed” conditions, noting that “we must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories – but suffering strategic defeats – by causing civlian casualties…and thus alienating the people.”  Or as Dave “Smoke” Grasso puts it,

Every time I drop a bomb and kill one innocent Afghan I set the war back – even if I killed 100 Taliban.

In the ANA Air Corps though, arpower changed even more dramatically.  In 2005, there was no such thing as Afghan airpower.  Today, the Air Corps flies Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, and AN-32 and C-27 cargo aircraft, focusing on Presidential and other types of airlift, and battlefield mobility, to include air assault, medical evacuation and casualty evacuation.  NTM-A/CSTC-A’s Combined Air Power Transition Force, or CAPTF, supports the Air Corps by helping build aircraft capacity, Airmen, and infrastructure.  CAPTF advisers also help the Afghans perform operations, in direct support of the counterinsurgency effort.

But some things about airpower in Afghanistan never change:  On the first night of the war – only 45 minutes after the first bombs hit their targets – the US Air Force dropped 34,400 packages of food and medicine from two C-17 transport aircraft.  Today, we sometimes use a precision airdrop system, but we’re still dropping supplies in Afghanistan.

Bottom line:   Airmen adapt.

This post borrows heavily from articles by Noah Sachtman in Wired and  David Wood in Air Force magazine.

* Photo by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from Defense Imagery

** Photo by SSgt Michael B. Keller, USAF, from Defense Imagery.

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Accordion

Accordion player in the ANA band, before the ceremony

ANA Band

ANA band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" *

National holidays aren’t really that big a deal at Camp Eggers.  First, every day is a work day…there’s just an infinite number of things here that desperately need doing.  Second, we’ve got service members from 47 countries involved in NTM-A (43 in the International Security Assistance Force, plus Mongolia, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, and of course, Afghanistan)…if we tried to celebrate all the national holidays we’d do nothing but hold ceremonies!  That said though, we did set aside a few minutes back on the 4th of July for a short cake-cutting ceremony.  The best part, by far, was the Afghan National Army band, which played the Afghan national anthem** and then ours.  The band played well…not great, but plenty good enough for a country at war.  And it wasn’t really about the tunes anyways, it was about an Afghan band, that we built, playing our national anthem, on our Independence Day, in Kabul.  As my kids would say: Epic!

The similarities and differences between the Afghan and US national anthems are interesting.  Both countries have a long, proud military heritage (though of course Afghanistan’s goes back tens of thousands of years, and the US’ a mere 234).  And both anthems were born in battle–Afghanistan’s during the current insurgency and the US’ during the War of 1812.  But the Milli Surood is much less militant than The Star Spangled Banner.  Except for one snippet (“…the land of sword, each of its sons is brave…”), it paints a picture of Afghanistan as “a land of peace” and “the country of every tribe”.  It’s not there yet, of course, but Afghanistan’s choice of national anthem gives me hope that it’s headed in the right direction…  

Bottom lines:  

This land will shine forever, like the sun in the blue sky
In the chest of Asia, it will remain as the heart forever 

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

* CSTC-A photo 

** Here’s a recording of the piece (with lyrics and without), and also some sheet music, all compliments of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington D.C.

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It's safe to fish now in the Paghman river, Wardak Province*

Someday, we'll ski these mountains, just west of Kabul

Drew Brown had a great article in this morning’s Stars and Stripes, in which he discussed the path to victory in Afghanistan with GEN McChrystal, the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and US Forces – Afghanistan.

I’ve talked to  MG Ali, my counterpart in the Afghan National Army, about what victory would look like.  To him, victory is being able to invite his Coalition advisers back to Afghanistan for a fishing trip near the village where he grew up.  The way he tells it, there was a GREAT fishing hole there, but because of the insurgency, it’s now far too dangerous.  There’s good news though:  Because almost nobody fishes there any more, all the fish have become both big and stupid.  Victory is an Afghanistan where you can fish safely with friends.  And that’s worth fighting for.

To me, victory is being able to go skiing on the Paghman mountains, just to the west of Kabul.  Seriously, Kabul could very easily become a PERFECT ski and snowboard destination.  Think Denver, but with more snow and cheaper lift tickets.  Of course the Soviet-era land mines would have to go, but one look at these mountains and you know it’s doable.  Not quickly of course…I’ll probably be too old to ski before it happens, but the work we’re doing here now is going to make it possible.  Victory is an Afghanistan where my kids can ski (or more likely, snowboard) near Kabul.  And that’s worth fighting for.

Bottom line:  I like GEN McChrystal’s view…

There’s no way to put an exact timeline on it…the Afghan people will determine [what victory is].

* Photo by Õnne Pärl, from her photo gallery

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