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Posts Tagged ‘Kabul’

The ruins of Darulaman Palace, the "abode of peace" *

A watering can salesman, near the palace **

Literally, the “abode of peace”, Darulaman Palace was ruined as rival Mujahideen factions fought for control of Kabul during the early 1990s.   Today, it stands as a deeply cynical symbol of Afghanistan’s future … a country ruined by insurgency and government corruption.  But Darulaman also stands for a wildly hopeful future … a vibrant country rebuilt by Afghan entrepreneurs with the help of NATO and others.

I’ve been away from Afghanistan for over a year now, and I’ve found the time and distance have made it harder and harder to maintain perspective of the country and its people …

Clearly, it’s time to wrap up this blog.

Thanks to all who’ve taken the time to read my favorite posts:

And also my most popular posts:

Bottom line:  Fare well, Afghanistan.  And farewell …

* Photo by ET1 Peterson, USN
** Photo by Shah Marai, AFP/Getty Images

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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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A bunch of Afghans, shopping in Kabul *

Stacks of newly minted Afghanis **

This is a little thing, but worth mentioning because plenty of well-meaning people get it wrong: “Afghan” refers to the people of Afghanistan.  “Afghani” refers to the currency

This year, it will cost over 119 billion US dollars to protect 28 million Afghans.  But as I type this, it costs just a little over 600 thousand US dollars to purchase 28 million Afghanis.

Bottom line:  As I’ve mentioned before, language matters.  Especially to the Afghans.

* Photo by ET1 Peterson, US Navy

** Photo by Syed Jan Sabawoon, USAID

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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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Kids near the airport: My final view of Kabul

My last evening in Afghanistan

I left Afghanistan late on 22 April, returning to Okinawa for a brief period, then moving to Texas and a new assignment.

My last image of Kabul was a small group of kids with big smiles…the girls were waving and the boys were giving us the “thumbs up.”  I like to think they believed things were getting better — slowly of course, but better — and appreciated our help.  But to this day, I wonder.

In Afghanistan, a “thumbs up” is notoriously hard to interpret.  Those who wish us well use it, because they’ve learned it means “excellent” in America.  But those who wish us ill use it too, because traditionally, it’s an obscene gesture.

Maybe they were just being ironic…

Bottom line:  To the kids of Afghanistan, farewell.  And fare well!

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NATO Flag

Polish soldiers raise the NATO flag at Camp Eggers*

Guidon

LTG Caldwell receives the Command guidon**

Yesterday marked 100 days since the formal activation of NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.

The first 100 days have been pretty amazing…from Washington DC to London to Brussels to a dusty town in Helmand Province, everyone is working together to enable accountable Afghan-led security.  And Afghan and Coalition communicators are working together to connect the all the organizations involved.

Here are just a few highlights. from a comm perspective:

  • We expanded the enduring comm infrastructure of the ANP, installing radio systems at ten ANP district headquarters, dozens of radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, and over 1000 vehicle radios supporting the ANP.
  • Working entirely on their own, Ministry of the Interior communicators installed new antennas and towers, improving the ANP’s long-range communication capability.
  • The ANA deployable comm unit accomplished their first-ever operational deployments…supporting Afghan Special Operations Forces during an insurgent attack in Kabul and operations in Helmand
  • The ANA senior communicator took an extremely professional response to radio shortage, cross-leveling radios between Corps, converting radios when necessary, and purchasing gap-filler radios on their own.
  • The ANA graduated their first five radio repair instructors ever…these five soldiers went on to lead the first-ever radio maintenance course taught by ANA instructors!
  • We worked with Microsoft to produce full-Dari versions of Office and SharePoint software…though Afghans can type using a Dari font, the menus and help screens of our current software all in English.
  • We installed the first military BlackBerry server in Afghanistan, built a deployable comm capability for the NTM-A commander, and doubled the size of our Coalition classified network.
  • We implemented new network permissions, dramatically increasing transparency about NTM-A and the Afghan National Security Forces.

Bottom line:  It’s been a wild ride already, and there’s LOTS more to come!

* Photo by MCC F. Julian Carroll, USN, from Defense Imagery.

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

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Commando patch

Comm Support Unit adviser, proudly wearing the ANA Commando patch*

ANP Antenna

ANP radio antenna, supporting a District Headquarters in Wardak Province**

I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization; here are three that really stood out recently:

Senior Airman Taylor is a technician working in my Operations  section, connecting NTM-A and CSTC-A.  He is responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of the classified Coalition network (called Afghanistan Mission Network, or AMN) at Camp Eggers – 555 users, 360 computers, 25 printers, and 50 computer-based phones…growing every day.

Recently, SrA Taylor provided above-and-beyond comm support to the Joint Planning Group charged to relook the Command’s mission and way-ahead.  This has been an incredibly high-visibility effort, involving multiple meetings with LTG Caldwell, the NTM-A Commander and CSTC-A Commanding General.  SrA Taylor engineered and implemented AMN connectivity for the group despite starting with ZERO comm infrastructure in their designated meeting space.  He connected over twenty senior officers with secure comms and enabled in-depth analysis across fourteen different staff sections, allowing the group to chart the way forward for the Command.

Electronics Technician First Class Peterson works in my Afghan National Army Communications section, supporting ANA command and control.  He serves as the satellite communications trainer/adviser for the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU).  As an adviser, ET1 Peterson helped the CSU with their first operational deployment, ever.  I’ve written about this deployment before, but the short story is until ET1 Peterson and the CSU arrived, the Commando Brigade Headquarters had only radio communications.  Only two days into the deployment, Commando leaders had video, voice, and data comms with the National Military Command Center,  allowing them to effectively respond to the 18 January insurgent attacks in Kabul.  And today, the Commandos are participating in major combat operations in and around Marjah, in central Helmand.

Additionally, ET1 Peterson provides direct support for the American Forces Network (AFN) television broadcast  system on Camp Eggers.  He helped replace cable and perform maintenance on the Camp Eggers AFN system.  In the process, he isolated and fixed an intermittent problem with AFN reception affecting our headquarters building.  These trouble prevention and troubleshooting skills earned the personal recognition of LTG Caldwell.

Last but certainly not least, Lieutenant Commander Stewart serves as the Radio Fielding Branch Chief in my Afghan National Police Comms section.  He’s driving a $10 million plan to install over 400 VHF radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, enhancing the tactical command and control capabilities of the ANP.  He developed a strategy to use existing commercial cell phone towers, saving significant time and money compared to building towers from scratch.  LCDR Stewart is also finishing up a UHF radio system installation here in Kabul.  This is a trunked system which allows almost unlimited talk groups…which means local police, fire fighters, medical providers and other first responders in the capital can use their radios simultaneously, without stepping on each other’s voices, even during a major crisis.  He has already started operational testing; I expect the the system will soon be functioning as designed for more than 3,700 users.

Finally, LCDR Stewart has been directly responsible for working with Afghan Ministry of the Interior officers to field more than 300 vital pieces of radio equipment for Afghan Gendarmerie Force units participating in Operation Moshtarak near Marjah.  Afghan and Coalition forces are currently clearing the area of insurgents; LCDR Stewart’s radios will help Afghan police forces hold the line against an insurgent return, providing the Afghan government time and space to build capability within the area.

Bottom line:  I offer SrA Taylor, ET1 Peterson, and LCDR Stewart as shining examples of the best qualities of this Command – agile and adaptive, culturally respectful, and innovative.  It is my pleasure and my honor to serve with them here.

* Photo by ET1 David Peterson.

** Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski.

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