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Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

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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Afghan women line up to vote under Afghan National Police protection*

Workers take ballot boxes to a remote polling station in Panjshir Province **

Within hours, the polls will open for the 2010 Afghan Parliamentary elections

I supported the Afghan National Army and Police forces during the 2009 Afghan Presidential election and was relieved when the parliamentary elections (originally scheduled for May) were postponed.

So with apologies to Clint Eastwood, here’s my take on the upcoming elections…

The good:  People will vote.  It’s obvious, but we tend to forget that an election in a country like Afghanistan is a Big Deal.  Are Afghans racked by war?   Duh.  Illiterate?  Almost entirely.  Discriminatory?  Mostly…especially against women.   But despite all that, Afghans will turn out to vote tomorrow, choosing their representatives on a ballot (like this) with candidate icons and pictures.   And 405 of the 2,577 candidates will be women.

The bad:  There will be fraud.  With fake voter registration cards going for only 23 cents apiece, it might be more accurate to say there will be LOTS of fraud.  But there is some silver lining:  It shouldn’t be as bad as the 2009 Presidential elections, and both Afghans and the International Community are watching closely, so it should get better over time.

The ugly:  As Joshua Faust points out, there will be blood.  According to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghanistan has deployed 52,000 Afghan National Police and 63,000 Afghan National Army personnel across the country to provide election security.  Additionally, NATO forces stand ready to provide emergency security, medical and logistical support.  But voters are a VERY lucrative target for the insurgents, and the Taliban is both ruthless and effective…

Bottom line: For good, bad, or ugly, Afghans will choose their representatives tomorrow.  Like Rat, in Stephan Pastis’ comic Pearls Before Swine, I expect the best…

* Photo by Tyler Hicks, of the New York Times

** Photo by Shah Marai, of Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

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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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The formation swaps their national caps and berets for...

...the dark blue berets of the European Gendarmerie Force.

The big deal today was a ceremony to stand up the European Gendarmerie Force as an operational mission under NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan.  This is SERIOUSLY good stuff.  The bulk of our Police training and equipping work has been on building your basic anti-criminal type cops.  Which made great sense a few years ago, when the insurgency had no teeth.  And it’ll be great in a few years.  But it’s almost exactly the wrong kind of force for the fight we’re in now (NightWatch has a good, though absolutely scathing, article on this issue here).  

For the fight Afghanistan’s in now, it needs a larger para-military capability.  The idea is a military force comes in and clears an area, then a para-military force comes in to hold the line and establish order, then a police force comes in to maintain order.  The Afghan National Army plus Coalition forces do a great job on the ‘clear’ part.  And the Afghan National Police (once they’ve been reformed) do a good job on the ‘maintain order’ part.  Problem is we just don’t have the ‘hold the line and establish order’ piece.  And the US doesn’t really have anything like that, so we’re probably not the best trainers for that kind of thing (we have SWAT units of course, but that’s small-scale stuff…’para-military force’ is BIG…the kind of capability and support structure you need to establish order in places like Bosnia…or Afghanistan).

So anyways, about a year ago, the Coalition and the Afghans started working this hard.  And today *part* of the solution came to fruition, with Gendarmerie from a number of European nations who are REALLY good at this sort of thing joining the team here in direct contribution to the development of the Afghan National Police.

Bottom line:  The European Gendarmerie Force is going to bring a TON of capability to the fight.

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