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Posts Tagged ‘radio’

ANP respond

Afghan National Police respond to the initial attacks*

ANA Commandos

Army Commandos corner the remaining insurgents**

Those who watch the Postometer to the right are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind.  As I type this, Google News is showing 1217 articles and 91 images regarding today’s attacks in Kabul…and I have the audacity to write a “cautiously optimistic” post?!?

Well, yes.

When the attacks started today, my first concern was about the people in my directorate.  At the time of the attacks, we had a number of people working with Afghans “outside the wire”…we knew where they were, but we didn’t know exactly where the fighting was, so – as always – the situation was a little tense until we determined everyone was “all present or accounted for.”

My second concern, though, was about the Afghans we had trained, advised, and equipped.  Soldiers, policemen, and policewomen were in the streets, using short-range and long-range radios to coordinate the fight against the insurgents and gain medical support for the injured.  They were also in the National Military Command Center, the National Police Command Center, and other locations, using video teleconference systems, telephones, computers, and surveillance cameras to gain situational awareness and coordinate the responses of subordinate units.  And we – Afghan and Coalition communicators alike – were responsible.  I knew we’d done well, but at that point I could only hope it was good enough.

It was.

Could we – the communicators, I mean – have done better?  Certainly.  Over the next few days we’ll conduct hard-nosed after-action reviews, looking at what went right and what went wrong.  And we’ll become better for it.

Over the next few days we’ll also learn and share stories about the heroes…a policeman, perhaps, who stopped a vehicle-borne IED at an entry control point, giving his life but protecting everyone on the other side.  Or a soldier perhaps, killed while retaking one of the hotels.  And we’ll become better for it.

Bottom line:  It utterly rots that 7 terrorists were able to attack soft targets in Afghanistan’s largest city today, killing 5 and injuring 70 during 6 hours of fighting.  However, compared with the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, (where 10 terrorists attacked soft targets in India’s largest city, killing 173 and injuring 308 over 2-1/2 days of fighting), it’s clear the Afghan National Security Forces did pretty well.

* AP photo, from BBC News

** AP photo by Ahmad Massoud, from the NY Times

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TV Hill

TV Hill, seen from the Ministry of Defense Headquarters

Water run

Afghan boy, going on a water run. TV Hill housing in the back

Mount Asma-i, known by Afghans and Coalition members alike as  TV Hill, is a high mountain in the middle of Kabul.   For two reasons, it’s covered with a prickly blanket of antenna towers, supporting both commercial and governmental communications.  First, TV Hill has a commanding view of the city, which allows a clear line-of-sight between an antenna on the mountain and a receiver almost anywhere in Kabul.  Second, it has relatively easy ridge line access, which means the people and equipment needed to construct and maintain the towers, antennas, communications gear, and–most importantly–electrical equipment, can actually get there.

We’ve been working with the Ministry of the Interior for months now to bring a new UHF radio capability on line for Kabul, beating down one or two technical issues (e.g., transmission cable quality), and a horde of policy and process issues (e.g., power, frequency approval, siting, US export policies, encryption capability).  In the process, we’ve had a few opportunities to travel to the transmission site on TV Hill.  It’s an exciting drive…not because of the insurgent threat, but because of gravity.  From the bottom, it’s hard to appreciate how narrow and winding the road is, how steep the drop-offs are, and how many pedestrians share the road.  It’s DEFINITELY a slow and careful convoy.

Afghans live almost all the way to the top…anywhere it’s flat enough to build.  And they live there without easy access to water.  That’s not a problem for most of Kabul, where public hand-pumps are common.  But hauling water from the city pumps at the bottom of the hill, all the way up?  Now THAT’S an afternoon chore!

Bottom line:  In a previous post, I pointed out that towers matter.  Well, towers on the high ground REALLY matter.

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"I receive the certificate...

...for Afghanistan!"*

Unsurprisingly, there are  a BUNCH of challenges regarding education in Afghanistan.  But there’s a thirst for knowledge and education here that’s really cool.  You can see it in numbers like this:  “Educational access [at what passes for secondary education here] – 600,000 applicants for 20,000 seats.”  It’s truly tragic there are only 20,000 seats available.  But the number of applicants is awesome!

You can also see it in the pride Afghans get when they receive the graduation certificate from a course, turn to face their peers, and shout “For Afghanistan!”  Graduations are a Really Big Deal in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP); being able to attend graduation ceremonies as a representative of the Coalition is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.

My first was a radio maintenance class, taught under an Afghan contract and paid for by US taxpayers through CSTC-A.  Until they started class, seven weeks before the ceremony, these soldiers had NEVER seen a Phillips screwdriver or electrical tape.  But by the end, they could make basic repairs, even including soldering new encryption circuits into the radios and loading encryption keys.  This is a neat technically, of course.  But it’s HUGE operationally, because these encryption cards keep insurgents from being able to listen in on ANA conversations using captured radios.  The graduates’ new skills will literally keep other soldiers alive.

Another was an opportunity to congratulate the graduates of a computer tech support class.  It was pretty basic stuff to be sure…I’m certain my 14-year old could provide better tech support.  But what was especially striking was that it was a 4-month class, and every graduate’s Boss valued the education so much he or she was willing to send them away from the fight and to a class for that long.  As you’d expect, there aren’t many people with computer skills in Afghanistan.  But those that have them can make a HUGE impact.

Perhaps the most amazing graduation so far though has been the radio maintenance instructor course, at the ANA Central Workshop.  Central Workshop is this SERIOUSLY steampunk maintenance warren, with a long proud history of sledgehammer-style maintenance (stuff like smelting ANA emblems and refurbishing AK-47s), but a short and slightly embarrassing history of oscilloscope-style maintenance.  Until the other day.  We basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others.  Which is HUGE, for the individuals themselves, for the Central Workshop, for the ANA, and for Afghanistan.  We made quite the big deal out of it…80+ people there to recognize these five soldiers.  Which is entirely appropriate recognition for five soldiers who represent the future of the Afghan National Army–an Army that can train and sustain itself.

Education is EXTREMELY precious and desirable here.  Sometimes, finding that knowledge is surprisingly easy (the Afghans I’ve dealt with have–almost without exception–been extremely quick to pick up on new concepts).  And sometimes it’s almost unbelievably difficult.  But even then, they’ll move mountains to get it.

Bottom line:  The Afghans have a phrase that elegantly describes the whole situation:

We will find the lost diamond, whether on top or buried under the ground.

* Photos by SMSgt Brett Kolasch, USAF

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