Michael's Dispatches

Jurassic Trailer Park

Road from Kabul to Jalalabad
20 October 2008

Afghanistan is like time traveling.  Vast expanses of rugged landscape, mostly unadorned by man-made structures, all framed by stories of savagery and conquest, create a picture of forever.  A sense that human and geologic changes occur at nearly the same pace.  Many of the people remain arguably “pre-historic” in the sense that illiterate people do not chronicle their knowledge and experience into writing or durable art.  Moving around the countryside, a man could half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex come stomping over a ridge.

My friend Tim Lynch, a retired infantry officer who has lived four years in Afghanistan, had mentioned there are caves near Jalalabad, and when the sun sinks, bats take flight by the thousands.  That sounded fun to watch; I did some caving (amateurs call it “spelunking”) in North Carolina and Tennessee, and was always amazed at the swarms of bats down in the bowels of earth.  In Florida, I would sometimes venture onto the campus of the University of Florida, just as the squawking flocks of white ibis were settling into their rookery on Lake Alice.  The night shift would come out and tens of thousands of bats would take flight right over my head, then over the lake, while the alligators began their evening hunt.

Wildlife watching is to war correspondence what a body massage is to a hundred lashes with a bullwhip.  I was ready for a bat-adventure.

Horsed meets horseless in Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s second city.  In “Jbad,” one feels transported back only a century or so.  For thousands of years, the area been a thru-way between empires, where the wonders and caravans of distant civilizations, some long forgotten, passed through.

Leaving friendly Jalalabad, the billboards are modern.

A greater adventure than the travesty of war would be to travel along with linguists, historians and archeologists into far reaches and hidden crannies here.


We drove out of Jalalabad through a few small villages.  A Predator UAV flew overhead.  This Predator was actually lower than it appears in the photo, but a wide-angle lens happened to be on the camera when the warbird prowled over.  The three flapping birds at the top are very close.  The Predator carries Hellfire missiles and the pilot is back in the United States, studying the landscape through the eye in the plane that relays video to anywhere in the world that the military chooses, and often to several places at once.  I used to watch those feeds hour after hour in Iraq, as the modes switched from black-and-white, to color, to infrared, at the flick of a switch.  Sometimes I would watch people die through that eye, and then hear the nearby rumble of the detonation.  Unfortunately, in the type of warfare we face in Afghanistan, high tech is just a tiny fraction of what we need to succeed.  But the Predators are useful and important tools, and we need a lot more of them here.  When the plane detects terrorist activity, the pilot is able to order precision attacks before the enemy combatants know that they have been observed.  SWOOSH… the Hellfire’s eye is locked onto the laser reflection, and follows the stream of photons to the end.  BAM!  White and black pieces of man and earth blossom onto the live feed.

I’d rather be bird watching.

The Kabul River flows through Jalalabad and off to Pakistan.

The area around Jalalabad, in Nangarhar Province, is a temperate, well-watered and fertile plain.  Before the war the area was famous for producing the bitter oranges that mark traditional Afghan cuisine.  Poppies are now the crop du jour for Afghanistan, although much of the opium production has been curtailed in Nangarhar.

The Village

The bat caves were near “Little Barabad,” a village on the outskirts of Jalalabad.  When we parked in Little Barabad, villagers came out to greet Tim, who knew the names of some of the kids and elders.  The village head-man treated Tim like an old friend.  Kuchi people are nomadic and semi-nomadic herdsmen, ever in search of pasture for their animals.  I’ve seen their camel caravans in numerous provinces, but there were no camels around Little Barabad.  Tim says these are “reformed Kuchis” who have settled down.  Ken Kraushaar, an American I got to speak with for many hours on many occasions, says he has been visiting Little Barabad for over a year.  Ken comes out here paying from his own pocket and rolls around without security.  Lots of people come to Afghanistan on big budgets and heavy security, yet they hardly leave their guarded compounds.  Ken goes out alone.  Ken said that the 80 families of Little Barabad actually call their village Sak, and that the elders’ names are Ghani and Koko.  He also said that perhaps another 100-120 families are expected to arrive due to a refugee crisis.

Henna hair coloring is widely used by Afghan men, in many cases to denote religious status.  Some of the kids have dyed hair, too.  The red-headed and blonde children among the mostly raven-haired population might be descendents of Alexander's invading armies, more than two thousand years ago.  Of course there have been recent invasions.  Maybe genetic scientists will one day reveal the secrets of these people’s ancestral roots, like archeologists digging up precious artifacts in an attempt to piece together the shards of 'pre-history' into a plausible 'history.'

Little Barabad/Sak is on the Kabul River.  This is the village boat.  The inner tubes represent a great advance toward modernity. Until recently villagers used the inflated skins of dead water buffalo for flotation to cross frigid rivers.

Some American organizations are working hard to build the locals a bridge, which could help get the kids to school.  On numerous occasions I saw Ken Kraushaar don a shawal kameez and head out to do prep-work on the footbridge, construction of which has not yet begun.  Ken said that the organizations involved include Rotary Sister Cities Foundation, Engineers Without Borders, and Footbridges.org.

In all the crazy places I travel, I’ve seen first-hand on countless occasions how these footbridges, schools and clinics built by foreigners, improve people’s lives.  Next thing you know, foreign teachers are parachuting in, and the kids go to new schools, where they learn English or other important languages such as British, Canadian or Australian.  Okay, French or German…  In any case, their worlds start to open into a brighter future.  I think of Nepal.  It’s working there.  Heck, I think of places in America where it’s working (although we could still use some more help).  It’s amazing how much the world is improved by volunteer teachers, doctors and nurses, engineers and just regular folks, who decide to do something worthwhile.  A wise and experienced man put it best when he called them: “A thousand points of light.”

While the war has brought many westerners to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country, the fact is that many are happy to help the Afghans.  For all their fierceness, many Afghans are a charming, engaging and likeable people.

That day the river was low, as it is most of the year, but the distant traffic bridge is sized to accommodate the power of melting snows.  In a land where running water is scarce, people pull their cars into the lakes and rivers to wash them.

Caves have long provided shelter in this harsh landscape.  These caves are just below an old British fort.

I wondered what this means.

We had set off from Little Barabad /Sak and some boys came with us.  Tim said that when the girls try to follow, the boys throw stones at them.

These caves might have been part of the network of Ghandharan Buddhist monasteries that reached across parts of Afghanistan from the 2nd Century A.D. till the 7th.

This is where Alexander the Great’s Hellenic culture met and merged with eastern Buddhism.  Some of the oldest known Buddhist texts and relics were found not far from here.  Also, sculptures of the Buddha (said to have lived here in an earlier life) looking like a Greek god.

If these stones could speak…

To the bat cave!

We scrambled up the rocks.

The boys were having a blast.  That’s Shem in the green shirt; he’s an ex-Aussie paratrooper.  Shem told me that he once barely missed being blown up by two suicide car bombs that detonated 20 minutes apart.  He showed me the sites in Kabul, saying it happened on 14 November 2005.  The BBC reported that eight people were killed.  He was so close that each bomb knocked him down.  Luckily he didn't get fragged.  A common terror tactic is to pack ball bearings in the car bombs, which makes them like giant hand grenades and increases the lethal range.  I’ve seen a lot of people who survived very close encounters with car bombs, and a lot of people who didn’t.  In another incident in Zabul Province, down by Kandahar, Shem’s group was ambushed and two of his buddies were killed.  Yet Shem keeps going with a good sense of humor.

Bat hunting is much more fun than all those bombs and bullets.

The bat cave was large and smelled of guano, but the bats were gone.

Rats, there were no bats. But Tim had timed our arrival excellently; the sun was in a perfect position for a top-notch photo. We wondered if the bats had migrated.

These relatively shallow caves were part of hundreds of small monasteries, inhabited by monks and pilgrims, in the area between our location and Bamiyan Province where the famous, huge, carved Buddhas stood for 1500 years until the Taliban blew them up in 2001. It is possible that these caves and others like them were used by local inhabitants to hide in when Genghis Khan's armies marched across the plains, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. In some caves it is reported that you can still see traces of frescoes.  Centuries of war and plunder have left them empty.

We scrambled some more.  I asked one of the boys to carry my long camera lens, which made him happy. He liked having a job to perform during our little expedition.

Rock doodles.

We scrambled up to the old British fort where, in a different war, things had gone very badly for the British. (In the First Afghan Campaign, an entire British regiment was wiped out not far from here).  There wasn't much left of the fort.  Tim had told me a story about his first visit to Little Barabad/Sak and the caves.  "The old men in the village told me the caves were built by the British when they built the old fort.  When I first came, they would ask "Have you come to see your grandfathers' fort?"  I explained to them that at the time the British were here we were fighting them too.  That's not precisely true of course.  We had finished our revolution 20 years before the Brits entered Afghanistan. But telling the old men that brought instant delight -- shared enemies does that -- and I was pressed for details.  When I told the Brits burned down our capitol they smiled even more saying it is a good thing to burn down the capitol and kill the King every now and then.”

I wonder if these boys go to school.  Most Afghans are still illiterate.  The last 30 years of war wiped out whatever progress the country might have been making toward more widespread education.  Even without reading and other academic skills we take for granted, they do keep crushing more advanced armies.  There remains something to be said for character and fierce determination.  After all, this kid was sitting on a British fort that his ancestors had destroyed.  The acclaimed author Tom Ricks, whose dad was a university professor here when Tom was a kid, wrote this: “Louis Dupree mentions in his massive book on Afghanistan that many illiterate Afghans have memorized hundreds of poems, stories, lists of proverbs, and other cultural icons.  Arguably, some of these guys who can't read are better ‘read’ than most westerners.”

Still, it's time for these people to have a government that can provide schools.  Lacking the ability to read, write and calculate in the 21st Century will have an even greater cost than it has had heretofore.  Maybe one day these kids will read about themselves here, either in translation or in English.

Afghans love having their pictures taken. The kids kept asking… even though they rarely get to see the results.  They are wonderfully photogenic.

The Afghans say that the “Russians” were better fighters than the Americans, which is strange.  They killed 30,000 Soviets and sent them packing.  They will likely never kick us out unless we grow weary of the feral side of their nature, and decide to go home.  But some of the other NATO members are ready to say goodbye.  If we grow weary or distracted by something else, it is the Afghans who will suffer most.

These boys might be old men before this current war is over.  Their fathers were born during an earlier phase of it. It is hard to imagine how the nicer parts of their culture can survive a multi-generational war, and how the country can advance when its resources go to basic self-defense.  Yet here they are, seemingly ready for change.  The British tell me it will take 10 years to “win” the war.  Some Americans say 25.  Both seem like gross underestimates.  Perhaps the fighting will end.  But it will take a century for Afghanistan to become modern.  Today, Afghanistan is spiraling into the abyss.  To us, progress is a given.  To others, it is an elusive dream, if they dream at all.  Here, the march of time can go forward or backwards.

The war doesn't seem to directly affect their village now.

Ruins of the British Fort.  So little remained that it mostly looked like a bunch of rocks.

The sun was setting, so it was time to go.  We traipsed back down to the village.

Beata is a German aid worker who lives and works in Jalalabad.  She came along and was having as much fun as the kids.

The girls, with their smiling faces, were waiting back at the village.  They wanted their photos taken, too.

Beata soon had an entourage.

The village head-man and some others came out again.  He and Tim exchanged warm greetings while the kids crowded around as though the circus had come to their village.  Then we drove away.


# AmeericanJarhead 2008-10-20 11:41
A very great post. Wonderful images of the children. Very sad that they deserve to live and enjoy life but they've been dealt a different card. Thanks for being there.
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# Jerrick 2008-10-20 12:25
Michael - another top-notch dispatch. Keep up the good work!

What are Tim and Shem wearing on their arms? You can see it in the pictures captioned "The Village" and "To the bat cave." Just curious.
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# Joanie 2008-10-20 12:27
Thank you for, once again, putting a very human face on those who hope for a better life.

The portraits, both written and photographic, are stunning.
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# John Richardson 2008-10-20 12:28
While the kids are all Afghans, it is interesting to see the differences in their features. Your comments about them reflecting earlier conquerers seems to me to be spot on.
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+1 # James Kirtley 2008-10-20 12:51
Michael, your photos remind me of the cover of National Geographic a few years back, which featured a young Afghani girl with eerie green eyes. Your engaging photos, couple with an honest narrative, opens a window into the life in Afghanistan that is vitally important to those of us back in the States. I cannot thank you enough.
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# TruBlu 2008-10-20 13:13
Very beautiful pictures and it is fascinating to see such a different view ofn this part of the world. We never see this in the news or anywhere else. It just goes to show that for all our difference we are all still just human.
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# Stephen Mondaca 2008-10-20 13:32
I was deployed to this region of Afghanistan from 2006-2007. I was stationed just north of Jalalabad and frequently took trips both there and to Kabul on patrols and missions. I'm happy that someone has finally gone outside the Kabul and Kandahar areas to photograph some of the true beauty in that country. I'm curious if you have some more photos of "Highway 1", the road that connects Kabul to JBad? Going through the Kabul Pass takes a couple hours, but it's some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever had chance to lay my eyes on in person. Especially this time of year when the mountains will start getting their snow caps.
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# Amy K 2008-10-20 13:37
but in the meantime, I'm really glad that you're doing what you're doing. Thank you, Michael!

Another check is going in the mail this week.
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+1 # Nicholas 2008-10-20 13:43
As a soldier who spent a year in Afghanistan, I wanted to let you know how good your story was. I met hundreds of kids and locals during my time there, and the funny thing about their poor living situations is that it doesn't hamper their attitudes or their zest for life. It was a huge changing point in my life, and I realized how much we take for granted here in the U.S and that so many people consider themselves poor when they really have no idea. It showed me what was really important in life. We Americans like to classify ourselvesby how much money we have and how many things we can aquire. And when we can't have something, we get depressed and feel sorry for ourselves, and wish our lives were better and we had more money etc..
The Afghanistan people are some of the friendliest people I've ever met in my life. They have no other desires in life except to work hard and have a family. That is what brings them happiness.
Some Americans can really learn a lesson from them. At one time that is all Americans wanted. When our ancestors came here, all they wanted was to be left alone and to have the freedom to work hard and have a family. Now, it seems as if no one wants those simple things anymore. Everyone wants to be rich and all they care about is material things. The foundation of America has been lost and all you have to do is read this story or others like it, about Afghanistan to realize how far we've fallen. Another poster said he feels sorry for those people, well I feel sorry for us.
Great article.
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# Ronster 2008-10-20 14:24
Im guessing they said the Russians were tougher because of how they fought that war. Scorched earth and all...
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# Bill Smith 2008-10-20 14:26

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# Greg H 2008-10-20 14:46
Another great dispatch. Keep up the good work
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# Danger Girl 2008-10-20 15:06
When I look at your beautiful photographs, Mike, especially of the children, I am reminded of one of the most powerful, evocative, engaging, moving,timeless & unforgettable books I've read "THE KITE RUNNER" which was set in Afghanistan, against the backdrop of tumultuous events beginning with the fall of the monarchy and culminating with the rise of the Taliban.

Time moves forward for most of us, but appears to stand still for others. When I see these kids, I want to run a kite with them and whisper " For you, a thousand times over".
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# Frankie Mayo 2008-10-20 15:13
Great work Mike. Tell me when to send you a heater.

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# Andy 2008-10-20 15:47
One of the comments made was that the afghans just want to work hard and have a family. I disagree. Most afghan MEN would rather sit around all day and watch time go by. Most are lazy and do bare minimum to just get by for the day. Being that it is a male dominated society the women do most of the hard labor... getting water for tea, clothes cleaning, bathing, etc. Cooking, cleaning, and planting and harvesting crops. You get the picture. The men usually are sitting around smoking hash and trying to come up with another way to kill americans, or to get their "lazy" women to do more work. Look, I spent over a year in Logar and paktia province, and have travelled extensively throughout the southeast and border w/ Pakistan; the older generation of Aghan males is a lost cause. The key to Afghan success in life lies within the education of the children of this generation and to free Afghan women from the slave labor force they have become. Their dedication to the children and a sense of hope for something better in life than to serve their husband is what will bring them out of darkness.
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# Jones-zie 2008-10-20 16:27
I was there from 2006 to 2007. Thanks for the photos. Brings back many good memories of the people I worked with. In time, this country will drag itself out of poverty.....but there are many cultural hurdles that the people will have to overcome. I observed that the younger generation is adapting quickly and that is where change for a better future lies.
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# laura 2008-10-20 19:39
Thank you for including the girls - i've just read "Three Cups of Tea" and am more convinced than ever that education of the girls will change a village. Not to exclude the boys-not at all because Afghanistan needs strong well -educated boys but there is something special when a girl becomes educated..she educates her children, her parents..the hope in the girls eyes says it all.

i'm still figuring what part i play in it all - the burden for the children of Afghanistan is great upon my heart.

Once again you have blown me away with your dispatch. Thank you - a hundred times over.
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# Dickc 2008-10-20 21:16
Has Dolph Lundgren been to that village? The kid second from the right is a spiting image. Great pics as always.
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# Jerrick 2008-10-20 21:20
What are Tim and Shem wearing on their arms? You can see it in the pictures captioned "The Village" and "To the bat cave." Just curious.
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# Robin 2008-10-20 22:48
Once again you show us the people that you encounter "live and in color". I love the photographs of the kids.
Your reports from Afghanistan ...especially the British embed story and the Power Generator story were so vivid. And you enhance the text with the photos and I understand some aspect that is otherwise not being reported.
Thanks again.
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# Kevlaur 2008-10-20 23:08
Thanks, Michael, for putting a human face on the people that we are trying to help. Although we are sometimes the bull in the china shop hopefully the extra attention that Afghanistan is now (will be...) getting.

The writing is using Arabic letters... from what I can tell it is "meem wais (or waays)" I don't know what it means,
unless it is an abbreviation for something.

The armbands on their arms carry their IDs - so all can see they are 'legit' when they walk around a base, FOB, etc.
Usually, you are asked when you enter a secure area for your ID. You leave it on your arm (or around your neck) for easy access and for easy ID (by other people).

And, lastly, the book 'The Kite Runner' was fiction.

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# Mad Dog Ducati 2008-10-21 01:13
Great article and lots of good subject matter....kids (beautiful), Bamiyan, Buddhist caves, Brit forts, Afghan people and bats. Sad you did not see any there. I have been a member of Bat Conservation International for a number of years. BCI was started in Texas and does wonderful work around the world for this much maligned, but important species (if you like your Tequila, you should love bats). If you do run into any bat info along the way, pass it on to BCi. i am sure they would love info from Afghanistan. http://www.batcon.org
Also, I will tell them about your site and this article. Perhaps you might be able to work with them a bit when you have the time. Great stuff Mike!
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+1 # Nasrullah Zamir 2008-10-21 07:11
They are great pictures and show the real afghan kids living in villages. Afghan kids entertain themselves with nothing, they are so innocents and they do not have toys to play with, but they create toys, environment and entreating stuff for themselves just to entertain themselves, not like other kids if they donƒ??t have the latest Toys and Video game they do not play.

The Henna hair coloring does not have any kind of religious status, but in villagesƒ?? male also use Henna to color their hairs, and feet in warm weather, as naturally Henna is cold so it keeps their feet and head cool.

This is a reply to ANDY Comment under title of AFGHANISTAN
In villages all the outdoor works are done by men, but indoor stuff of the hose are done by woman, but if the indoor work is a hard work which they can do then the men help them. and if Afghanistan face other problems is because of poverty, reduction in employment and education. In villages most of them does not have ANY work to do for their survival. Lucky is the one who has field to do farming by himself.
Those villages has been keep very far from Education or had no institution for their education in the past 30 years, as everybody believe that we learn social ethics and family ethics by educated environment, if they plan for something which is neither the Islamic law, nor the social law accepts, because they are so much away from education, they donƒ??t understand the aim of international support about Afghanistan. And it is all LACK OF PUBLICITY.
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# Megs 2008-10-21 07:36
I love these pictures. I have been to those caves, and even recognize a few of the boys, luckily I was there bat season. What a beautiful dispatch, finally putting into words something that is so hard to explain to people who haven't been to this part of the world.

Cheers, Megan Lynch
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# Nasrullah Zamir 2008-10-21 07:49
They are great pictures and show the real afghan kids living in villages. Afghan kids entertain themselves with nothing, they are so innocents and they do not have toys to play with, but they create toys, environment and entreating stuff for themselves just to entertain themselves, not like other kids if they donƒ??t have the latest Toys and Video game they do not play.

The Henna hair coloring does not have any kind of religious status, but in villagesƒ?? male also use Henna to color their hairs, and feet in warm weather, as naturally Henna is cold so it keeps their feet and head cool.

This is a reply to ANDY Comment under title of AFGHANISTAN
In villages all the outdoor works are done by men, but indoor stuff of the hose are done by woman, but if the indoor work is a hard work which they can do then the men help them. and if Afghanistan face other problems is because of poverty, reduction in employment and education. In villages most of them does not have ANY work to do for their survival. Lucky is the one who has field to do farming by himself.
Those villages has been keep very far from Education or had no institution for their education in the past 30 years, as everybody believe that we learn social ethics and family ethics by educated environment, if they plan for something which is neither the Islamic law, nor the social law accepts, because they are so much away from education, they donƒ??t understand the aim of international support about Afghanistan. And it is all LACK OF PUBLICITY.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-21 09:07
Great photos. Beautiful people, wonderful country. Didn't like the predator story, about blowing pieces of people blossoming into the air. It reminded me of the scene in Charlie Wilson's war where the Soviet gunships shoot up what they called a bunch of "Terrorists" - in other words, Afghna men, women and children in a village, a village just like the ones you NATO people are bombing and predating on every day then sending in the ground troops to mop up the survivors and eliminate witnesses. Yes, I know about that from my contacts in Kabul. Quite a role reversal. Amazing you can't see it, amazing you supposedly educated people can swallow the all the propaganda and "perception management" hook line and sinker.

Ah well, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. If you take Charlie Wilson's war and put NATO and the USA in place of the bloodthirsty Soviets, as portrayed in the movie, you have a fair picture of what is going on now in the Afghan countryside.

Do you think you can do better than Chenghiz Khan, the British Raj and the Soviets - all superpowers in their day and all suffered inevitable defeat at the hands of the Afghans. No, a whole lot more people will have to die, and your military complex will make a whole lot more money, before you pull out and leave the Afghans to manage their own lives and run their country their way.

I was first in Afghanistan in 1965 by the way, I speak fluent Pashtu and I spent time in the tribal areas. I was captured by Afridi bandits in "Yaghistan" and held to ransom with 2 friends (and seven horses from Kunduz and Mazaar) in 1973, just before Daud ended the monarchy. I talked my way out of that and we became guests of honour. I was in Paktia filming for Australian TV (channel 9) with the Mujahiddin who were besieging the Soviet garrison at Urgun in the spring of 1983. We were under the protection of Commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, later Minister of Culture in the Taliban government, now fighting the occupyiing armies in Helmand. At the time he was one of the American's heroes, for standing up to and defeating the invading armies of the Soviets. A true Afghan hero, the only difference he sees between the Soviets and the Russians is that at least the Russians were brave fighters in hand to hand combat, whereas the American are cowardly and prefer to do their fighting by remotel control as you so eloquently describe under you predator photo. Yes, the Afghans are never at peace unless they are at war; whoever holds Kabul is always at war with the rest of the country, and most of all they prefer a strong enemy to a weak friend. They do see the NATO armies as strong, but only because of the weapons they have. I salute their bravery in standing up to modern weaponry and dying so fearlessly for their country.

You may ask "it's easy to criticise but what are you doing to help the situation?" Well I am currently working for conflict transformation in the Pakistan/Afghan istan border regions through PACT Radio broadcasts which give a forum to the ordinary people, who inhabit those regions, to look at the problems they are facing ƒ?? especially conflict ƒ?? and to suggest how they see solutions emerging to their problems. PACT journalism is oriented towards, not just highlighting problems, but also trying to solve problems. This approach makes PACT programmes particularly conducive to conflict resolution. Check out our work on www.PACTRadio.com/ and wise up to a different way of looking at things and alternatives ways to peace than wholesale destruction of people's culture and their lives through remote-controll ed weaponry and dropping bombs on them from on high as if you are doing them a favour.
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+1 # Tim Lynch 2008-10-21 15:21
Wanted to chime in about some of the comments on this post while shamelessly plugging the blog Shem and I started last month. Our efforts pale in comparison to Michaels - I have been a fan of his from the very start and we really enjoyed hosting him. He has also provided much encouragement and support for our new blog. If you want to see more pictures and read a few stories from the years we have been here please stop in at www.blog.freerangeinternational.com

A couple of observations ƒ?? In my four years in Afghanistan I have never seen a woman working in the fields. That is men's work and they are exceptional farmers. I have been told that women work the fields in Nuristan where the people are ethnically and linguistically different than the rest of Afghanistan but do not know that to be true.

We were wearing the ID cards on or arms needed for access military bases but that is not why we wear them outside the wire. We wear them for the protection they provide from the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the uniformed branch of the National Directorate of Security (NDS.) They are not too big a problem around Jalalabad but are in Kabul where the summary imprisonment of international security operatives can happen at any time. Our embassies do not care about security contractors being arrested and will do little to help you. I know of men who have spent weeks in jail while their companies come up with enough money to free them. They had Afghan weapons permits, letters from ƒ??their generalƒ? in the MoI, they were on legitimate contracts and were legal in every which has nothing to do with getting arrested here. The only defense against that is a valid military or ISAF CAC card which we have due to contracts from our detection dog business combined with the ability to talk your way clear of trouble. It helps to speak a little Dari in those kinds of situations.

And to Sean Jones - you my friend have not a clue of which you speak. We have bombed compounds which contained woman and children - mostly because high value targets ran into those compounds signing the death warrant for all the people inside. Ran like little girls is one way to put it if I were to match the tone and tenor of your post - that is not how I'd phrase it. I have seen men panic when confronted by the prospect of facing American fighting men. They run into walls, into cars, into trees, into each other and into sometimes into compounds full of woman and children. They are being driven by the primitive part of their brain and are trying to do one thing - survive. It is futile for them to run we would prefer they stand and fight but they always run and so they die winded.

But we have made mistakes and hit compounds where there were no Taliban - not that many but it has happened. I have written about how to avoid this and will be writing much more in the future - it is not acceptable and our military knows this. They now take such extraordinary prevent these accidents that frequently we probably should. There are hundreds of Taliban walking around today because they ducked into a compound which we knew contained woman and children. To compare that to the Soviet policy of destroying entire villages is ridiculous. To say that the soviets were better fighters at the small unit level and better at hand to hand fighting is admitting you know nothing about the soviet army, their battles here, or the American military man. Two words for you my Dari speaking friend "Boro Koshad" and I mean it.
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# Jerrick 2008-10-21 16:25
Thanks for the quick responses regarding the armbands. I appreciate it. Keep your heads down!
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# dorimedina 2008-10-21 19:39
Thank you, Michael, for the beautiful pictures of the children. They have such BIG soft eyes! What wonderful images you've captured. I wish I was there -- there's nothing like children. The terrain is awesome...it's sad that mankind can't live peacefully because this planet is so beautiful. When I think of what could be & what will never be - I am glad God exists to give hope to all who dare to hope!

Thanks for being there where we can't be...
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# AnAverageAmerican 2008-10-22 00:24
Michael, keep up the good work. I'm impressed as always. Your pictures of the landscape of Afghanistan always seem to portray a desolate, lifeless, wilderness of rock & mountains (except for the portraits). But that's not the entirety of Afghanistan, is it? Even your photo, "The area around Jalalabad, in Nangarhar Province, is a temperate, well-watered and fertile plain", seems pretty arid and not so fertile to my well traveled-around -the-US view. Is that really representative? I'm not questioning your veracity, I've never been to Afghanistan, I'm just a curious reader of your blog.

I'm a bit squeezed for cash at the moment. I'm not "Joe the Plumber", but I am an average american. As soon as fortune smiles upon me, I'll be sure to hit your tip jar again.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-22 08:00
Oh dear, I seem to have stepped on a very sore toe!

Tim Lynch says "To say that the soviets were better fighters at the small unit level and better at hand to hand fighting is admitting you know nothing about the soviet army, their battles here, or the American military man. Two words for you my Dari speaking friend "Boro Koshad" and I mean it.

Ok, I admit it, I know nothing whatsoever about the soviet army or the American military man! What you attibute to me was a quotation by me of an Afghan who has spent most of long his adult life fighting one foreign invader of his country after another - Commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani. So I think that he knows a great deal about it and you should stop to take what Afghans like him are saying. I am just relaying it - I have no vested interest in supporting Afghans for any reason, but I do admire their courage.

If the Freedom Fighters are so cowardly as you attempt to describe them, then tell me how come, after 7 years of merciless suppression with sophisticated weaponry (so ably typified by your poetic description of how a Predator's Hellfire missile causes "White and black pieces of man and earth" to "blossom onto the live feed" as you watch from the safety of your office in the USA) these poor farmers are still fightin hard, putting you guys on the back foot, causing so many losses to the invaders and now making the NATO commanders talk about it being an "unwinnable" war, having to talk with the freedom fighters if they are to put together an agreement whereby foreign troops can pull out and leave the Afghans to sort it out themselves between your puppet government and the population - like you did in Vietnam with predictable results.

When 1,400 prisoners were sprung from Qandahar jail a few months ago, I was told by journalists working in the thick of it since the last 30 years that 100% of the Pashtoon population in both Afghanistan and Pakistan were celebrating the event. That indicates pretty clearly how much popular support you guys have won in your efforts to "win Afghan hearts and minds" over the last 7 years! Congratulations.

Almost every day we read of new incidents of Afghan wedding parties bombed, of innocent villagers massacred, of "friendly fire" incidents - toady you killed 9 Afghan soldiers at a post in Khost, it says on BBC - and that does not include all the incidents that you cover up and prevent knowledge from getting to the media. Winning hearts and minds? Too late for that - just get the hell out of there and go back to your own country, which is falling apart, and do something useful and beneficial instead of killing, killing, killing.

Lastly, I never said that I can speak any Dari - I know only a few words of Dari, what I wrote was that I speak fluent Pashtoo, which is much more difficult to learn, because I lived amongst the Pashtoons, in their cities and in their countryside, from 1967 to 1979 (when I returned to the UK - I have a house and stables for my horses in Swat, which I built in 1973, and which I still visit, with my Swiss wife, every year). So I presume the two words of Dari that you have learned "Boro koshad" are a term of personal abuse. That's all you have to rely on? I'm not surprised.
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# Bayani 2008-10-22 09:09
Tim -

No point paying any regard to Sean Jones' comment.

He's clearly another wholly BBC-brainwashed Brit who won't admit the UK's "falling apart" after decades of left-wing/socia list progressivism and so projects his country's drastically comprehensive decline as America's.

The courage issue will particularly sting for him, given the stellar incompetence and double-dealing cowardice exhibited by the British military establishment in Iraq, and now on great show in Afghanistan.

He names "NATO" in referring to the "let's-hightail -it-out-of-here " chicken-talk and Taliban-treatin g emanating from Afghanistan, when we all know it's the Brits (and their Continental pals) that are engaging that lily-livered backtracking.

And just take note of the journos he quotes: the one-note Aunty Beeb and Grauniad types who frenetically flog the anti-American pitch to the world. And all because of loss-of-empire penis envy.

Yah think he ain't a moonbat?
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-22 09:14
Here's a true story hot from Kabul.

I just spoke to a friend of mine on skype, a friend who works with the foreign contingent in Kabul. She was in a taxi in fairly heavy traffic in the middle of Kabul when suddenly some heavily-armed foreign soldiers sprang out from the sidewalk and into the traffic - two levelled their guns at the cars in the road and held up their hands to stop the traffic; another two switched and darted from side to side overtaking them, then the first two moved round and across, keeping their guns levelled and ready to fire in any direction.

My friend was alarmed asked her taxi driver "what the hell's happening? Is it an attack? Is there a bomb? Are there some Taleban?"

The driver just smiled and said "Don't worry, Miss. It's just some Americans crossing the road".
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-22 10:08
Hey Bayani, how about answering the facts I stated, instead of spouting all this personal abuse and brash big-mouth boasting? You just make yourselves look worse.

Oh, I forgot, in your country "educated" and "intelligent" are terms of abuse as well, and synonyms for "anti-american" or "unpatriotic".

Well, sorry for you guys, I guess you will just have to learn the hard way.
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# Bayani 2008-10-22 11:06
Ooohh, have we stepped on widdle dittums toe-sies, Jonesy?

Don't-cha know your "hot" fables caricaturing Americans simply validate your anti-American wet dreams?

And your self-congratula tory quoting of the Islamic fanatic Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose puffed-up mujahideen warriordom could not vanquish the allegedly superior Soviets until Charlie Wilson easily jacked up their efforts with American low-level might courtesy of the Pak-ISI viaduct, and who now denigrates Americans to cover his cowering flights from their Predatory inclination to disperse his component parts, merely validates the blithering ignorance and brainwashed gullibility of your moonbat ideology-based ersatz "factual" expositions.

Education? Dearie, if you have it, it was wasted on you. The logical facility it should have hone appears jammed.

Intelligence? Well, chump, hate to say it, but if it's above 80, then your neurons ain't firing either.
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# Bayani 2008-10-22 11:21
So, how was it for you around those warrior campfires, hmmnn?

Was it the kohl-eyes and swirling skirts that did it for you?
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-22 14:29
Okay, Mr Balani, you're too much of a good ole boy for me to argue with, kinda difficult to discuss stuff the way y'all talk!

I give up, you won kid, y'all too clever fer the likesa me. I cannot continue this discussion no more, it too hard to unnerstan what you talkin about. Me a bit thick, y'know.

So good luck Mr Baloneyo - you watch out for that Osama Bin Laden, an' mind you take care crossin' the road, baby.
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# Bayani 2008-10-22 21:00

Can't take the swill when it's dished back at yah, m'boyo?

Yanks don't yap-and-blather when the world is blowing up around them, 'ole boy .... they act!

Your Euro-weenie/Bri t or Australian-ersa tz Brit self-righteous PACT pap only confirms your uneducable thickness - the genocidal wars of the recent centuries were yours, not ours. And the recent ones were/are real deuces that your delusional "enlightened" discussions couldn't/can't do a mite about unless/until the Yanks step in. Let's face it: you chatter so your teeth won't chatter at your dim prospective futures. Our own decline will come only when we have committed the catastrophic national folly of adopting your bovine progressivism.

So, pip, pip, cheerio and hurray to your exit, 'ole boy! Exeunt left, and DLTDHYOYWO!
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-23 10:31
We are amused to see how so many Americans are so impervious to the subtleties of irony. One presumes Mr Baloney is an American and, judging by his name and fiery temper, one of Irish extraction.

One suspected he would take the bait seriously and triumphantly declare himself ƒ??the winnerƒ? based on oneƒ??s weak attempt to patronise his poisonous and mindless diatribe with mock-condescend ing surrender, couched in an assumed mishmash of dialects one thought he would be able to follow.

He exceedeth, even, expectations! But from our dear US friendsƒ?? POV it seems heƒ??s let the side down again with yet another stream of foul-mouthed invective and personal abuse. Heƒ??s good at that, isnƒ??t he! How very skilful ... Baloney, how come youƒ??re so good at pouring forth such insulting words? One supposes that it comes from long practice combined with a profound anger and hatred for all things foreign. Do you really think thatƒ??s the only way to make people quiet, by bully and bluster, insult and abuse? On the contrary, poisonous invective is the last resort of the cornered savage animal, snarling and barking pitifully and grinding its teeth behind its self-imposed bars.

Try as you might, Baloney, you can never succeed in insulting this writer for the simple reason that as a matter of principle he never takes offense, and especially when someone like Baloneyƒ??s evidently so angry and upset that he loses all judgment and objectivity ƒ?? if any was there to start with (apparently not, scrolling down his contributions!).

But seriously I can understand your pain, Baloney, I know where you are coming from, the conditioning youƒ??ve had. You canƒ??t help being so full of hate, itƒ??s been instilled in you since birth. Youƒ??re addicted to this attitude and way of thinking and nothing I nor anyone else can say or do will enable you to open your mind, drop your prejudices, stop being angry and consider what to the rest of us is self-evident truth. I do understand why you write what you write, why you feel what you feel. Itƒ??s not your fault and I donƒ??t blame you for it personally. Who knows, one day you might stop being so angry and wake up to living a normal happy life! I hope so.

I can also understand your hurt at Haqqaniƒ??s dismissive comments comparing the bravery of the Russians and the Americans. It must have stung. I think itƒ??s not really fair. I think militarily we are all about the same. But one would perhaps infer from the psychological POV that underpinning all Baloneyƒ??s mindless boastful bluster is a profound underlying weakness and inferiority complex that he and other people as angry, contemptuous and aggressive as he is feel. His contempt for Europeans, Australians and so on is also contempt, presumably, for his own ancestors. This is a precursor of psychological suicide. Baloney ƒ?? donƒ??t do it! We love you! You are beautiful! Maybe President Obama will be able to find a useful role for you, like in a zoo somewhere, or a museum of prehistoric American dreamers and what became of them on the extinct branch of rabid, bloodthirsty psychotic nationalist thugs and torturers of Guantanamo Bay and other such places. ƒ??The Dustbin of American History Museumƒ? ... I can see it now.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-23 10:33
Luckily Mr Baloneyƒ??s evident present state of mind represents what hopefully appears to be a dying breed. As one of my US Navy Seal friends told me recently (heƒ??s done 3 tours in Iraq and his patriotism is unquestionable) , the main reason Bush held back from ordering an attack on that great and peace-loving nation, Iran (which, in contrast to the USA which has attacked other nations over 200 times in less than 200 years, has never attacked another country for over 600 years) was that there were serious indications that had he done so there was a risk of a military coup against the White House and Bush and his whole gang would have been arraigned as traitors. Thatƒ??s information from inside your own military, Baloney.

So I have every hope and confidence that sanity will eventually prevail in your benighted country. Its people on the whole are normal, given the chance and the proper information, and the same as people everywhere ƒ?? peace-loving, benevolent and kind to their neighbours, willing to help and willing to share. Thankfully, Mr Baloneyƒ??s hateful diatribe is his own and does not represent the norm for his countrymen and women.

About Haqqani. When I knew him in Paktia in 1983 it was pre-Charlie Wilson, the USA was doing nothing to help the Freedom Fighters at the time. But they were already managing to shoot down MIGs with their heavy machine guns and I have the photographs to prove it. Even then, Haqqani swore that with the support of the Afghan people he and his fellow Freedom Fighters would not only expel every last Russian invader from Afghan soil, but chase them all the way back to Moscow and destroy their empire. It the Americans had not provided the stingers and RPG7s that helped speed this up, somebody else would have. It was the sacrifice of tens of thousands of brave Afghan fighters who died in battle that forced the Russians out, not as Baloney seems to think the USA that did it all alone. Such hubris! It comes before a fall, indeed the fall is already irreversible. As Noel Coward wrote "America is the only society that went through ascendancy and then decadence without ever touching greatness." But Iƒ??m not sure I agree with that, there was a time, way back when ... well perhaps not.

Now the scene is set perfectly for the Russians to take revenge against that very effective help the USA provided in terms of the wherewithal to enable to Freedom Fighters to become a real nuisance. As when the Soviets were there, the Afghans are not lacking in bravery, only the right kind of weapons to hurt the invader. Let us wait and see how long it is before the bluster of Baloney and his ilk turns into a full scale retreat. Give it a few years? Maybe even months. Letƒ??s wait and see.
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# Brit in Colorado 2008-10-23 16:18
Sean Jones is funny. Itƒ??s remarkable that he is trying to equate the disastrous Soviet and British Empire failures in Afghanistan with the success of the United States. The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated a little in 2008 but even now is not close the rout suffered by the Russians. The Russians lost 1100 troops a year on average during their 10 year occupation, the US has lost less than 620 total in the six years following the liberation (that includes accidents, the 1100 Russian deaths per year I noted does not). So much for the Seanƒ??s claims about the great hand to hand and infantry skills of the Red Army!

A surge (which won the war in Iraq) is coming to Afghanistan. Under effective American leadership (versus the bureaucratic Euro style nightmare that is NATO) the Taliban and al-Qaeda will be defeated (even today the AFP is reporting that the number of foreign fighters sneaking into Afghanistan is declining).

Its funny how the left gets profoundly exercised of accidental killing of civilians by the US military but ignores the fact that the US military has ended the brutal oppression of the Afghan people by the Taliban (head shots at the soccer stadium for adultery is just dandy in your book Sean? It just their quaint Afghan way?).

GWB's legacy is two new democracies on Iranƒ??s borders. The days of the theocracy in Iran are numbered, just wait.

The anti-Americanis m of the lefty reporters that dominate the British media is well documented and well understood by the world. Seanƒ??s insulting comments clarify why stuff published by the BBC and other European "news" outlets is not reliable or believable (the one exception is the London Times that honestly described how the pathetic civilian labor leadership and their toady generals almost lost Basra despite the bravery of the British troops). I guess all is not lost with regard to the European media.
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# Brit in Colorado 2008-10-23 16:45
I might add to this,

" (the one exception is the London Times that honestly described how the pathetic civilian labor leadership and their toady generals almost lost Basra despite the bravery of the British troops). "

...that it is an assessment backed up by my best friend from sixth form college who is in Basra right now and who says that the turning point was when the Americans and the Iraqis they trained arrived and took on the Iranian militias aggressively, thus ending Gordon Browns policy of hands off appeasement.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-23 17:52
What makes you think Iƒ??m a journo? I take it as a compliment! Thanks. Actually, Iƒ??m just an accountant (retired).

But wait! Are you seriously calling them ƒ??democraciesƒ ?? Both countries are under military occupation with puppet governments, backed by billions in military funds funnelled in from the west. Funny democracies! I suppose youƒ??d count Vietnam as one when the US left.

As for BBC, we sit here and watch that, CNN and Fox. Itƒ??s self-evident whatƒ??s propaganda, or ƒ??perception managementƒ? as they say, and whatƒ??s objective, better researched and better informed.

As for being a ƒ??leftyƒ?, Iƒ??ve never been involved in politics, but seeing the damage your Neocon heroes did to the world since 2001 years Iƒ??ll take that as a compliment, too! I suppose youƒ??d support GWBƒ??s economic policies, too, hmmm ...

As regards hand to hand skills of the Reds, like your well-spoken friend Baloney youƒ??ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It was not me, but the Freedom Fighters who praised the Redsƒ?? bravery as compared to Yanks. That more Soviets were killed shows 2 things: 1. Unlike the Yanks they faced their enemy in close combat ƒ?? the Yanks shy away from that since their public canƒ??t take too many casualties. 2. It was Afghans who killed those 1100 Reds a year that you mention, this doesnƒ??t make the Reds not brave. I guess theyƒ??d kill that many Yanks too if they fought in the field like the Reds did. But no, they use ƒ??Predatorsƒ? to make ƒ??pieces of men blossom into the live feedƒ? by remote control. How charmingly poetic. Oh, he didnƒ??t say, how do Predators tell farmers apart from Al Qaeda terrorists?

I hope youƒ??re right that the number of foreign fighters coming into Afghanistan is decreasing. I assume your ƒ??surgeƒ? means that term excludes ƒ??good guysƒ?. Afghans donƒ??t need friends like born again Al Qaeda ƒ??moonbatsƒ??. They were the ruin of the Taleban. I agree, and I also disapprove of foreign intervention.

Youƒ??ll never solve problems by killing more people. Every Afghan you kill recruits another 10 or 20 fighters ranged against you.

Iƒ??m told there were windows of opportunity, after the Soviets left, and after the Taliban were ƒ??defeatedƒ?? in 2001, when we could have intervened successfully bringing rebuilding resources and really benefiting people in the countryside, but both chances were wasted by our own incompetence and I reckon now itƒ??s too late to ƒ??win hearts and mindsƒ?.

All the signs we see now indicate things are going from bad to worse. The Taleban were driven out of Kabul 2001! Thatƒ??s 7 years ago! NATO casualties have been rising steadily for a while. Do you call that ƒ??successƒ?? By what measure?

Theyƒ??ve got nothing to attack you with, except Kalashnikovs and some explosives. You have predators, stealth bombers, other deadly killing machines, tens of thousands of heavily armed troops and all the other resources that the US and NATOƒ??s trillion-dollar budgets can bring in. And you keep repeating ƒ??the Taleban will be defeatedƒ?, as that will make it happen. Wake up, guys, get real. Come out of denial.
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# Brit 2008-10-23 20:09
ƒ??What makes you think Iƒ??m a journo? I take it as a compliment!ƒ?

Donƒ??t take it as a compliment! You did admit to be filming in Afghanistan for an Australian TV station, was that a fib?

ƒ?Are you seriously calling them ƒ??democraciesƒ ?? Both countries are under military occupation with puppet governments.ƒ?

Iraq and Afghanistan have puppet governments? Really? You do realise they were put in place by the people, in democratic elections! The turnout by the way was much higher than what is seen typically seen in the West.

ƒ??I suppose youƒ??d count Vietnam as one when the US left.ƒ?

It certainly not a democracy now after the antiwar movement refused to fund the South as the USSR and China stage managed the conquest of a sovereign nation and the installation of a brutal communist puppet dictatorship.

ƒ?I suppose youƒ??d support GWBƒ??s economic policies, too, hmmm ... ƒ??

Well, he did try to reverse the socialist economic practices that collapsed the mortgage industry.

ƒ?As regards hand to hand skills of the Reds, like your well-spoken friend Baloney youƒ??ve got hold of the wrong end of the stick. It was not me, but the Freedom Fighters who praised the Redsƒ?? bravery as compared to Yanks.ƒ?

The Taliban terrorists are just smarting from the lopsided thumping the Brits and Yanks hand out to them every day. Of course they will lie about it!

ƒ??That more Soviets were killed shows 2 thingsƒ?
1) The Soviet military were incompetent boobs relative to the US and 2) The Soviets were hated occupiers imposing communism and not liberators offering freedom.

ƒ?Iƒ??m told there were windows of opportunity, after the Soviets left, and after the Taliban were ƒ??defeatedƒ?? in 2001, when we could have intervened successfully bringing rebuilding resources and really benefiting people in the countryside, but both chances were wasted by our own incompetence and I reckon now itƒ??s too late to ƒ??win hearts and mindsƒ?.ƒ?

Iƒ??m told PRTS have been at work winning hearts and minds and dragging Afghanistan out of the Stone Age for half a decade now

ƒ??Do you call that ƒ??successƒ?? By what measure? ƒ??

By the establishment of a democratic government. By the expulsion of the Taliban from most of the territory they held pre-liberation. By the growth of the ANA to support the elected government of the Afghan people.

ƒ?And you keep repeating ƒ??the Taliban will be defeatedƒ?, as that will make it happen. Wake up, guys, get real. Come out of denial.ƒ?

The Sunni insurgency, al-Qaeda, al-Sadr's militia and the Iranian terrorist groups were defeated in Iraq, why not the Taliban in Afghanistan.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-23 21:22
Oh yeah, A Nony Mouse, you refer to my "insulting comments" but say nothing about Mr Baloney's poisonous, pure and unadulterated invective and personal abuse, which he has honed to a remarkable degree of offensive rudity without actually giving any back up to support his critique.

How very balanced of you! Does that make him polite then, pray? I think not, neither does it reflect well on your own objectivity. I am confused and ashamed of your claim to be a Brit, denizen of Colorado notwithstanding . Go down, sir.

Oh and about my filming for Aussie TV. I was taking time off from my job in London, as a volunteer, to help the Mujaheddin out. The actual journo, who was a stringer himself and a good mate got run over by a tank. Haqqani buried him with full martyrs honours in the Shahidƒ??s graveyard in Urgun. So as a nerdy retired accountant I still take you label of being a journo as a compliment. I greatly admire the professionality of the journalists, especially those who do their research well and report intelligently. They are great people and its a pity that som many of them are gunned down by those who wish to obscure the truth. Except for the tame "embedded" variety who spout the party line of course.

Dream on. Your support of so-called Iraqi democracy and Afghan democracy belies the facts which are obvious to all. If it were as you say, then what need for maintaining such huge armies of occupation? If you think the Sunnis etcetera have been conquered, wait and see what happens when the dollars stop being thrown at everyone. You are kidding nobody except yourself, kid.
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# Brit in Colorado 2008-10-23 22:49
Regarding the first two thirds of your post: Errrrr, what? Do you have a point?

"Your support of so-called Iraqi democracy and Afghan democracy belies the facts which are obvious to all. If it were as you say, then what need for maintaining such huge armies of occupation?"

Large numbers of troops were needed in Iraq due to the array of terrorists and foreign powers trying to topple the Iraqi peoples fledgling democracy (Iran, Syria, al-Qaida and their surrogates). The Hussein era Iraqi military was not up to the job (its incompetence the result of having been moulded as an instrument of the Baathist police state, not a tool of a democratic government with the role of protecting Iraqis).

Foreign troops levels in Afghanistan so far (30-50 thousand) are much fewer than the Soviet force (about 120,000) because they are not striving to suppress a popular uprising against an occupying power, they are fighting off a brutal insurgency by an oppressive thugocracy/theo cracy that has little support outside of localized regions. As the Taliban have become more violent the need for more troops has increased and we will see the number go up shortly, until the Taliban are rocked well back on their heels and the ANA can secure Afghanistan on its own.
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# Solomon2 2008-10-24 00:50
Yes. If Michael's interview with "resistance" fighters didn't convince me, this conversation surely did:

Democracy is the wrong form of government for Afghanistan. These people need a king.

A king, not a tyrant. Not a constitutional king, either, but one pledged to uphold local traditions and independence yet lend a hand when outside troubles threaten, and can deliver some goodies without excessive greed. Think King Alfred or the kings of Castile rather than Saddam or George III. That's because in a land where literacy is low and philosophy non-existent, loyalties are limited to the familiar or the personal.

Think about it. An elected leadership could not be easily checked and thus would be too interested in padding its nest and fleeing abroad later. Religious dictatorship founders because those in power claim the right to decide what is right, and thus invariably lose their way and the respect of the people they dominate.

Selecting a monarch would be the difficult part. An enthusiastic crowd in the capitol can sometimes do the trick, but that's also how the Thirty Years' War got started. While foreign powers can make their own selection, it is the Afghans themselves who, as the "old men" point out, will wield the ultimate veto.
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# Cajun 2008-10-24 05:25
Michael, I have loved your site ever since I found it a year ago. I especially liked this article - the writing and photography are inspiring.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-24 06:52
I totally agree, Solomon2, and I think most Afghans would also agree with your suggestion. It is the first post here I have seen for a while that shows some intelligent and constructive ideas. I was beginning to think that I was wasting my time trying to explain to people who were probably in kindergarten while I was living in Afghanistan, what the country is really like and what Afghans see us as.

The first dozen times I visited Afghanistan between 1965 and mid-1973, it was ruled by a king just as you describe - King Zahir Shah, a Pashtun. The entire country had enjoyed decades of peace and although it was "underdeveloped " the people were content with what they had.

In those years I was travelling throughout Eurasia and Afghanistan was my favourite country. I travelled across all its regions by public transport and by horse, learning the language, meeting the people and being welcomed everywhere. The king was universally accepted and respected.

These neocon western ideologues like Brit in Colorado and Baloney who think the answer is to impose democracy through the barrel of a gun, onto a culture that is diametrically opposite to their own, haven't got a clue. You cannot shove your own particular style of culture down other, alein peoples' throats telling them that you know it's good for them and they better accept it or they will be shot. That's the democratic equivalent of conversion by the sword.

We have enough problems to sort out in our own countries without exporting "democracy" (I am coming to be fed up of that word which is starting to be a euphemism for forced economic dependence or let's go hunting those who think different to us) to distant lands where the people are perfectly capable of sorting things out their own way.

We need to respect other people and their culture and try to imporve our own conditions at home instead of interfering, invading and imposing our ideology on people that don't want it.

Well said, Solomon2, and I really appreciate your input. I was beginning to feel all alone and am glad to hear another voice of sanity and wisdom amidst the crackle of guns and bombs radiating from True Brit Grit in Colorado and Rambo Baloneyism.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-24 09:35
Colorado Britle poses the following questions and Iƒ??m happy to respond, since with challenges comes progress and I??m a big fan of transparency, accountability and openness.

ƒ??Regarding the first two thirds of your post: Errrrr, what? Do you have a point?ƒ?
Have you a low attention span? Iƒ??ll reiterate the sequence to refresh your memory.
Firstly, you said my message was ƒ??insultingƒ? , whilst apparently condoning Baloneyƒ??s unbelievably offensive diatribe, to which I was replying in a comparatively sober fashion. My point is that this shows you to be unbalanced, prejudiced and lacking objectivity in your observations. Geddit?
Secondly, in your 23-10 / 15.09 post you accused me of lying by claiming not to be a journalist, as Iƒ??d written earlier that in 1983, Iƒ??d been filming for Aussie TV Ch-9. My point which youƒ??ve missed was to show that I was NOT an employee of Ch-9, or otherwise acting as a journalist, but making an amateur video to raise awareness about what the Reds were really doing in there. I worked on it free, paying all expenses out of my own pocket, out of compassion for the Afghan peoples' suffering under the Soviets. This doco was, indeed, later screened by Ch.9 and, who knows, it could have been what inspired Charlie Wilson when he saw it on a TV from that Jacuzzi in the Hollywood movie! So, you could be forgiven for thinking I was a liar and am actually a professional journalist who is posing as a member of the public, since you seem to appreciate that I am fairly well-informed, like journalists usually are. Therefore, I took it as a compliment. I quite understand and am happy to clear this up for you. Do you get it now? Let me know if there is anything else I wrote that you cannot follow, that I can help you out with.
In 1982 I also worked as the local Mr Fixit for Italian TV (RAI) whose main presenter wanted to do a primetime live broadcast in Italy showing the Mujahiddeen fighting the Soviets inside Afghanistan. I arranged it with the Mujaheddin with the help of the ISI, and organised microwave transmitter relay dishes to be positioned linking up in line of site from some live interviews and fighting that was going on over the border, via the highest peak over the Khyber Pass. I negotiated permission and help with logistics on behalf of RAI with the local Afridi and Shinwari tribal chieftains. From the mountains of Khyber the signal was relayed by line of site to the Pak TV tower in Peshawar, and then relayed via boosters to Karachi whence it was relayed via satellite transponders to Fumicino in Rome and successfully broadcast. Quite a feat in 1982, but it still does not make me into a professional journalist, which apparently for you appears to be some kind of term of abuse or disreputability . Geddit?

ƒ??Large numbers of troops were needed in Iraq due to ...ƒ? and ƒ??Foreign troops levels in Afghanistan so far (30-50 thousand) .... ƒ??
Your Neocon views about the need for enormous numbers of foreign troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are noted, and duly considered too ridiculous for words. Please donƒ??t repeat parrot-fashion these quaint and absurd excuses from the White House for starting pre-emptive wars, they are now largely discredited even in the United States itself and hopefully will soon be officially consigned to the Dustbin of American History Museum where they belong. You are evidently still fixed in the mindset of the old British Empire. This was okay in the 19th century. Nowadays, the world wants peace. To start a war on the excuse of it being to create peace is just the stupidest thing I have ever heard of in my entire life. How much are they paying you, what is your function and what do you do for a job my good fellow? Iƒ??ve told you all about myself and answered all your questions, how about coming clean about what sort of trip you are on yourself, Mr ƒ??Brit in Coloradoƒ???

Please let me know if you have any further questions.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-24 09:56
At Solomon2's prompting I've read Michaels' account of meeting the "Taleban" near Sarobi, which I know well. It is very revealing.

That area has always been under Engineer Gulbuddeen, known to Afghans as "Butcher Gulbuddeen". He is nothing to do with the Taleban, in fact they have always been bitter enemies. He even fought against other Mujahiddeen groups in the time of the Soviet occupation. I never had anything to do with his party since it had such a bad and cruel reputation.

Looking at the photographs as well, none of the people look anything like Taleban to me either. Taleban hate to wear the pakhool, the round Chitrali hat that everyone is wearing in these photos. They only wear turbans, and they look upon wearers of the pakhool as their natural enemies.

I doubt they are so duplicitous as to wear pakhools in order not to be taken as Taleban.

So this all goes to show that the label "Taleban", because it has been given such a bad name in the west, is being applied indiscriminatel y to any Afghan and even the enemies of the Taleban like these pakhool-wearing villagers, who may or not be HIG, and who might well still have attacked the French just becuase they are armed invaders on their soil and Pashtun Afghans in the countryside )not in Kabul) klike nothing better than shooting up foreign invaders and need no excuse to go out and have a good old battle.

In other words my point is that Michael's intervies and findings in Sarobi indicate the truth of the theory that whoever holds Kabul is attacked by the countryside people whenever they get the chance. "Da Zamung Dastur day" say the Pashtuns, which carves it in stone in a way that cannot be changed or questioned. Translated this means "That is our tradition". It over-rules all other ethnic, religious, cultural and communal values. Whatever they do, if there is a question about it, they follow their tradition. Another of their traditions, when they kill foreign invaders, is to castrate the bodies and stuff the penis in the corpse's mouth, and I suppose that Michael felt this was a little indelicate to mention, although he's happy to write elsewhere about "the human dog", "chewing off victims testicles" - that's about Afghan's testicles, so it's OK to mention.

So good luck, soldiers, watch your backs.
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# Brit in CO 2008-10-24 15:05
Sean, if you can not see that the Liberation of Iraq and the birth of its democracy prove the neocons correct (as does the destruction of the oppressive Taliban) you are blind. What has been thrown in the bust bin of history is the 19th century idea that the fuzzy wuzzies, golliwogs and sand niggers are somewhat less than the enlightened the white man of Western Europe. For the Afghans and Iraqis, like us all, "it is a good thing to burn down the capitol and kill the King every now and then.ƒ? The question is do they do it in an election or a bloody civil war.

Accepting the horrors of the Taliban and the poison gas of Anafal as "just the way it is" is the same apathetic evil that stood slack jawed and watched trains rumble off to concentration camps.

Keep on goose stepping Grand Wizard
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# Solomon2 2008-10-24 16:23
Not kings of Castile, but of Aragon. Here is the Oath of Loyalty taken by their subjects:

"We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than we, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided that you observe all our liberties and laws; but if not, then not."
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-25 07:36
Brit, youƒ??re right, Iƒ??m totally blind. If you call Iraq ƒ??liberatedƒ? when, even after 5 years of military occupation and maybe a million people dead, you have to bring in a ƒ??surgeƒ? of an extra 30,000 troops to lock down districts right inside the capital city, and so on and so forth, youƒ??re right, Iƒ??m totally blind to it.

Do you really think your puppet government will stand once you pull out the iron fist of your army of occupation? Hey, remember Vietnam! No, youƒ??re probably too young to remember that.

Have you read Michaelsƒ?? despatch from Sarobi, where he describes how the ANA cut and ran, abandoning their guns and equipment, after ƒ??lounging aroundƒ? on the battlefield, when the French patrol was being shot to pieces by those anti-Taleban freedom fighters? Thatƒ??s what the ANA does after 7 years of ƒ??liberationƒ?  and 7 years of ƒ??intensive trainingƒ? which was the occupying armyƒ??s ƒ??top priorityƒ? ƒ?? for seven years! How many more years will it take before the ANA will be ƒ??fully trained and reliableƒ?, and not run away in such situations? Or am I being blind to something?

What rest of the world has seen ƒ??liberatedƒ? is a few hundred billion dollars, into the coffers of the war industry, the latest technological killing equipment thatƒ??s been able to be tested ƒ??in the fieldƒ?, unknown numbers of terrorists who have been recruited as a result of your Neocon aggression, the febrile imagination and credulity of insane warmongers like you, and, maybe, temporarily, the Green Zone in Baghdad, at least most of the time. Evidently, youƒ??re blind to all that!

And which concentration camps are you talking about? Abu Ghraib and Gitmo Bay? I suppose you are one of these people who condone and practise torture, too ƒ?? so long, of course, as it is only done to further the interests of ƒ??freedom and democracyƒ?, and by ƒ??usƒ?, because ƒ??weƒ? are the ƒ??good guysƒ?.

ƒ??Godƒ??s on our sideƒ?, oh yeah. Thatƒ??s not blind, is it? Not for the Taleban! ƒ?? whoops, I mean the Creationists!!!
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# Bayani 2008-10-26 07:19
Crikey, Jonesey, you still swanning around here?

The vast swathe of Michael Yon's fandom are in MEGO catatonia from being subjected to the dustbin of your personal history.

Is it really that awful being you?
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-26 08:03
Hello Mr Baloney, welcome back to the fray!

One feared you had departed, deflated, to greener pastures new, some Rambo heaven of dead terrorists, or your usual catatonic state. [What are you on? Can I have some?] - but here you are, back again like Terminator, and fully puffed up with hilarious but empty rhetoric - as ever.

Anything interesting to say? I guess not. But do pour forth more of your heady brand of vitriol as it most evocatively illustrates your mental state and value to mankind far better than any comment that I could dream up.

BTW I think you missed comments 39 and 40, which were in response to your last salvo of amusing diatribe.

Please do feel free amuse us all some more - I'm sure you're right, that most readers of this column feel annoyed by the truth - nothing hurts like the truth, they say - and show how life is good on the neocon manure distribution fan side of the fence, I'm jealous of your killing wit and pleased to know your fandom fellows are getting even more catatonic than before as a result of my pathetic and ill-judged attempts to satirise the dogs of war. Maybe, resting in full MEGO catatonia they'll be in a position to do less damage to the rest of us.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-27 09:26
My western friends who are working for HR, freedom and democracy in Kabul, to whom I was talking yesterday, were just reassuring me that every single Afghan that they talk to swears they hate the Taleban, and are 100% on the side of western-style freedom and democracy.

Do they think that these guys would admit they liked the Taleban because the Taleban took over in 1998 largely by negotiation, very little fighting, and they made the whole country (except that under the Northern Aliiance) peaceful, disarmed and secure after 20 years of war? (That's what they all told me, when I was in Kabul and toured the surrounding countryside in April 1999, a few months after the Taleban took Kabul - it was totally secure at that time and with my wife we drove all around and toured all the places in Logar, Nangrahar, Sarobi and surrounding provinces, upto Panjshir, no escort needed, no driver, we drove ourselves, totally unarmed, there was no threatening behavious, no danger was felt anywhere - is was cool and my even wife thought the Taleban were sweet. That was our experience and bona-fide western tourists at the time).

No, now those same Afghans tell the westerners what they figure the westerners would like to hear - after all, if they give the impression they supported the Taleban they'd be disappeared and rended extraordinarily to Bagram torture centre, if not Gitmo.

So watch your backs because those very same Afghans who now swear they hate the Taleban will stab you in the back one day and be proud of their loyalty to the freedom of their country. That's what Afghans do. Foreigners may think they are treacherous, turning on you when you least expect it, but for them that is cunning and loyalty to their country. They swear they support you 100% and you are the best guys in the whole world and thank you for liberating us, we love you Americans, British are great, long live NATO, whatever. Then the moment your back is turned - you get toasted, castrated and your body thrown in the river, if there is a river, and your trusty Afghan servant will exult that he has done his duty well.

That's what Afghans have done to invaders throughout history. DO you believe what they tell you and think they that now it will be different because they say they want your brand of freedom and democracy even if it's imposed with an army of occupation that is there to kill other Afghans?

Do you think that because people don't have long beards they must be against the Taleban? All that is so naive.

Yesterday CNN reported the DHL "security" guard did just that and decided it was time to blow away these foreign invaders on Afghan soil. He could not wait. Boom! Another two invaders bite the dust. I am really sorry. It isn't me who supports that kind of behaviour. It's Afghans who are doing it. No doubt he had been carefully vetted and passed as an anti-Taleban, pro-western, modern, democratic, freedom-loving Afghan who could be fullt trusted to protect the westerners at the cost of his own life. "Freedom-loving Afghan" would have been the only correct bit of that assessment.

So wise up, you guys, you've got it coming sooner or later. The Afghan will never be subdued, he will wait his chance, act nice and friendly, take all the dollars, smile, swear alliegance, and then one day boom!boom! You are toast and he exults. He has done his duty to his country and his people and struck a blow for freedom and democracy, Afghan style.

When I look at these photographs of these great kids smiling for the camera, and no doubt taking handouts of Hershey bars and money to buy food, what I see when I look in their eyes is Afghan kids who dream of growing up and one day having the chance to kill these foreigners who think they are so welcome here.

Dream on, guys.
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# Daniel Dan 2008-10-28 19:46
Wow Sean Jones...Sean Jones...It's terrible being you. Your negative voice tone just make Americans like me stronger and stronger. Your anti-american ideology is just way too obsolete, mate. I hope you would go on and live with that ideology for the rest of your life. So, young americans like me would be able see black and white, dark and bright, and avoid bad things like you've poccessed. Live well, mate!
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-29 08:52
Dear Daniel Dan,

Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate that you have the guts to speak up and voice your thoughts, and I admire your positive sentiments. Iƒ??m very glad to see you care, but you have got a slightly wrong impression coming from my earlier arguments with your rather more militant and aggressive brothers, that I would like to be able clear up for you and anyone else following these interesting and illuminating comments.

I love Americans, I have loads of great American friends, with open and enquiring minds and they are all willing to debate and consider facts and other peopleƒ??s experiences and draw the right conclusions. Donƒ??t mistake my warnings and advice from my personal 40+ years of experience in Afghanistan for anti-Americanis m, my friend, just because it questions the conventional wisdom that is promoted on Faux News.

Afghans are fine too, they have their traditions and this is what I am trying to get across. It doesnƒ??t mean to say I subscribe to Afghan views, or applaud their vengeful culture; I support whatever is helpful and I oppose bad and harmful acts of everyone, whether they are Afghans or Americans.
Donƒ??t shoot the messenger because the message appears distasteful! Be wise, keep an open mind, unglued-up with prejudice, un-blinded by narrow, nationalist bias. Think big, think ƒ??worldƒ?, and be big enough and open-minded enough to take on board in a positive way things that might be helpful instead of retreating behind this concrete defensive wall of guilt and nationalism.

The situation is that the USA has invaded Afghanistan militarily and a large proportion of the people of that country are fighting back because thatƒ??s all they know to do under these circumstances. I oppose anyoneƒ??s military occupation of other countries. If the Afghans invaded the USA and occupied you militarily I would oppose that too, but this is not the case. The USA is the aggressor. Itƒ??s not a bordering country, itƒ??s 12,000 miles away.

OK, so itƒ??s true that Al Qaeda did 9/11 then went to hide behind the Afghans, took advantage of them, and the Afghans naively gave them sanctuary, so you went and blew up the whole country and killed tens of thousands of people there, that taught them a good lesson, but that was 7 years ago, what are you doing, still there now in 2008 and planning for troop surges and many more years of military occupation on the pattern of Iraq? Better go home, guys and stop creating more enemies. There are what, 30 million Afghans, and for every single one you kill another 10 from his/her family will rise up and take arms against you. This is why the insurgency is growing and growing as everyone can see and we can all see what itƒ??s going to lead to as well. Nothing good for anyone.

I deeply respect your soldiers and the sacrifices they make for their country, they are as brave as any other soldiers. Itƒ??s your Commander in Chief, who orders them to go attack this country, that country, whose policies we questions as deeply flawed. My heart goes out to the brave guys who die or get their limbs blown off, in what obviously seems a lost cause to anyone with a modicum of experience and a basic knowledge of relevant history.

Why doesnƒ??t anyone come back with proper arguments or facts? I challenge you with different views and facts that do not compute with your rhetoric, and all you can come back with is more character assassination, sarcastic and meaningless remarks like ƒ??it must be terrible being youƒ? and more dumb rhetoric. Letƒ??s hear something factual, something that makes sense, please.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-29 09:11
Iƒ??ve no ƒ??anti-America n ideologyƒ?, this has no basis. Iƒ??m anti-colonialis t, anti-imperialis t, anti-pre-emptiv e war, anti-torture; pro-freedom, pro-democracy, pro-accountabil ity, pro-education, pro-peace; Iƒ??m pro-American in the sense I support all good things America does; Iƒ??ve a healthy proportion of amiable, admirable and patriotic Americans amongst the friends I love dearly and in general I see Americans as the same as others, why not? Iƒ??ve no bias to any particular group and I donƒ??t oppose anyoneƒ??s actions unless they are shown and known to harm others, like Al Qaeda - or your Neocons. We all have the same body, mind, emotions, brain, pain, needs and aspirations. Itƒ??s just that a gang called the Neocons somehow seized power over there and is busy screwing up the whole world for everyone else, plus screwing up its own country in the process.

We all have to really thank GWB and gang for ripping aside the curtain of propriety and apparent virtue that used to cloak the USAƒ??s image in the world.

He exposed it for what it is for everyone to see, naked aggressors, excessive greed, and who cares what anybody thinks ƒ?? ƒ??we have the power, weƒ??re gonna use itƒ??.

Thatƒ??s what I donƒ??t support, but I donƒ??t see it as something ƒ??Americanƒ?, itƒ??s just bad human traits that sometimes get in power and wreak havoc. It happens from time to time in whatever country all over the world. Donƒ??t take it personal, kid! In my book, Americaƒ??s just as good as anywhere else, and in some respects itƒ??s even better.

I grew up in comfortable western post-war affluence, conditioned with this image of the USA as a benevolent giant, the saviour of the downtrodden; emancipated and enlightened, well-meaning and kind to the dispossessed, the impoverished and the victims of oppression, a US that established and supported the UN to establish peace, freedom and democracy by peaceful means all over the world.

In the last 8 years that happy image that we all treasured, which gave us hope and happiness has been shattered. The curtainƒ??s been ripped aside and the world enabled to see the naked truth of US actions in the world ƒ?? and internally ƒ?? unashamedly exposed. The economic meltdown that American greed and dishonesty has created is additional evidence, if needed.

We love Obama, a ray of hope, all my American and other friends hope and pray that he, and if not him then someone else, will do the necessary to reinstate that idyllic America that we an image of as we grew up, that now lies broken.

This is the America we all love and we all want to see rise up again ƒ??from the ashes of the Bushesƒ?.

I hope this goes some way to clearing up your distorted impression of my ƒ??anti-America nismƒ?.

I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to voice my views on this site and I feel like a very happy guy with wonderful circle of friends both locally and all over the world. My lifeƒ??s a gas and I love the opportunity to put my contribution in the mix. Thank you one and all for your contributions. I welcome all challenges: with discussion of challenges comes the chance to exchange views, learn and make progress in the world. And if anyone comes up with good arguments or experiences or points that I canƒ??t refute, I promise to concede and theyƒ??ll win.

Iƒ??ve no personal axe to grind but enjoy communicating and sharing views about such vital things that affect our whole world and what it will become of it for our children. Iƒ??ve two sons aged 19 and 20 and Iƒ??m proud of how theyƒ??re developing and their attitudes. I learn more from them every day.

So Daniel letƒ??s say it, loud and clear: ƒ??Long live Americaƒ? ƒ?? the version we love, that is ƒ?? and down with hate-mongers, warmongers, trouble-makers, the arrogant, the intolerant, the greedy and the oppressors who go out of their way to invade, destroy and kill ƒ?? whether theyƒ??re Americans, Afghans or from Timbuctoo. Agree?
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# Petunia 2008-10-29 19:51
One thing that needs to happen for Afghanistan to progress out of past centuries is for boys to stop girls from going on a fun adventure by throwing rocks at them. I am surprised and disappointed that neither Michael, Tim, Shem, nor Beata told them to stop and facilitated a little education desperately needed in this country: "Girls are just as good as boys."
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# Solomon2 2008-10-30 15:11
Tried that after the Soviet-sponsore d government fell, and it had the opposite effect: Afghans blamed us for abandoning them. And we tried that after the 1991 Saddam war, and the Shia blamed us for raising their hopes. The past 6+ years have at least restored some American credibility, is that not so?

Over at Michael Totten's blog, he revealed, from interviews, an important twist to thinking Lebanese thinking that may apply to Afghanistan as well: that it's ok to direct your anger against people who aren't your neighbors. Did American troops create lasting ill-will by their vast encampments in England before D-day? Just by being Americans - liberators - and interacting and helping the locals, encouraging them to join the anti-jihadist campaign, and leaving when they are comfortable with us departing - not before - isn't that the right way to go?
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-30 21:00
In reply to Solomon2, thank you for your comment. I take your point, itƒ??s a good one. Unfortunately itƒ??s beside the point that I was making. By ƒ??Better go home ...ƒ? I meant itƒ??s better to do that than make more enemies by fighting wars, killing people and making everyone hate you.

If the USA is truly liberating, and [as you say] ƒ??interacting and helping the locals, encouraging them to join the anti-jehadist campaign, and leaving them when they are comfortable with us departing ƒ?? not beforeƒ?, then I totally agree with you, thatƒ??s definitely the right way to go. Itƒ??d be great and thatƒ??s what the world dreams of and wishes the USA would do.

I feel that in the 1980s the USA really did help the Mujahideen liberate Afghanistan from Soviet military occupation by sending stingers etc., and I applaud it. I felt so grateful, at the time, personally, because as I said Afghanistan has been one of my favourite hangouts since 1965 and I strongly oppose what the Soviets did there.

Had the USA then moved in and followed up, helping out with rebuilding the country and facilitating development, then I suspect the Afghans would have welcomed it and the USA with open arms. Instead it was, indeed, abandoned, and in the USA-less vacuum the over-armed Mujahideen parties were left to slug it out between themselves and Najibullah. In the process the entire city of Kabul and whatever good the Soviets had done was destroyed, leaving the country totally exhausted and ripe for the Taliban to move in from 1994-97 and establish their kind of peace.

So the USA missed an opportunity. The Taleban took power by default and were later conned into giving sanctuary to Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda, leading to 9/11.

Had the USA done what you suggest and filled the post-Soviet vacuum with such a positive role as you portray then Iƒ??m dead sure theyƒ??d have been welcomed in to help rebuild, the Taleban would have stayed in the Pakistani Madrassas, Al Qaeda would have stayed in Africa, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO 9/11, Afghanistan would have been just as happy as the post-war British to host you and cooperate as a grateful client state and probably the world would be a far safer and happier place to live in than it is today.

Unfortunately this is not what happened and on the contrary invading countries to beat up on them on false pretences (e.g. WMD) and killing huge numbers of people just makes more enemies and I still say itƒ??s better to go home and stay there than do that.

But no use crying over spilt milk. I guess Obamaƒ??s got the smarts to fix this humungous neocon-generate d mess with effective long term solutions. I have faith in him and the USA to learn from mistakes and get it right in the end.

Good luck guys.
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# Solomon2 2008-10-31 02:36
"itƒ??s better to do that than make more enemies by fighting wars, killing people and making everyone hate you. "

Stockholm Syndrome may have worked for you, but it doesn't work for everyone. The Yezhidis of Iraq didn't fight or kill people, nor were they very hated, but refraining from fighting didn't save the Yezhidis when Al Qaida (or was it Syria?) blew them up. The Taliban resurgence began not with attacks on U.S. forces, but on Red Cross volunteers.

So it's OK for others to hate you - if that means you stay alive. The story of Moshe Dayan comes to mind. After their 1967 defeat, the Arabs hated him, yet respected his military skill. They were compelled to deal with Dayan personally after the 1973 war. Out of the background of respect plus the stimulus of personal contact a genuine admiration and even liking for the man developed. Maybe when you live in the jungle respect is a prerequisite to friendship.

"I guess Obamaƒ??s got the smarts to fix this humungous neocon-generate d mess with effective long term solutions. "

I'd guess not; I put no faith in a modern-day Commodus. We'll need luck, and then some. However, our little discussion, neocon to neocolonialist, does suggest that renewed political discussion about the future and direction of Afghanistan is in order among the interested parties, and may even bear fruit.
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# Sean Jones 2008-10-31 12:40
"Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus' eccentric behavior would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants." (Wikipedia).

Doesn't exactly sound like Obama to me, sir.

I don't quite get the point you are making with your other comments, either. Except that renewed discussion is in order - hear, hear. Don't forget to include ALL interested parties.

By the way who are you referring to exactly as the Neocon and the Neocolonialist who have been having this discussion? I thought these terms indicated one and the same party.
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# Solomon2 2008-10-31 14:42
Commodus rose to power not just as the purported son of the previous Emperor (the hereditary principle wasn't a hard rule for Imperial succession) but on a wave of popular enthusiasm - you just cited one such event that evoked Roman enthusiasm. A gladiator rather than a statesman, Commodus spoke to everybody and cut a deal with Rome's enemies that, although it gave peace for a few short years, pretty much ensured long-term military conflict and economic decay.

Yesterday on the radio I heard a pitch for Obama embedded in a supermarket commercial. That's something very new in political campaigning. There has been little substantial critical analysis of the candidate in the mainstream media. He owes everything to the press, and they know it. Why should anybody vote for a candidate who is tied by such a rope?
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+1 # RE: Jurassic Trailer ParkSean Jones 2008-11-01 08:04
Solomon2, Iƒ??m beginning to have doubts about your democratic credentials. You accuse Obama for (like Commodus) being so sneaky, so devious, as to ƒ??RISE TO POWER ON A WAVE OF POPULAR ENTHUSIASMƒ?. Shock, horror! [And he was son of the previous emperor, as well? Sounds more like George W to me!]

But anyway I always thought that was how democracy works. More votes = the winner. The most popular candidate wins the election. What do you propose as an alternative? Elect the candidate whoƒ??s the least liked by the people?

Or did I miss your point?

For years, the press supported George W Bush and his policies. Did you say then, ƒ??he owes everything to the press, thereƒ??s been no substantive analysisƒ?? I guess not, but that's what a lot of disinterested America-watcher s abroad concluded. I refer to the years from 2001 to 2006 or so, when to question the wisdom of George W's policies was considered "unamerican" or "unpatriotic", and people who did so got lynched by the press.

And then, you heard a pitch for Obama on the radio? How dare he! Does he think there is freedom of speech in the USA? Only Republican whites are allowed to make public statements?

Are you kidding us? Should he be gagged because you don't agree with what he says? Do you want a one-party state like China where dissidents are gagged or jailed?

ƒ??Why should anybody vote for a candidate who is tied by such a rope?ƒ? How should I know, Iƒ??m not American ƒ?? ask the clear majority of tens of millions of US voters who are so enthusiasticall y endorsing him, and backing his ƒ??rise to powerƒ? by voting for him in the polling booths.

Donƒ??t tell me that you only preach "freedom of speech and democracy" so long as the candidate from your party is elected, and so long as you agree with what he is communicating?

Oh, and you criticise Commodus for ƒ??ensuring long-term military conflict and economic decayƒ?? I canƒ??t believe that you are not comparing him to George W Bush here, but instead to the person whom the majority of your people clearly enthusiasticall y support as the man best able to come in and clean up the resulting mess and try to halt the tailspin your country is now in.

I guess you are getting a little twisted in your attitudes and thoughts. Come on, where is your democracy, where is your freedom of speech and freedom of communication, Mr Solomon2?
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# Solomon2 2008-11-01 23:50
"What do you propose as an alternative? Elect the candidate whoƒ??s the least liked by the people? "

Sure! I often choose to vote for somebody not because I like him or her, but because I think they're the right person for the job.

"...2001 to 2006 or so, when to question the wisdom of George W's policies was considered "unamerican" or "unpatriotic""

The period of fairly unified foreign and defense policy between Democrats and Republicans lasted from 9/11 to roughly August 2002, when division over the issue of the upcoming war to oust Saddam developed.

"you heard a pitch for Obama on the radio? How dare he!"

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. It was a genuine commercial for a local supermarket chain, but whoever created the commercial embedded a partisan pitch for the candidate inside it. I've never heard of combining commercials this way before, and I found it intensely distasteful.

"Are you kidding us? Should he be gagged...Donƒ?? t tell me that you only preach...the majority of your people clearly enthusiastically..."

You are putting words in my mouth here, and I don't like their taste, for I don't accept their validity. Your value as an interlocutor is much diminished when you do this since denying baseless accusations and red-herring statements is a great waste of time.
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# Sean Jones 2008-11-03 09:21
I apologise for time-wasting. Rather than ƒ??put distasteful words in your mouthƒ? I was trying to practise the time-honoured tradition of using logic, rhetoric and irony in the cut and thrust of a lively debate to draw out certain conclusions inherent in your statements and expose their flaws.

I deeply appreciated the wisdom of your earlier gems like ƒ??Democracy is the wrong form of government for Afghanistanƒ? and ƒ??These people [the Afghans] need a kingƒ?. From these and similar I concluded that, unlike moi, youƒ??d enjoyed a classical education and unlike Bayani et al you understood Afghan history and their character. I fully agreed.

Since Solomon1 understood the language of even birds and ants, as an accomplished debater I thought that youƒ??d follow and respond in like manner, without taking it personally. Iƒ??m sorry if my rhetorical was lost on you. I thought youƒ??d be equal to having your views questioned and regret it caused offence. My bad.

So, back to the chase: ƒ??I choose to vote not because I like him or her, but because I think they're the right person for the job.ƒ? Now itƒ??s you whoƒ??s playing with words, splitting hairs. Was I over-generous in assuming US voters would LIKE their candidate BECAUSE he/she was the right person for the job? I assumed, if one judges a candidate right for the job, one ƒ??likesƒ?? him/her, and vote accordingly. Wrong, apparently!

You imply youƒ??d vote for McCain as the right person, even though you donƒ??t like him. How very noble. Well if this be so then at least I can say that I half-agree with you - I donƒ??t like him either; but thatƒ??s my bad too: Iƒ??ll try to like him more. After all heƒ??s human and we have the same basic feelings and other attributes. I guess the problem is his conditioning. As an ex-POW his credentials are impeccable. Anyone whoƒ??s been a POW must be of excellent character, yes? Is that not so? Does that also apply to the enemy and his POWs? Only if God is on his side? But that includes Gitmo! Oh, shit ... it canƒ??t be right. Please, can you kindly clarify this point for us, sir. I guess itƒ??s all down to a question of subjectivity. Like, good guys/bad guys and primitive Neocon stuff like that.

ƒ??The period of fairly unified foreign and defense policy ... lasted from 9/11 to August 2002, when division over the issue of the war to oust Saddam developed.ƒ? Thanks for the correction. We never knew opposition to the war in Iraq went so far back, and in addition, we wrongly thought it was prosecuted because of WMD and Saddamƒ??s role in 9/11, as well, like Colin Powell was unforgettably made to tell the UN. Well, Iƒ??m glad to know opposition went back to 2002, even before the invasion. We thought America was fully united and anyone disagreeing was a traitor until around 2006 when the press timidly started to question what the hell was actually going on. The Democrats have risen in my estimation.

ƒ??It was a genuine commercial ... but whoever created [it] embedded a partisan pitch for the candidate ... I've never heard of combining commercials this way before, and I found it intensely distasteful.ƒ? Thatƒ??s very sensitive of you. I assumed this kind of thing was totally legal and fair. I read the US government spends billions of dollars on ƒ??perception managementƒ? [ƒ??propagandaƒ ? to us], and personally I find this somewhat distasteful. Whereas if a supermarket owner uses his freedom of speech and expression to spend his personal funds to support his candidate, as a donation to his campaign, in such a hotly-fought contest, Iƒ??d strongly support his freedom to spend his money in whichever legal way he wants. Unless, of course he was supporting McCain ƒ?? then I admit, Iƒ??d totally agree with you: Iƒ??d find it intensely distasteful.

Iƒ??m glad to see that weƒ??re in full agreement now on almost everything; that feels really good, oh wise one. I look forward to your clarifications on any outstanding divergences.
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# Sean Jones 2008-11-04 07:10
Alan Johnston was the BBC representative in Kabul when we visited during the Taliban regime in 1999, He was later held hostage in Palestine for a long period. He has been back to Afghanistan to interview people and has uncovered some interesting points to make, including the following:

"We talked to the former CIA man Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit set up by the agency to track the al-Qaeda leader as he moved across Afghanistan. Mr Scheuer told me of his deep frustration at the Clinton administration' s passing up of what he believes was an extraordinary opportunity to kill Bin Laden in the governor's palace in Kandahar one night late in 1998.

And after studying his target very closely for years, Mr Scheuer drew conclusions about Bin Laden's motives that you might not necessarily expect from a CIA man.

"The war that America is fighting now has nothing to do with what any American political leader has been willing to tell the Americans," he said.

"We're fighting people who believe that our foreign policy is an assault on their religion and on the people who believe in that religion. You don't have to agree with that, but you have to be an adult in the sense of understanding what motivates your enemy if you hope to defeat him."


Among our interviewees there was much criticism of the strategy that the West has pursued on all fronts in the aftermath of the ousting of the Taleban.

It was argued that far too little in the way of troops and resources were thrown into the project, and that the Americans too quickly moved on to the Iraq war - imagining that their work was largely done in Afghanistan.

There was criticism too of the West's collaboration with the former warlords who have done so much damage to Afghanistan in the past."
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# Solomon2 2008-11-13 14:42
I note that Sean Jones' assessment of Afghan and Pastun character is largely complimented by this article in the Telegraph (excerpt):

"One of the abiding challenges faced by coalition forces in Afghanistan, and the local forces they are training, is the question of loyalty. The word carries a powerful and straightforward message for British and American troops. For many Afghans, however, loyalty has far more nuanced meanings that cut across family, tribal and religious lines as well-honed survival instincts of those caught between warring sides. "

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# sean jones 2008-11-18 10:15
Itƒ??s fairly obvious that the so-called ƒ??Talibanƒ?, otherwise known as ƒ??Freedom Fightersƒ?, like all their Afghan forebears, enjoy a good scrap, love their guns, and delight in nothing more than resisting foreign armies on their sacred soil. This is, in my view, quite normal amongst most sovereign nations with a sense of patriotism.

The Afghans are exceptional because as a particular warrior race they have always thrived on such circumstances. One of their greatest boasts is that they ƒ??prefer a strong enemy to a weak friendƒ?. Thus even the Soviets despite their merciless brutality and overwhelming firepower were forced to beat an ignominious retreat.

The idea that by bringing in more foreign troops the invaders can tip the balance against the freedom fighters is at best naive. The more foreign troops are brought into the country, the more the Afghans will rise up and fight against them; conversely, the sooner the foreign troops leave, the sooner the freedom fighters will go back to their husbandry, banditry and sorting things out politically between themselves in their time-honoured tradition.

The whole of NATO policy and the whole NATO strategy is blind, foolish, idiotic, naive, stupid, ignorant, misconceived and bound to fail. Sorry! Itƒ??s as plain as the nose on your face

We were told back in 2001 that the priority was to train the Afghan National Army to protect Afghanistanƒ??s borders, and probably to fight against internal enemies of the current leadership like the so-called ƒ??Talibanƒ?. That is now seven years ago. Let the Afghans fight amongst themselves, if they want, in their own way. If their National Army with all the resources poured into it canƒ??t resist a rag-tag army of villagers with Kalashnikovs and a few RPGs and IEDs, how can foreign troops whose presence multiplies the insurgentsƒ?? numbers tenfold by their very presence in the country?

It is just pathetic that western powers think they can force ƒ??democracyƒ? down the throats of people like the Afghans, at the point of a gun.

If the ANA is not yet capable of coping with insurgents, call them what you will, despite being the countryƒ??s ƒ??National Armyƒ?, with 7 years training by the best that NATO can provide, and armed to the teeth, then when will it be ready?

In my long life I have rarely witnessed a political situation of such ineffable stupidity than that which the west has forced, and continues to force (with the most moronic justifications imaginable) onto Afghanistan.

Go for it! The Russians took eight or nine years to figure it out, how much more stupid is the west than that? Nearly there, keep going guys! Long live freedom and democracy!
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I justify for time-wasting. Kinda than ’??put distasteful language in your mouth’? I was trying to execute the time-honoured tradition of using logic, bunk and humor in the cut and actuation of a sparkly disputation to entertainer out careful conclusions implicit in your statements and endanger their flaws. I deeply apprehended the wiseness of your early gems like ’??Philosophy is the criminal forge of polity for Afghanistan’? and ’??These people [the Afghans] requirement a king’?. From these and confusable I over that, unlike moi, you’??d enjoyed a classic breeding and unlike Bayani et al you understood Asiatic account and their trait. I full united. Since Solomon1 taken the faculty of justified birds and ants, as an realized.
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