Michael's Dispatches

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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.

Predator

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.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmeericanJarhead · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jerrick · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joanie · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Richardson · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James Kirtley · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TruBlu · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Stephen Mondaca · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Amy K · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nicholas · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ronster · 10 years ago
    Im guessing they said the Russians were tougher because of how they fought that war. Scorched earth and all...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Smith · 10 years ago
    http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/mar/girl/

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/03/0311_020312_sharbat.html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Greg H · 10 years ago
    Another great dispatch. Keep up the good work
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Danger Girl · 10 years ago
    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".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Frankie Mayo · 10 years ago
    Great work Mike. Tell me when to send you a heater.

    -frankie
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andy · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jones-zie · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    laura · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dickc · 10 years ago
    Has Dolph Lundgren been to that village? The kid second from the right is a spiting image. Great pics as always.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jerrick · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robin · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kevlaur · 10 years ago
    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.

    Kevlaur
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Dog Ducati · 10 years ago
    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!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nasrullah Zamir · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Megs · 10 years ago
    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
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nasrullah Zamir · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 10 years ago
    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/Afghanistan 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-controlled weaponry and dropping bombs on them from on high as if you are doing them a favour.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim Lynch · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the quick responses regarding the armbands. I appreciate it. Keep your heads down!
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    dorimedina · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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/socialist 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-treating 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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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-congratulatory 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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    Huzzah!

    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/Brit or Australian-ersatz 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 · 10 years ago
    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-condescending 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 · 10 years ago
    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 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 · 10 years ago
    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-Americanism 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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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/theocracy 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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 10 years ago
    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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