Fighting season is now on. This year the villains strategy appears to involve deliberate attacks on aid projects and let me tell you something we (the outside the wire aid community) are getting hammered. In the last week a majority of us have had to deal with murders, intimidation, shootings, IED’s, kidnappings and attacks on vendors in all areas of the country. There are more men and women outside the wire doing good deeds then any you suspect; most are smart enough to keep a low profile and I now wish I were one of them.
This will be my last post. I’m afraid the blog has become too popular raising my personal profile too high. We have had to change everything in order to continue working. How we move, how we live, our security methodology; all of it has been fine tuned. Part of that change is allowing the FRI blog to go dark. I have no choice; my colleagues and I signed contracts, gave our word, and have thousands of Afghan families who have bet their futures on our promises. If we are going to remain on the job we have to maintain a low profile and that is hard to do with this blog.
As is always the case the outside the wire internationals are catching it from all sides. In Kabul the Afghans have jailed the country manager of Global Security over having four unregistered weapons in the company armory. When the endemic corruption in Afghanistan makes the news or the pressure about it is applied diplomatically the Afghans always respond by throwing a few Expat security contractors in jail. Remember that the next time our legacy media tries to spin a yarn about “unaccountable” security companies and the “1000 dollar a day” security contractor business both of which are now fictions of the liberal media imagination.
With time comes progress; especially on the big box FOB’s; but progress has served us quiet the dilemma. We depend on our two fixed wing planes for transportation around the country. Sometimes we are forced to overnight on one of the big box FOB’s where random searches for contraband in contractor billeting is routine. All electronic recording equipment; cell phones, PDA’s laptops, cameras, etc… are all supposed to be registered in base with the security departments. But we aren’t assigned to these bases and cannot register our equipment. Being caught with it means it could confiscated, being caught with a weapon would result in arrest by base MP’s. Weapons license’s from the Government of Afghanistan aren’t recognized by ISAF; at least not on the big bases.
I’m not bitching because I understand why things are the way they are. The military has had serious problems with shootings in secure areas. Not one of those has been committed by an armed Expat but that fact is irrelevant. Both the British and Americans have armed contractors working for them who have gone through specified pre-deployment training and have official “arming authority”. Afghan based international security types may or may not have any training and they certainly do not have DoD or MoD arming authority. A legally licensed and registered weapon is no more welcomed on a military base in Afghanistan then it would be on a base in America. Try walking around one with a legally concealed weapon and see what happens if you’re detected. Just because you have a concealed carry permit doesn’t mean you’re welcomed to carry a loaded weapon onto a military installation in America. What is true back home is now true here; remember these based are crammed full of tens of thousands of people so all sorts of problems will crop up inside a large population confined to such a small area. It is what it is and for us it is much harder to operate. But not impossible.
Believe it or not the security situation for us is not that bad. Our safety has always come from local people in the communities where we are active. Being armed would be of little value were this not so. Last week when Afghan supervisors from an aid project in the East were kidnapped the local elders commandeered vehicles and took off in hot pursuit of the villains. In my areas of responsibility, which covers several provinces, we have around a 90% rate of return for kidnapped personnel from internationally sponsored aid programs (still a rare occurrence in the South unlike the East). Village elders go and get them back with no prodding from us. They do this to keep their end of the bargain and we keeping our end too; we’re not stopping projects.
But who, aside from the people directly benefitting cares? I have spent three years writing poorly edited posts in an effort to describe a way forward that did not cost billions. But our political leaders and military officers would rather hear that they could achieve results drinking tea from a con man peddling news too good to be true then from one of their own. Shura’s are how Afghans solve problems; few of us internationals have the language skill, patience, or reputations required to get things done with a Shura. Sitting down to drink tea while being humble means nothing to Afghans; they have seen enough good intentions and are now only interested in results. It really doesn’t matter now anyway – the end game approaches and there will be no radical innovations made in how we go about getting things done in Afghanistan.
So it is time for me to go from blogsphere. After this contract it will be time for me to physically go. I have a childlike faith in the ability of Gen Allen to come in and make the best of the situation he finds on the ground. Maybe I’ll stick around to see it for myself – we have a long summer ahead and much can change. But staying here means going back to Ghost Team mode.
I want to thank all of the folks who have participated in the comments section, bloggers Matt from Feral Jundi, Old Blue from Afghan Quest, Michael Yon, Joshua Foust from Registan.net, Herschel Smith from The Captains Journal and Kanani from The Kitchen Dispatch for their support and kind email exchanges. Baba Ken of the Synergy Strike Force for hosting me, Jules who recently stepped in to provide much needed editing, and Amy Sun from the MIT Fab Lab for getting me started and encouraging me along the way. Your support meant an awful lot to me; I’m going to miss not being part of the conversation.