Kabul is currently a tense place. It has had periods of unrest many times in the past (the 2006 riots that erupted after American soldiers caused a multi-fatality motor vehicle accident springs instantly to mind) but Kabul isn’t experiencing unrest – it’s tense like a tight spring. The endgame is near, internationals are no longer welcomed in most parts of the country and barely tolerated in the rest. Armored SUV’s, still the only way most internationals will travel in Kabul, are routinely stopped and the legally licensed weapons of the international security consultants confiscated. On a technical note every weapon owned and licensed to PSC firms are now illegal because the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) was supposed to take over the security duties from international PSC’s last month and that’s not remotely close to happening. For those who do have APPF guards on their compounds the word is the guards have no weapons and are not being paid by the APPF leadership. This is a surprise to who? Nobody that has clue about how these things usually work out in Afghanistan I can assure you.
The locals in Kabul are concerned about what will happen when ISAF and the international community pull out. They are also disgusted with the US, ISAF, the UN, the big international reconstruction firms and the Afghan politicians who are looting the country. Who can blame them? I’m disgusted with the American politicians who are looting my country too. Over here the mob is inflamed by Koran burning and rouge shootings. In America the mob is inflamed by a media manufactured “racially motivated” shootings. The New York Times prints articles about corrupt officials in Kabul and ponder aloud why they remain at liberty. I’d like to know why Jon Corzine is still at liberty; he stole 1.6 billion dollars from his investors making the millions his Afghan counterparts are pocketing pale in comparison. But we know why these men are free – politically powerful members of corrupt political machines never face the consequences of their actions.
With Kabul so tense we are spending most of our time in the compound tracking atmospherics with our local national staff.
The Koran Burning Apologies
It was not the apologies that were so bad it was how they were made and what was said. Some regular Joe’s in Bagram made a mistake and placed Korans into an incinerator. Local Afghans saw this and, with the help of the soldiers, rescued the material. That’s the story – there is nothing else need be said and here’s why. We have an 11- year track record in Afghanistan of not only respecting cultural mores and traditions but of bending over backward to show that respect. Any accusation or remark by a senior Afghan official that we disrespect Islam or the Koran should have been met with an explosion of righteous indignation. And I mean eyes bugged out, frothing at the mouth explosion of spitting right back at them the years and years of evidence that such a charge is out of line. If there is nobody at the ISAF HQ capable of doing that maybe we should consider forgiving the considerable tax debt of NBC news commentator Al Sharpton and send him over here to deal with the press.
Pasted above are two recent examples of ISAF messaging; the first is self explanatory, the second un-explainable. Let me take the second first and, to make it fair, let me stipulate the following. I’ll ignore the color of the Shalwar Kamise (the senior guy should be in all white) and ignore the man dancing (the senior guy doesn’t dance – he has subordinates that he can make do that) and focus on the venue. Locked deep inside the most secure base in Southern Afghanistan, behind multiple secure entry points is a prefabbed trailer with pictures of the Prez and the Queen and no doubt President Karzai along with some local textiles hanging on the walls and probably a bunch of Afghan rugs the Marines paid 18 times too much for and its called the Afghan Cultural Center. The Commanding General wanted to thank the Governor of Helmand for all the great team work that has made his year-long tour so successful and he does this inside a gigantic Marine base where he established some bullshit “cultural center”? You know what that makes him look like in the local context? Weak. If he wanted to put on local clothes and spend the night man dancing to thank the governor for such a great year on the ground he should have had the balls (and G2) to go to the Governors compound. At least he would have been in a real Afghan room listening to real Afghan music while eating real Afghan food and most importantly demonstrating some confidence in all the improved security that was the cause of this silly celebration in the first place.
The Big Picture
Is there a reason for us to stay in Afghanistan? No there’s not but I’ve been saying that for years. Should the military be packing up and going home? They are – it is going to take until 2014 and probably well beyond just to retrograde all the equipment and personnel from theater and I doubt there is much they can do to speed the process up. Should we stop doing night raids? Yes – I’ve been saying that for years too and I don’t care how many phone conversations of panicked Taliban ISAF intercepts or how many senior guys they kill because it doesn’t matter. Every month the Taliban spread, every month the number of successful IED strikes goes up, every month more Afghan government officials are assassinated. If these are indicators that the night raid tactic is working what are the indicators that it’s not? I think the reason we do night raids is because we have a huge, expensive, special operations apparatus that specializes in night raids. When you’re a hammer every problem looks like a nail right?
But night raids aren’t my problem today…this is and I took a screen shot just in case the story disappears from the web as fast as the stories about Obama sending one of his kids, with a dozen of her friends, and two dozen Secret Service agents to Mexico (on our dime) did.
Breaking News: Ban on full-face veils instituted in Afghanistan may be the only hint of good news I’ve seen from Afghanistan this month. Somebody here has developed a serious sense of humor combined with an understanding of irony and fooled the western media with a fake news story. If (and I can’t see how) but if, the central government tried to force Afghan women out of the Burka the appropriate Immediate Action Drill for all foreigners would be to head to the Kabul airport and fly out with the clothes on your back. Any attempt to go to ground in a safe house or delay your departure a day or two would be suicidal. That’s how disruptive the topic of women and their place in society is in Afghanistan.
To those westerners the treatment of Afghan women is so uniformly dismal that it is unbelievable. You want to see the ANP respond to a police call with true alacrity? Phone in a report of an un-escorted teenage girl talking to a male who is not her relative. I’ve seen that kind of call play out in the past and it’s not pretty. In fact here’s a story from yesterday about just how strongly locals feel on the issue: Boy and Girl killed in Afghanistan acid attack ‘over friendship’. But to Afghans the treatment of women in this country and boys who befriend them outside the conventions of social mores, is the way it is supposed to be because it’s the way it has always been. That will change when the Afghan people want it to change and there is very little any one person or country can do to speed that process up.
How woman are treated in Afghanistan may be something are progressive leaders believes worth fighting for but it’s not. You cannot change 6,000 years of cultural practice by force because cultures double down on themselves when under attack from outsiders. But that’s just reality which seems optional with our senior leaders at times.
That fake news story would be hysterically funny but it could also set off violent rioting that would target westerners. Let’s hope it disappears fast.