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Tags Posts tagged with "International Security Assistance Force"

International Security Assistance Force

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I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women who serve in the armed forces. They are on the whole a selfless, hardworking, dedicated group. I am proud to have served as one of them, and I will always respect them.

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Sometimes this happens in Afghanistan:

A low-water crossing, or wadi, along the route completely washed out due to heavy rains, hindering the freedom of movement for both coalition forces and the local populace.

It happens a lot of places, actually. Where there’s rain, and dirt, well, then there’s mud. And in this case, it was easy to see why this happened.
“The culvert denial systems got clogged with debris and runoff,” explained 2nd Lt. Eric Slockbower, the Combat Engineer Platoon commander. “This led to a build-up of water, which flooded the surrounding farmland, eroded the berm and eroded through the road.”
Ah yes, the “culvert denial systems” that are intended to keep ISAF troops safe from the IEDs that could be emplaced in said culverts and then used to destroy vehicles. They’re supposed to make it harder for the insurgents to place bombs in culverts and therefore kill people. They look like this:
Can you see why this might be a problem? (cryptome.org)
And, obviously, they’re doing a bang-up job of IED protection and deterrence, since over the course of the war, they definitely drove down the IED threat, right?
The number of improvised explosive devices that were cleared or detonated rose to 16,554 from 15,225, an increase of 9%, according to data obtained by USA TODAY. In 2009, total IED “events,” as they are known, came to 9,304.
That was from a USA Today report in January of 2012. Which means that the system that’s designed to prevent IED attacks really isn’t that successful at its intended purpose. Yet, given how vital they are to the war effort, one could also assume that they receive a greater-than-average level of project oversight.
The inquiry stems from the killing of two American soldiers in July on a highway in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan. An Afghan contractor didn’t install grates that could have prevented insurgents from planting bombs in culverts carrying water under roadways, according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
 Glad someone’s paying super close attention to these uber important systems.
So they’re not great at stopping IEDs, and apparently not always built properly. But culvert denial can also mean road denial. And, since people hate roads and their facilitation of easier travel between places, it’s a good thing this secondary effect of road destruction turns out to be such a success. Fortunately, ISAF has its eyes on the prize as far as who it’s here to really help.
“A lot of convoys and also the Afghan people can use this road (again),” said Akery. “It benefits everybody.”
Good to see that road usage by the people who live in this country rate an “also” when it comes to their mobility. Since this is a problem that ISAF created in the first place. Once again, everyone wins.
Even the Afghans.
Until next time, stay on that sunny side!
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So this is usually the point in the week where I usually do a “5 Things I Learned This Week in Afghanistan” post, but this week I’m opting for something a little different. In the spirit of the “Where’s Waldo?” series of fine literature, let’s take a look at a series of photos that probably spell out more than anything the current state of the relationship between the US and Afghanistan.

You may have heard that General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) this week.

So what happened at the ceremony? Can you spot the Karzai?

There were four white dudes in uniform. I understand they do stuff here in Afghanistan.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

There was a band.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Some manly hugging…

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

And now…let’s spot the Afghans.

Here’s one:

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Nope. Not Karzai.

And another one:

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Still not Karzai.

Wait, here’s one in a suit. I also understand he’s important.

ISAF Change of Command (ISAF Media)

Still no Hamid.

So, where’s Karzai? Maybe he just doesn’t like being photographed with the commanders of ISAF?

Karzai…and McChrystal (ISAF Media)
Karzai…and Petraeus (Washington Post)

 

Karzai…and Allen (ISAF Media)

Huh.

So it doesn’t appear that the man’s photophobic when it comes to ISAF commanders. Maybe he just doesn’t like change of command ceremonies?

McKiernan takes over as COMISAF. Um, that’s Karzai on his right (Army.mil)

So he’s been there before.

Back when we did these things outdoors vs. in the gym. Let me draw your attention to the pullup bars directly above Mohammadi’s head:

You stay classy, ISAF! (ISAF Media)

So we’ve gone from outdoor ceremonies attended by the President of Afghanistan to huddling in the gym under the pullup bars, while Karzai is noticeably absent from the festivities. And the future hope for ISAF?

Well. That is a rousing sendoff, huh?

When the President’s not there, and your “ceremony” is being held in the same place they do the Zumba, maybe it’s time to realize that the overall tone of the adventure has decidedly…dimmed. This isn’t “Afghan first” or any other cute phrase that’s going to help explain this away. This is just a sad beginning to the inevitably depressing epilogue to the last chapter of “Operation Ready or Not.”

Until next time, you stay on the sunny side!

 

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Since I was otherwise engaged yesterday in probably yet another round of introspective navel gazing, or whatever,  I missed this:

At least four civilians have been killed and nine more injured in a bomb blast in northern Faryab province, local officials said Tuesday.

The incident took place in a hotel in the Khwaja Sabz Posh district about 10:30am local time, when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off, provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mullahkhil told TOLOnews.

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year, when we gather together in Pennsylvania to brace ourselves against impending disaster. No, I’m not talking about opening day at PNC Park, although that is depressing. Not quite as depressing as the fact that a) there’s such a thing as a Spice Girl and b) they keep coming back, but, still sad.

No, I’m talking about Groundhog Day, when those in America bound by the icy clasp of winter hope that some rodent can tell them whether spring is on the way. Or if they’ll have to endure long, dreary weeks of more cold. Which, of course, disproves global warming. It’s an event so magical that Bill Murray made a movie about it, you may recall.

Bill Murray plays a self-centered, egotistical man who mocks Punxsutawney Phil and the whole tradition surrounding that overgrown rat’s emerging from his winter slumber. He’s only focused on doing things that make him feel good. Kind of like this guy:

“We like to do this sort of thing because it makes us feel good.”

Well, so long as you feel better.

Naturally. Why else would someone take time out of their busy day to distribute clothes to Afghan refugee kids?

The Afghan winter poses a difficult – and sometimes deadly – challenge to refugees crowded into camps that surround the capital city. Overnight temperatures routinely dip below freezing, and the treeless countryside offers little in the way of firewood for the poorly-clothed refugees and their children.

Nearly two hundred of those children who attend the Aschiana School in Kabul got welcome relief from volunteers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters who, on Jan. 27, delivered bags of donated hats, mittens, scarves and other cold-weather clothing.

Local Afghan children wait on line for the chance to get some much needed warm clothes at the Aschiana School. (Photo by Laila Khoshnaw, ISAF HQ)

Enter expatriates in shining armor.

Project coordinator Parween Omidi is an Afghan American who for the past three years has worked as an ISAF civilian media advisor and interpreter. Born and raised in Kabul, Omidi and her family fled the country following the Soviet invasion in 1983, settling in Orange County, Calif.  As the years went by Omidi never forgot about the children of Afghanistan and was involved in several programs to provide them with care.

“I felt guilty,” she said. “I could get away, and they couldn’t. I wanted to give them a little hope that someone was looking after them.”

So they’re…orphans? Oh. Right. Not orphans.

Yes, because what Afghans need more than anything is someone to look after them. What the world in general needs is more expatriate types coming back to their home countries from America, letting people know that Americans…are there for them. Never mind that these aren’t orphans. They actually have families that probably think they’re the ones looking after their kids.

“Of course there is no way to know what any one child might need,” Omidi said. “But once the clothes are taken back to the family, the families can trade with each other for what they need. And sometimes you can tell. Like I saw a girl who was just wearing slippers outside, so I tried to quickly look through the bags and find one that had shoes.”

Why waste all that time trying to find out what the kids might actually need, when you “can tell”? And above all? Make sure they have good manners.

“The children there are very polite,” Omidi said. “While they were lining up to get the bags, I told them to be sure to say thank you to the Americans handing the bags out. They laughed and said, ‘We know to say thank you!’”

Oh look…they can say “thank you.” Just like people!

Imagine. Afghan kids. That know how to…say thank you. And yes, let’s make sure that no matter what happens, you thank the Americans for the wonderful job they’ve done. Bringing you clothes you may or may not need.

“I do feel that we make a small difference,” Omidi said. “These kids need proper clothing as [do] any other kids. Their families live in the refugee camps and are not able to provide warm clothing for their children. They should not become only the responsibility of the government or the U.N. It is up to the community to try to provide them whatever they can.”

No, I have no idea how clothing donated by Americans and distributed by ISAF troops is in any way a community-based relief effort. But then, I’m not terribly bright. Otherwise, this would make a lot more sense to me than it actually does.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying we shouldn’t donate clothing to Afghan kids. There are some genuinely needy and hurting people in this country, especially in the wintertime. But what I am saying is this: we need to be doing it better. Not out of pity, not out of some condescending “oh, too bad they can’t help themselves” aid approach.

We keep doing this. Over and over.

This clothing drive is a microcosm of the cataclysmic failure that is development aid in Afghanistan. We don’t find out what they need, we just give it to them, and sort it out later. Sounds like our plan for the billions in aid dollars we’ve pumped into this country over the years.

Looking at the picture, most of those kids look fairly well dressed to fend off the cold. While I want to believe they’re taking that stuff home to sort out and hand to their brothers and sisters, there’s the much more likely possibility that they’re going to sell it somewhere.

Why?

Because that’s what they need, is money. Money to buy fuel so they can heat their homes at night and not die. When the temperatures drop below freezing, all the clothing drives in the world aren’t going to fend off that chill. Yes, ISAF volunteers have put together fuel drives, and that’s great.

But what happens when ISAF leaves? Sustainability isn’t something you tack on to a program as you’re wrapping it up. Sustainability has to be a primary component for consideration when you’re trying to put together something that’s going to last after you’re gone.

That’s why Groundhog Day worked: Phil Connors fixed what he could, and in no way made himself  a permanent part of the solution. Sure, he was probably doing it just to get the girl. I’m not trying to make him out to be the model for all things Samaritan. But instead of fixing what we think we should fix, why don’t we just fix what’s actually broken? And in a way that stands a decent chance of staying fixed?

So here’s what I’d like to hear from you as a reader: do you have any stories of aid/development efforts that actually worked? I’m not just talking about Afghanistan, but anywhere? I know those stories are out there.

Until next time, you stay on the sunny side!

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You may have heard of Warm Bodies, which is the heart…warming?…tale of a zombie who falls in love. Add in a healthy dose of zombie gore, stir in some Rob Corddry, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for movie awesomeness. Warm Bodies may be many things: love story, monster film, even dark-ish comedy. But one thing it is not, and that is an instructional tale designed to make you a better runner.

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