Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kabul by Taxi

Military movevement in Kabul is awkward and time intensive. My military ride was diverted so in order to make the 1530 briefing time for my embed I took a local Taxi.

Things will only get more interesting from here. 
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Old attitudes, a new war

In a recent article in the print edition of Stars and Stripes written by Jeff Schogol titled, "4,000 4th BCT, 82d Airborne paratroopers going to Afghanistan to train security forces," (Saturday, March 28, 2009), Schogol quotes an unidentified Pentagon official in reference to the training and mentoring mission of Afghanistan's security forces, as saying, "Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams..." The quote has created considerable stir and rightfully so. (Stars and Stripes has removed the original link to the article, redrafting the online post with the quote removed. The only remaining "smoking gun" are the thousands of print copies distributed throughout the world on US military bases.)

What the article's comment reflects is a pervasive attitude within that Regular Army that draws back to an image of the National Guard as an under equipped, under trained force from the years following Vietnam. The Guard of today looks and operates nothing like the Guard of years past. Following from 8 years of war, the National Guard now has more combat experience within its ranks than its overshadowing "big brother." And unlike its overshadowing "big brother," the National Guard maintains both a domestic mission profile along with its combat mission profile. (Think back to Katrina and the Lt. General Russel Honore's push to get 82d Airborne on the ground to secure the city. The security was done by the National Guard; the 82d was prevented from doing anything other then presence patrols less they risk violating passe comitatus.)

What has been seriously overlooked in Afghanistan is how much impact the National Guard has made. Having been given the mission of training the Afghan National Army in 2003, the National Guard has been the quiet force behind the majority of training of Afghanistan's national army and security forces. That mission was further expanded in the Fall of 2006 when Brigadier General Pritt was directed by Major General Durbin to implement a training and mentorship program for the Afghan National Police, taking over for the failed efforts of Dyncorp. Pritt's and the 41st Brigade's efforts have been given little attention in spite of the fact that the training program was put in place in a record three months, without any additional funding or man power resourcing. That success can be directly attributed to the Guard's ability to adapt to varied mission sets by tapping into their civilian skill sets; something the Regular Army lacks. To date the National Guard continues to expand its training and mentorship role throughout the country.

As the big Army prepares to take over more of the mission here in Afghanistan, it would be well advised to look towards the National Guard, among others, for guidance. The attitudes that somehow the Guard is inferior need to be left in the past. Afghanistan remains a counter-insurgency fight. That demands flexibility and quick adaptation to circumstances. The National Guard has proven itself capable in that area with lessons learned worth listening too.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Waiting...

The weather is overcast as I sit here looking out through the double glass doors onto a section of the runway at Delhi International. Passengers to Kabul are easy to spot . There is the way they dress of course but it is more in the eyes. The American across from me is nervous as if wondering what awaits. The Afghan eyes speak of histories and stories never told...

I am now just waiting. There is no rushing things in this part of the world.

0615 am
29 March 2009.
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Twenty hours later, after a short attempt at sleep, I sit here in the community computer room typing this entry. Camp Phoenix is familiar. I walk around here with the familiarity of a regular visitor. Yet so much is changing. New facilities being added, new barracks being constructed - this time from steal rather than wood. The plans are laid on to tear down all of the wood living huts and replace them with metal container rooms. The idea of "temporary" or "short term" is quickly being overwritten with "lasting" and "extended stays."

Within in all of this is the already present uncertainty of command structures. Unity of command has remained one of the greatest obstacles to military operations in Afghanistan. Special Operations forces have approached this as a counter-insurgency fight. The Regular Army has tried to adapt, but ultimately has struggled with its own histories and pasts, unable to leave its own culture forged on years of cold war thinking, national armies and the politics of careers. The unrecognized paladin's being the National Guard, who along with Special Operations groups, have been responsible for training and mentoring the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and Afghan Border Police. What Special Operations forces and the National Guard have in common is the common goal of building the army and security forces so that it is the Afghans fighting their own fight; to get the job done and come home. Any reference to victory is just a parenthetical buzz word for some form of exit strategy.

But like so many things in this part of the world, one must wait and see. Time seems to flow at a different pace here; a part of the world where time seems to have actually remained still. But even that is changing. Nothing here is it as it seems.

As my Afghan friend reminded me yesterday morning as I got out of his car to enter Camp Phoenix, "Trust no one. You are back in Afghanistan."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The time in between...

New Delhi, India. The step off point for my third trip to Afghanistan. I'm sitting here in the receiving area of Indira Ghandhi International Airport, waiting for my flight to Kabul. It's now 1am, and my flight is at 730am.

India is the half way house between third world and first world. A mix of western and ancient, tradition and trend. The eight hours I have between flights is time to transition and focus. I grab an expresso and a fresh Somosa, connect to the internet and watch taxi cab drivers vie for position just outside. Car horns seem to be the universal language of travel.

Afghanistan was a place that was once foreign to me, that has slowly become part of my life. At moments during my packing, it almost seemed routine. But I know better. With my ride arranged from Kabul International to Camp Phoenix, it is now only a matter of waiting.

Time to my flight: 6 hours.