Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Anatomy of a plane disaster in Afghanistan

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In July this year,  a U.S. Air Force F-15E supersonic fighter crashed into a dark mountainside in eastern Afghanistan killing both crew members.  While there have been several helicopter accidents, crashes by supersonic jets are a rare occurrence especially in a country where the enemy doesn’t have the weapons to threaten them.

So what went wrong ? Time magazine published the results of an Air Force investigation last week and it suggests that the “stresses of combat , accumulating slowly and insidiously, can overcome the world’s best pilots even when everything aboard a a $50 million fighter jet works perfectly.”

The deadly sequence of events began late at night when a pair of  the F-15E or Strike Eagles were on their way back to Bagram air base after a four-hour mision near the Pakistan border, supporting ground troops. Just then, the pilots decided to practice high-angle strafing runs against dirt mounds in the middle of a dry river bed.

It is arguably one of the Air Force’s most dangerous misions — diving toward the ground amid mountains on a dark night. Yes, the pilots were wearing night vision goggles, but because they work by amplifying the existing light, they can only do so much. 

Can Obama learn from Soviets how to withdraw from Afghanistan?

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President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will begin pulling its troops out Afghanistan in 2011 provides a good opportunity to look back and study history. This will, after all, be the second time Afghans have bid farewell to a superpower, and Nikolai Gvosdev in Foreign Affairs offers an interesting take on what happened the last time, when the Soviets pulled out in 1989.   A portrait of former Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah is pasted up inside a window in Kabul on Dec. 11, 2009. Najibullah, who clung to power for three years after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and was hung from a traffic lamp by the Taliban is now a popular figure among many Afghans who remember his rule as a gentler time than life under the warring factions that toppled him. Photo by Peter Graff, Reuters.  

The man the Soviets left in charge was Mohammad Najibullah, who clung to power for three more years, then sheltered for another four years in the U.N. compound in Kabul, before finally ending up strung up by the Taliban from a Kabul traffic lamp in 1996. Najibullah’s grisly end means his career hardly seems like one that President Hamid Karzai would want to emulate. Yet Gvosdev’s account is a reminder that Najibullah actually held on to power far longer than most in the West expected. His government in fact actually outlasted the Soviet Union itself, which collapsed in 1991.

In Gvosdev’s account, the key to Najibullah’s success lay in part in lavishing funds on tribal and provincial chiefs. That tactic became impossible after the Soviet Union disintegrated and the money dried up. Even so, Najibullah might have still hung on had Pakistan not been given free rein by the West to back the Mujahideen that unseated him.

from Tales from the Trail:

What rift? Eikenberry, McChrystal take vows of unity

They smiled at each other and publicly said "I do."

USAGeneral Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, widely reported to have had a falling-out over sending  30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, on Tuesday pledged their support for President Barack Obama's strategy and for each other.

The congressional hearing was on the Afghan war, but it had moments that almost seemed borrowed from a wedding ceremony.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan:how do al Qaeda and the Taliban respond?

peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.  

from Tales from the Trail:

Public forecast for Afghan strategy – stalemate

Americans have doubts over whether President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy will ultimately result in victory, but a majority say the war is morally justified.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll finds that 57 percent said the most likely outcome for the United States in Afghanistan would be a stalemate, with 29 percent predicting victory.

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