Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Half a billion dollars for Afghan interpreters

(An Afghan interpreter with a U.S. army soldier in Kunar province.Reuters/Tim Wimborne)

(An Afghan interpreter with a U.S. army soldier in Kunar province.Reuters/Tim Wimborne)

Thousands of U.S. troops are streaming into Afghanistan each month as part of the surge, and among the things critical to their mission are the services of interpreters.

The U.S. army this month extended the contract of an Ohio-based company to provide translators for Afghanistan for another year at a cost of $679 million. U.S. and NATO commander Lt. General Stanley McChyrstal’s strategy for Afghanistan rests on winning the trust of the people and that can’t work if you don’t have enough people speaking any of their languages such as Pashto, Dari, Tajik, Uzbek.

The “terps”, as the soldiers call them in military slang, don’t just do literal translations, they provide insights into local culture and customs that are key to any attempt to win the people over. And above all, their ability to read the situation on the ground can often save lives.

Kandahar trusts Taliban more than govt – US army poll

A poppy field in Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar province REUTERS/Tim Wimborne)

(A poppy field in Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar province. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne)

The people of Kandahar province have greater trust in the Taliban than in the local government and an overwhelming majority consider them to be our  “Afghan brothers” according to a poll commissioned by the U.S.  army ahead of an impending offensive in the Taliban’s spiritual capital.

You got to do more, Pakistan tells United States

(Standing guard during a night operation in Kunar -  Carlos Barria)

(Standing guard during a night operation in Kunar - Carlos Barria)

The shoe’s on the other foot. The Pakistani army is saying that it’s being let down by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan just when it has made hard-fought gains against militants along its stretch of the border.

Some 700 militants have fled a successful military offensive in Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal agency to the Afghan province of Kunar just over the border but no action had been taken against them, according to a Reuters report from the area.

Another week, another shura for Afghanistan’s Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with the Bosphorus bridge in the background, poses for a photo in Istanbul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with the Bosphorus bridge in the background, poses for a photo in Istanbul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to be making a habit of going to shuras, or meeting of local elders, across the country in recent weeks. After attending shuras in Marjah, Tirin Kot and Kandahar over the past month and a half, Karzai flew to Kunduz in the north this past weekend for another meeting with tribal elders.  The U.S. military took a group of journalists to the town to watch the Afghan leader in action, his presence at shuras being a part of a carefully choreographed “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at getting local support for NATO operations in the area.

That the security situation in Kunduz is of concern seemed apparent soon after we got off our military plane from Kabul.  Greeted by our German military hosts, we were bundled into heavy flak jackets for a bumpy 5 minute ride at breakneck speed from the airfield to the provincial reconstruction team base.  As we listened to the standard instructions on what to do during a rocket attack, we also learned the last time a rocket had hit the base was just the day before we arrived. Once seen as one of the safer parts of Afghanistan, Kunduz has emerged as a relatively new battlefront in the fight with the Taliban, who have made inroads into the area from their main strongholds in the south and the east. 

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 Tales from the Trail:

Obama: Not worrying about perceptions on Afghanistan

OBAMA/INTERVIEWAs President Barack Obama nears a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, some experts say he should consider the signal his decision will send about his broader commitment to the war, which has grown increasingly unpopular at home.

The White House has been frustrated that its internal deliberations on the Afghanistan strategy have leaked into public view, something that Obama acknowledged on Monday in an interview with Reuters.

Denying Afghanistan to al Qaeda; is that really the key ?


AFGHANISTAN/Much of the rationale for the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has to do with making sure that it doesn’t become a haven for militant groups once again. As President Barack Obama weighs U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal’s recommendation for 40,000 more troops at a time of fading public support for the war in Afghanistan, some people are questioning the basic premise that America must remain militarily committed there so that al Qaeda doesn’t creep back under the protection of the Taliban.

Richard N.Haass, the president of the Council for Foreign Relations, kicked off the debate this month, arguing that al Qaeda didn’t really “require Afghan real estate to constitute a regional or global threat”. Terrorists head to areas of least resistance, and if it is not Afghanistan, they will choose other unstable countries such as Somalia or Yemen, if it hasn’t  happened already, he argues. And the United States cannot conceivably secure all the terrorist havens in the world.

from Tales from the Trail:

White House hits back at Cheney “dithering” comment

AFGHANISTAN-CHENEY/The White House is firing back at former Vice President Dick Cheney who accused President Barack Obama of "dithering" and being "afraid to make a decision" on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

"I think it's a curious comment," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at his midday briefing.