I’ve posted a new portfolio of photos I took over a month spent embedded with US and Afghan troops in Arghandab in 2011. You can see the photos here: Afghan Local Police.
The story focuses on the Afghan Local Police. When General David Patraeus assumed command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2010, one of his priorities was to launch a new country-wide program called the Afghan Local Police.
Overseen by American Special Operations Forces, the A.L.P. recruits, trains, arms, and pays Afghan men in rural communities to defend their home villages against insurgents. While the military claims the A.L.P. has had great success in clearing areas of Taliban, many experts and human-rights advocates have accused the program of empowering criminals and warlords who grossly abuse their authority.
The allegations of abuse have included charges of theft, kidnapping, rape, and murder. Many Afghans are alarmed by what the program might become once American oversight diminishes; they see it as a potentially regressive step toward the 1990s, when armed gangs ruled the country with impunity — a period still referred to by some Afghans as “the time of the men with guns.”
The whole website is available at www.johnwendle.com.
Interesting, in a story entitled “An Array of Relationships for Obama to Strengthen and Redefine” and speaking of “cliffs” in foreign policy – and not a single mention of Afghanistan, Karzai or any of it… Only China, Iran, Russia and the Middle East warrant concern and attention “for a leader seeking a statesman’s legacy.” NYT story here: An Array of Relationships for Obama to Strengthen and Redefine
As the US and NATO begin to pull out of Afghanistan, much attention has been given to whether the Afghan military will be ready for the fight they may have on their hands. But few have looked in detail at the different parts that make up the Afghan National Army. This story tries to outline the specific problems facing Afghanistan’s artillery corps – an essential combat element in the mountainous country. Part of the story is below:
At Forward Operating Base Shank, with Wimberly, the challenge appears in starker relief. Standing behind a D-30 painted a light yellow, a crew of six loudly counts off in Pashto, only to have artilleryman number five shout “seven!” They start over and get it right, then lustily shout, “Enemy! Death! Enemy! Death! Enemy! Death!” Then organized chaos breaks out as they swarm their gun, trying to ready it for action in a minute and 10 seconds. They uncover the recoil system, unclip clips and crank cranks so fast their arms become blurs. Then one soldier cannot unclip a clip, and he just stands there. The commander comes over and shouts, and he hops to it again.
At the same time, across a gravel lot, Afghan officers who learned that morning how to use sight to calculate bearings and arcs for indirect fire — hitting a target they cannot see — teach junior officers and noncommissioned officers how to use it. One officer sat writing a cheat sheet on his palm. A majority of Afghans, though, cannot read, let alone decipher a map or do the trigonometry necessary for the exercise. Though not nonexistent, the technical exactitude, education and discipline needed for accurate artillery are all elements lacking in Afghanistan.
“Some of them, if you give them a map, they couldn’t point out where their house was. But if you showed them a terrain map, they would start to be able to use the terrain to show you where they live,” says Wimberly. “Depending on what level they’re at, they should be able to read and write. It takes them a long time to calculate. That’s the longest part.” But in artillery, delays can translate into infantry being overrun and killed.
Aside from the massive difficulty of teaching people complex mathematics in a foreign language through interpreters, there are other complications. U.S. trainers have had to teach Afghan officers that they need to have up-to-date maps and intelligence, so they do not shell civilian areas or compatriots they cannot see on the opposite slope of a mountain by mistake.
You can read the full story and see my photograph from the ANA training at Bombs Away: Will Afghanistan’s Artillerymen Learn How to Shoot Right? (As always, I did not write the headline.)
Razistan is now live and can be seen at http://razistan.org/. The site is dedicated to telling the untold stories of the war and the people of Afghanistan through in-depth photo stories documented by award winning international and Afghan photographers. You can take a look at the work by following the link.
My latest story and photo are up on TIME:
Saturday marked the 2,000th U.S. military death in the war in Afghanistan. And it is the way in which the American soldier was reportedly killed – by a presumptive Afghan ally – that makes it significant. These so-called green-on-blue attacks are rarely spectacular – often carried out suddenly, by rifle. Even so, these insider attacks are proving to be the perfect weapon against coalition forces since they accomplish many of the insurgents’ goals with little planning, effort or cost.
Increasingly, coalition troops feel they cannot trust the Afghan soldiers and police with whom they live and serve. The killings drive a wedge of mistrust deeper between foreign and Afghan forces and they also cause the American public to question why Washington is helping the Afghan government and military at all. And these doubts and questions are critical because, in order for the U.S. to declare any kind of victory after the 2014 withdrawal, it has to train and mentor a viable Afghan security force that will respect human rights and prevent a much-feared civil war or Taliban takeover.
The mistrust and tension was visible during a recent trip to Combat Outpost Garda, in northern Wardak Province. As a U.S. patrol wound its way back over barren, brown hills and through the sunny orchards of apples that make this valley famous among Afghans, word passed back through the soldiers that an Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol would be heading out as they headed in. One soldier joked that he hoped the Afghans would not shoot the patrol as they came in.Some laughed. Soon after, an American lieutenant’s voice crackled through the leaves of the trees from the communications devices carried by all troops, telling the patrol to keep a sharp eye as they returned. Not such a joke, after all.
Read the whole story at Afghanistan’s Insider War Against the U.S.: A Matter of No Trust
Follow John on Twitter at @johnwendle
Afghan soldiers pay the price as US forces told not to interact with them
The decision to order US forces to not conduct patrols and to not interact with Afghan forces is adding one more strain to a relationship that has become more and more fraught as the US begins to “pull the rug out from under the Afghan forces feet” in the words of one US commander, to help them stand on their own, as they seek to prepare the Afghan Army and Police for the day when they will not be able to turn to the US and Nato for assistance in 2014.
This story sparked a furor in the UK and had Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond brought to speak before parliament (so I’m told).
You can read the full story here – http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/afghan-soldiers-pay-the-price-as-us-forces-told-not-to-interact-with-them-8143134.html
To read more, follow on Twitter @johnwendle.
Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws
After protests swept through Muslim countries last week and Afghan security forces killed a number of Coalition troops in insider attacks, U.S. commanders in Afghanistan decided that halting foot patrols would decrease the risk of angering locals. At the same time, limiting interaction between the U.S. platoons and their Afghan counterparts would minimize the risk of further green on blue killings. But while the measures were temporary, they gave Afghan soldiers a glimpse of what it will be like after the U.S. leaves – and the local troops, at least in Garda, did not like the view.
My latest story and photo up on TIME at Afghans Without Americans: A Preview of Soldiering When the U.S. Withdraws.
Read more by following at @johnwendle on Twitter.