Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan

Afghan Local Police – New Portfolio at www.johnwendle.com

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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.

Afghanistan warrants no attention: NYT

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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

Written by johnwendle

November 8, 2012 at 7:46 am

Will Afghanistan’s Artillery Corps learn to shoot before the US withdrawal?

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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.)

Written by johnwendle

November 3, 2012 at 10:56 am

Razistan.org live

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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.

Afghanistan’s Insider War Against the U.S.

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My latest story and photo are up on TIME:

John Wendle / Combat Outpost Garda, Wardak Province

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

Written by johnwendle

October 2, 2012 at 7:42 am

Afghan soldiers pay the price

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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.

Written by johnwendle

September 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

The Trouble With Vetting

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The recent spate of blue-on-green (or “insider”) attacks against US and NATO forces in Afghanistan prompted the Special Operations command to halt the training of its Afghan Local Police trainees this week – as part of a wider ranging implementation of more supposedly more stringent vetting and security measures across the Afghan army and police forces.

You can read about some of it here -

Seemingly simple questions often have no good answer in Afghanistan. When asked where he lived, Gul only said that “there are four or five houses between my home and the mosque.” Asked in what direction from the mosque, he, like many uneducated Afghans, did not know the meaning of north, south, east and west. He guessed his age as being “between 28 and 30.” His secondhand motorcycle was unregistered. He had no mobile number. It was even unclear at which mosque he worshipped, since he could not read a map and Staff Sergeant John Fox did not know the names of all the mosques in the area. Fox, working with experienced interpreter Aziz Mohammad Shirzada, was finally able to narrow it down to only: “Right there, when we come around that corner going into Bala Tabin.”

The answers were crucial since NATO and the U.S. uses registration numbers and interviews with mullahs and village-council members to find out more about the men who apply for positions with the ALP, as well as the army and the police. The vetting process was deemed critical after members of extremist militias in Iraq were inadvertently armed by the U.S. in a similar effort called the Sons of Iraq, put into place in 2005, after being insufficiently screened. But with no contact details, little verifiable history and no address or registration number, the Americans were running out of ways to figure out who exactly the young man was. Doing proper background checks to ascertain if recruits could have Taliban affiliations or sympathies is just one of the many challenges facing the U.S. and NATO as they prepare for withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

My full story can be read at: Can the U.S. and NATO Prevent ‘Green on Blue’ Attacks in Afghanistan?

To read more, follow on Twitter at @johnwendle

Written by johnwendle

September 5, 2012 at 10:27 am

Afghanistan’s Only Paralympian

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Despite having millions of people wounded and maimed by landmines and UXO, Afghanistan has sent only one competitor to the 2012 London Paralympics. Power lifter Mohammad Fahim Rahimi will compete tomorrow. Though he doesn’t expect to win, Fahim has great pride in representing Afghanistan.

     You can watch the short video the UK’s Channel 4 aired yesterday at From Afghan taxi-driver to Paralympian.

The weightlifter lost his right leg to a landmine – a continuing problem in this country – during the civil war. The loss depressed him, but, with the encouragement of friends, he pulled himself out of his depression by taking up weightlifting. He became so obsessed that he never missed a day throughout Taliban rule – partly because life was boring without something to do. He even carried his 40 lbs. bicycle up and down the mountainside he lived on, strapped to his back with only one good leg in the snow, just to get to the gym.

Today, the dedication has paid off. But even with his second trip to a Paralympics, his problems are not over. To compensate for a small government stipend (around $450 a year) he works as a minibus taxi driver, making around $20 a day. On these wages and benefits, he, his wife and their three young children live in a single room in a ramshackle house built on a mountainside overlooking Kabul.

He is afraid that as the US and NATO wind down their involvement in Afghanistan, the small stipend that helps them get through the winter will evaporate.

If you are interested in helping Fahim and his family, please contact me through this blog or send me a direct message on Twitter. Dozens of people who saw the report this week are donating money, which I will get to Fahim when he gets back.

To see more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter.

Written by johnwendle

September 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Insider attack

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NATO has reported yet another green on bluE incident, or “insider attack” as they’re now calling them. NATO’s press release is below:

ISAF casualty

KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 27) – Two International Security Assistance Force service members died when a member of the Afghan National Army turned his weapon against ISAF service members in eastern Afghanistan today.

ISAF troops returned fire, killing the ANA soldier who committed the attack.

Afghan and ISAF officials are investigating the incident.

This is what the NYT wrote:

So far, Afghan soldiers or police officers have killed 53 of their comrades and wounded at least 22 others in 35 separate attacks this year, according to NATO data provided to The New York Times by officials in Kabul. By comparison, at least 40 NATO service members were reported killed by Afghan security forces or others working with them.

Both figures fall under what officials call insider attacks, and both numbers have climbed sharply over the past two years, Western officials say. But while officials say that a vast majority of attacks on Western forces are born out of outrage or personal disputes, the Afghan-on-Afghan numbers are said in larger part to reflect a Greater vulnerability to infiltration by the Taliban.

For more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter.

Written by johnwendle

August 27, 2012 at 10:19 am

Inside Baseball

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This op-ed by Sarah Chayes - As Afghanistan Turns – is a little inside basebally – but it is an interesting read on the ethnic dynamic within Afghanistan – particularly as it plays out at high political levels and what it could mean for Afghanistan post-2014.

For more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter

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