Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Archive for August 2012

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.

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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.

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A bit off the well-beaten path

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I was reading through the news this morning and besides news about the Pentagon trying to shape coverage of green-on-blue (Afghan security forces killing US or NATO soldiers) by rebranding them as “insider killings” and news about the wave of bombings and shootings that left around 47 dead and 130 wounded yesterday – and wounding another nine who were praying in a mosque this morning when they had three grenades thrown at them, I also found these stories:

Armed uprising against Taliban forces insurgents from 50 Afghan villages

An uprising against the Taliban has evicted the gunmen from 50 villages in eastern Afghanistan, according to local leaders, beginning a revolt that Kabul hopes will spread across insurgent-held territory.

Afghan Princelings: Are the Children of the Mujahedin Ready to Rule? (I got good and scooped on that one – as was planning on writing the same story in the next few weeks…)

Educated in some of the best schools in the world, the scion of commanders involved in four decades of war return to a country at the crossroads. Can they transform the future of Afghanistan?

Have Obama and Romney Forgotten Afghanistan?

How’s this for a conspiracy of silence? With less than three months to go until Election Day, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have successfully avoided saying almost anything about America’s war in Afghanistan. Remember that war? You will at some point, however little the two candidates talk about it.

Afghanistan war: Can the US gains last?

Almost 11 years into the US-led war in Afghanistan, the situation still remains so tenuous in some parts of Afghanistan that locals worry about the safety of accepting aid from the West.

I’m not saying these are more interesting or news worthy, just that they are a bit off the well worn 24-hour news cycle path. Worth a read.

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Written by johnwendle

August 15, 2012 at 10:04 am

Civilian deaths down – assassinations on the rise

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An IED killed a district government chief and three bodyguards on Sunday in eastern Afghanistan. The assassination comes on the heels of a UN report released in the middle of last week showing that targeted killings of government officials has increased by 34% in the first six months of 2012 to 255, compared with 190 over the same period last year. Although there has been an increase in assassinations, the UN reported that civilian deaths have dropped by 15% year on year, to 3,099.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) released their Afghanistan Mid-Year Report 2012 – Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict(download) report last week.

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Written by johnwendle

August 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Petting the dog.

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A little on Army jargon and slang –

When I asked Major Miller where the meeting was yesterday, he replied:

This is the MSC at BAF.

After reading back through the email chain, I realized I was in over my head when it comes to acronyms. The email was drowning in them and they were threatening to take me down with them. In just four emails to set up a meeting to talk about embeds (that’s another story), these were thrown at me:

SSG, ECP3, MSC, MAJ, MPAD, MSC, BAF. U/FOUO , OIC, DIV PAO

After a few years here, I know what all of these are, but its a shock to the system when you first land in Afghanistan and you’re trying to figure out what soldiers are talking about. They use acronyms all the time – not only because it makes a life befuddled by hierarchy and bureaucracy easier to understand – but also because all the soldiers have drunk the cool-aid – they all speak the same language. Besides worrying over whether you’ve put your helmet on backwards, dancing around like a fool trying to get at all the straps to tighten your body armor and picking up enough broken Dari to buy a round of nan in the morning, figuring out the acronyms is one of the biggest hurdles to reporting on the military in this country. You need one “terp” to talk to the Afghans, and another to talk to the military. “Terp” is short for interpreter – and is kind of a pejorative.

So, to sort out the above:

SSG is Staff Sergeant, ECP is a gate (though I still don’t know what it stands for), MSC is Media Support Center, OIC is Officer in Charge, DIV PAO is Division Public Affairs Officer, Maj is Major, MPAD is Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, BAF is Bagram Airfield and U/FOUO is Unclassified/For Official Use Only

That all has to be decoded just to set up a meeting on a Tuesday.

So, I’ve finally been picked up by the SSG at ECP3 for my meeting at the MSC with the MAJ who is the DIV PAO from the MPAD at BAF and we’re driving through the gate and Staff Sergeant Rutherford starts talking about “petting the dog.” They must have picked up on my silence from the backseat, because she quickly explained, “you know, going crazy.” Still lost, she said that after so much time stuck on base at BAF, she would be sent to the health unit to talk to a shrink and play with the puppy they have there to feel better. So, pet the dog is short hand for going nuts.

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Afghanistan Sacks Its Security Chiefs

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My latest story for TIME can be found at Afghanistan Sacks Its Security Chiefs: How Will That Affect U.S. Forces?

Some notable sections from the story:

The death notices that NATO e-mails to the press when a soldier is killed in action in Afghanistan are disturbing in their brevity and vary only in their basic details. One of the two issued on Tuesday read, “KABUL, Afghanistan (Aug. 7) — An International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service member died following an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in southern Afghanistan today.” It is a common type: soldiers are mostly killed by roadside bombs and small-arms fire in Afghanistan’s south and east.

Over July, NATO issued 22 of those e-mails, accounting for 30 soldiers killed in action — meaning an average of almost one soldier killed every day of the month. And 11 NATO soldiers have been killed since Aug. 1. These are the statistics facing NATO command — numbers that point to an unweakened insurgency that has expanded to encircle Kabul — as it prepares to withdraw and hand over primary security duties to an Afghan army and national police that many fear are unprepared.

This fragile security mix became more volatile over the weekend when Afghanistan’s fractious parliament returned a vote of no confidence against Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, key security chiefs widely accepted by Western officials. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, Wardak announced he would step down rather than continue to hold his post as an acting Minister until President Hamid Karzai finds a replacement.

and

Though Lieut. General James Terry, the new leader of NATO’s international joint command, has tried to downplay the significance of the sacking of the two Ministers, longtime observers are worried about the future of the transition process. “This move is significant. [Wardak and Mohammadi] are heavily involved in the security forces of Afghanistan, in the making of the security forces and in the transition process. Any new Minister will need some time to familiarize himself, especially if he comes from the outside — if he hasn’t been involved in the Ministry of Defense and the Interior Ministry, in the army and police force,” says Mahmoud Saikal, a former Deputy Foreign Minister and a key member of the political opposition. He adds that this was “unfortunate because [Wardak and Mohammadi] are not too incompetent. They are O.K. They have seen the battlefield.”

At the same time, while the move has sent waves through the security and transition authorities, Saikal sees a positive side to the development: that the sacking is a positive indication of democracy working in Afghanistan. “The good news is that what parliament did was legal. It was orderly and went according to procedure. This was an exercise of democracy. Karzai did his best to tarnish the reputation of the Lower House and make them ineffective. Now we are seeing the re-emergence of the Lower House,” Saikal tells TIME.

The whole story can be read at http://world.time.com/2012/08/07/afghanistan-sacks-its-security-chiefs-how-will-that-affect-u-s-forces/

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