Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Posts Tagged ‘Insurgency

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

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

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.

For more, follow at www.twitter.com/johnwendle

Written by johnwendle

August 15, 2012 at 10:04 am

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.

For more, follow @johnwendle on Twitter