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Road from Kabul to Jalalabad
20 October 2008

Afghanistan is like time traveling.  Vast expanses of rugged landscape, mostly unadorned by man-made structures, all framed by stories of savagery and conquest, create a picture of forever.  A sense that human and geologic changes occur at nearly the same pace.  Many of the people remain arguably “pre-historic” in the sense that illiterate people do not chronicle their knowledge and experience into writing or durable art.  Moving around the countryside, a man could half expect to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex come stomping over a ridge.

My friend Tim Lynch, a retired infantry officer who has lived four years in Afghanistan, had mentioned there are caves near Jalalabad, and when the sun sinks, bats take flight by the thousands.  That sounded fun to watch; I did some caving (amateurs call it “spelunking”) in North Carolina and Tennessee, and was always amazed at the swarms of bats down in the bowels of earth.  In Florida, I would sometimes venture onto the campus of the University of Florida, just as the squawking flocks of white ibis were settling into their rookery on Lake Alice.  The night shift would come out and tens of thousands of bats would take flight right over my head, then over the lake, while the alligators began their evening hunt.

Wildlife watching is to war correspondence what a body massage is to a hundred lashes with a bullwhip.  I was ready for a bat-adventure.

Horsed meets horseless in Jalalabad, Afghanistan’s second city.  In “Jbad,” one feels transported back only a century or so.  For thousands of years, the area been a thru-way between empires, where the wonders and caravans of distant civilizations, some long forgotten, passed through.

Leaving friendly Jalalabad, the billboards are modern.

A greater adventure than the travesty of war would be to travel along with linguists, historians and archeologists into far reaches and hidden crannies here.

Predator

We drove out of Jalalabad through a few small villages.  A Predator UAV flew overhead.  This Predator was actually lower than it appears in the photo, but a wide-angle lens happened to be on the camera when the warbird prowled over.  The three flapping birds at the top are very close.  The Predator carries Hellfire missiles and the pilot is back in the United States, studying the landscape through the eye in the plane that relays video to anywhere in the world that the military chooses, and often to several places at once.  I used to watch those feeds hour after hour in Iraq, as the modes switched from black-and-white, to color, to infrared, at the flick of a switch.  Sometimes I would watch people die through that eye, and then hear the nearby rumble of the detonation.  Unfortunately, in the type of warfare we face in Afghanistan, high tech is just a tiny fraction of what we need to succeed.  But the Predators are useful and important tools, and we need a lot more of them here.  When the plane detects terrorist activity, the pilot is able to order precision attacks before the enemy combatants know that they have been observed.  SWOOSH… the Hellfire’s eye is locked onto the laser reflection, and follows the stream of photons to the end.  BAM!  White and black pieces of man and earth blossom onto the live feed.

I’d rather be bird watching.

The Kabul River flows through Jalalabad and off to Pakistan.

The area around Jalalabad, in Nangarhar Province, is a temperate, well-watered and fertile plain.  Before the war the area was famous for producing the bitter oranges that mark traditional Afghan cuisine.  Poppies are now the crop du jour for Afghanistan, although much of the opium production has been curtailed in Nangarhar.

The Village

The bat caves were near “Little Barabad,” a village on the outskirts of Jalalabad.  When we parked in Little Barabad, villagers came out to greet Tim, who knew the names of some of the kids and elders.  The village head-man treated Tim like an old friend.  Kuchi people are nomadic and semi-nomadic herdsmen, ever in search of pasture for their animals.  I’ve seen their camel caravans in numerous provinces, but there were no camels around Little Barabad.  Tim says these are “reformed Kuchis” who have settled down.  Ken Kraushaar, an American I got to speak with for many hours on many occasions, says he has been visiting Little Barabad for over a year.  Ken comes out here paying from his own pocket and rolls around without security.  Lots of people come to Afghanistan on big budgets and heavy security, yet they hardly leave their guarded compounds.  Ken goes out alone.  Ken said that the 80 families of Little Barabad actually call their village Sak, and that the elders’ names are Ghani and Koko.  He also said that perhaps another 100-120 families are expected to arrive due to a refugee crisis.

Henna hair coloring is widely used by Afghan men, in many cases to denote religious status.  Some of the kids have dyed hair, too.  The red-headed and blonde children among the mostly raven-haired population might be descendents of Alexander's invading armies, more than two thousand years ago.  Of course there have been recent invasions.  Maybe genetic scientists will one day reveal the secrets of these people’s ancestral roots, like archeologists digging up precious artifacts in an attempt to piece together the shards of 'pre-history' into a plausible 'history.'

Little Barabad/Sak is on the Kabul River.  This is the village boat.  The inner tubes represent a great advance toward modernity. Until recently villagers used the inflated skins of dead water buffalo for flotation to cross frigid rivers.

Some American organizations are working hard to build the locals a bridge, which could help get the kids to school.  On numerous occasions I saw Ken Kraushaar don a shawal kameez and head out to do prep-work on the footbridge, construction of which has not yet begun.  Ken said that the organizations involved include Rotary Sister Cities Foundation, Engineers Without Borders, and Footbridges.org.

In all the crazy places I travel, I’ve seen first-hand on countless occasions how these footbridges, schools and clinics built by foreigners, improve people’s lives.  Next thing you know, foreign teachers are parachuting in, and the kids go to new schools, where they learn English or other important languages such as British, Canadian or Australian.  Okay, French or German…  In any case, their worlds start to open into a brighter future.  I think of Nepal.  It’s working there.  Heck, I think of places in America where it’s working (although we could still use some more help).  It’s amazing how much the world is improved by volunteer teachers, doctors and nurses, engineers and just regular folks, who decide to do something worthwhile.  A wise and experienced man put it best when he called them: “A thousand points of light.”

While the war has brought many westerners to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country, the fact is that many are happy to help the Afghans.  For all their fierceness, many Afghans are a charming, engaging and likeable people.

That day the river was low, as it is most of the year, but the distant traffic bridge is sized to accommodate the power of melting snows.  In a land where running water is scarce, people pull their cars into the lakes and rivers to wash them.

Caves have long provided shelter in this harsh landscape.  These caves are just below an old British fort.

I wondered what this means.

We had set off from Little Barabad /Sak and some boys came with us.  Tim said that when the girls try to follow, the boys throw stones at them.

These caves might have been part of the network of Ghandharan Buddhist monasteries that reached across parts of Afghanistan from the 2nd Century A.D. till the 7th.

This is where Alexander the Great’s Hellenic culture met and merged with eastern Buddhism.  Some of the oldest known Buddhist texts and relics were found not far from here.  Also, sculptures of the Buddha (said to have lived here in an earlier life) looking like a Greek god.

If these stones could speak…

To the bat cave!

We scrambled up the rocks.

The boys were having a blast.  That’s Shem in the green shirt; he’s an ex-Aussie paratrooper.  Shem told me that he once barely missed being blown up by two suicide car bombs that detonated 20 minutes apart.  He showed me the sites in Kabul, saying it happened on 14 November 2005.  The BBC reported that eight people were killed.  He was so close that each bomb knocked him down.  Luckily he didn't get fragged.  A common terror tactic is to pack ball bearings in the car bombs, which makes them like giant hand grenades and increases the lethal range.  I’ve seen a lot of people who survived very close encounters with car bombs, and a lot of people who didn’t.  In another incident in Zabul Province, down by Kandahar, Shem’s group was ambushed and two of his buddies were killed.  Yet Shem keeps going with a good sense of humor.

Bat hunting is much more fun than all those bombs and bullets.

The bat cave was large and smelled of guano, but the bats were gone.

Rats, there were no bats. But Tim had timed our arrival excellently; the sun was in a perfect position for a top-notch photo. We wondered if the bats had migrated.

These relatively shallow caves were part of hundreds of small monasteries, inhabited by monks and pilgrims, in the area between our location and Bamiyan Province where the famous, huge, carved Buddhas stood for 1500 years until the Taliban blew them up in 2001. It is possible that these caves and others like them were used by local inhabitants to hide in when Genghis Khan's armies marched across the plains, pillaging and destroying everything in their path. In some caves it is reported that you can still see traces of frescoes.  Centuries of war and plunder have left them empty.

We scrambled some more.  I asked one of the boys to carry my long camera lens, which made him happy. He liked having a job to perform during our little expedition.

Rock doodles.

We scrambled up to the old British fort where, in a different war, things had gone very badly for the British. (In the First Afghan Campaign, an entire British regiment was wiped out not far from here).  There wasn't much left of the fort.  Tim had told me a story about his first visit to Little Barabad/Sak and the caves.  "The old men in the village told me the caves were built by the British when they built the old fort.  When I first came, they would ask "Have you come to see your grandfathers' fort?"  I explained to them that at the time the British were here we were fighting them too.  That's not precisely true of course.  We had finished our revolution 20 years before the Brits entered Afghanistan. But telling the old men that brought instant delight -- shared enemies does that -- and I was pressed for details.  When I told the Brits burned down our capitol they smiled even more saying it is a good thing to burn down the capitol and kill the King every now and then.”

I wonder if these boys go to school.  Most Afghans are still illiterate.  The last 30 years of war wiped out whatever progress the country might have been making toward more widespread education.  Even without reading and other academic skills we take for granted, they do keep crushing more advanced armies.  There remains something to be said for character and fierce determination.  After all, this kid was sitting on a British fort that his ancestors had destroyed.  The acclaimed author Tom Ricks, whose dad was a university professor here when Tom was a kid, wrote this: “Louis Dupree mentions in his massive book on Afghanistan that many illiterate Afghans have memorized hundreds of poems, stories, lists of proverbs, and other cultural icons.  Arguably, some of these guys who can't read are better ‘read’ than most westerners.”

Still, it's time for these people to have a government that can provide schools.  Lacking the ability to read, write and calculate in the 21st Century will have an even greater cost than it has had heretofore.  Maybe one day these kids will read about themselves here, either in translation or in English.

Afghans love having their pictures taken. The kids kept asking… even though they rarely get to see the results.  They are wonderfully photogenic.

The Afghans say that the “Russians” were better fighters than the Americans, which is strange.  They killed 30,000 Soviets and sent them packing.  They will likely never kick us out unless we grow weary of the feral side of their nature, and decide to go home.  But some of the other NATO members are ready to say goodbye.  If we grow weary or distracted by something else, it is the Afghans who will suffer most.

These boys might be old men before this current war is over.  Their fathers were born during an earlier phase of it. It is hard to imagine how the nicer parts of their culture can survive a multi-generational war, and how the country can advance when its resources go to basic self-defense.  Yet here they are, seemingly ready for change.  The British tell me it will take 10 years to “win” the war.  Some Americans say 25.  Both seem like gross underestimates.  Perhaps the fighting will end.  But it will take a century for Afghanistan to become modern.  Today, Afghanistan is spiraling into the abyss.  To us, progress is a given.  To others, it is an elusive dream, if they dream at all.  Here, the march of time can go forward or backwards.

The war doesn't seem to directly affect their village now.

Ruins of the British Fort.  So little remained that it mostly looked like a bunch of rocks.

The sun was setting, so it was time to go.  We traipsed back down to the village.

Beata is a German aid worker who lives and works in Jalalabad.  She came along and was having as much fun as the kids.

The girls, with their smiling faces, were waiting back at the village.  They wanted their photos taken, too.

Beata soon had an entourage.

The village head-man and some others came out again.  He and Tim exchanged warm greetings while the kids crowded around as though the circus had come to their village.  Then we drove away.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    At Solomon2's prompting I've read Michaels' account of meeting the "Taleban" near Sarobi, which I know well. It is very revealing.

    That area has always been under Engineer Gulbuddeen, known to Afghans as "Butcher Gulbuddeen". He is nothing to do with the Taleban, in fact they have always been bitter enemies. He even fought against other Mujahiddeen groups in the time of the Soviet occupation. I never had anything to do with his party since it had such a bad and cruel reputation.

    Looking at the photographs as well, none of the people look anything like Taleban to me either. Taleban hate to wear the pakhool, the round Chitrali hat that everyone is wearing in these photos. They only wear turbans, and they look upon wearers of the pakhool as their natural enemies.

    I doubt they are so duplicitous as to wear pakhools in order not to be taken as Taleban.

    So this all goes to show that the label "Taleban", because it has been given such a bad name in the west, is being applied indiscriminately to any Afghan and even the enemies of the Taleban like these pakhool-wearing villagers, who may or not be HIG, and who might well still have attacked the French just becuase they are armed invaders on their soil and Pashtun Afghans in the countryside )not in Kabul) klike nothing better than shooting up foreign invaders and need no excuse to go out and have a good old battle.

    In other words my point is that Michael's intervies and findings in Sarobi indicate the truth of the theory that whoever holds Kabul is attacked by the countryside people whenever they get the chance. "Da Zamung Dastur day" say the Pashtuns, which carves it in stone in a way that cannot be changed or questioned. Translated this means "That is our tradition". It over-rules all other ethnic, religious, cultural and communal values. Whatever they do, if there is a question about it, they follow their tradition. Another of their traditions, when they kill foreign invaders, is to castrate the bodies and stuff the penis in the corpse's mouth, and I suppose that Michael felt this was a little indelicate to mention, although he's happy to write elsewhere about "the human dog", "chewing off victims testicles" - that's about Afghan's testicles, so it's OK to mention.

    So good luck, soldiers, watch your backs.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brit in CO · 11 years ago
    Sean, if you can not see that the Liberation of Iraq and the birth of its democracy prove the neocons correct (as does the destruction of the oppressive Taliban) you are blind. What has been thrown in the bust bin of history is the 19th century idea that the fuzzy wuzzies, golliwogs and sand niggers are somewhat less than the enlightened the white man of Western Europe. For the Afghans and Iraqis, like us all, "it is a good thing to burn down the capitol and kill the King every now and then.ƒ? The question is do they do it in an election or a bloody civil war.

    Accepting the horrors of the Taliban and the poison gas of Anafal as "just the way it is" is the same apathetic evil that stood slack jawed and watched trains rumble off to concentration camps.

    Keep on goose stepping Grand Wizard
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    Not kings of Castile, but of Aragon. Here is the Oath of Loyalty taken by their subjects:

    "We, who are as good as you, swear to you, who are not better than we, to accept you as our king and sovereign lord, provided that you observe all our liberties and laws; but if not, then not."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Brit, youƒ??re right, Iƒ??m totally blind. If you call Iraq ƒ??liberatedƒ? when, even after 5 years of military occupation and maybe a million people dead, you have to bring in a ƒ??surgeƒ? of an extra 30,000 troops to lock down districts right inside the capital city, and so on and so forth, youƒ??re right, Iƒ??m totally blind to it.

    Do you really think your puppet government will stand once you pull out the iron fist of your army of occupation? Hey, remember Vietnam! No, youƒ??re probably too young to remember that.

    Have you read Michaelsƒ?? despatch from Sarobi, where he describes how the ANA cut and ran, abandoning their guns and equipment, after ƒ??lounging aroundƒ? on the battlefield, when the French patrol was being shot to pieces by those anti-Taleban freedom fighters? Thatƒ??s what the ANA does after 7 years of ƒ??liberationƒ? and 7 years of ƒ??intensive trainingƒ? which was the occupying armyƒ??s ƒ??top priorityƒ? ƒ?? for seven years! How many more years will it take before the ANA will be ƒ??fully trained and reliableƒ?, and not run away in such situations? Or am I being blind to something?

    What rest of the world has seen ƒ??liberatedƒ? is a few hundred billion dollars, into the coffers of the war industry, the latest technological killing equipment thatƒ??s been able to be tested ƒ??in the fieldƒ?, unknown numbers of terrorists who have been recruited as a result of your Neocon aggression, the febrile imagination and credulity of insane warmongers like you, and, maybe, temporarily, the Green Zone in Baghdad, at least most of the time. Evidently, youƒ??re blind to all that!

    And which concentration camps are you talking about? Abu Ghraib and Gitmo Bay? I suppose you are one of these people who condone and practise torture, too ƒ?? so long, of course, as it is only done to further the interests of ƒ??freedom and democracyƒ?, and by ƒ??usƒ?, because ƒ??weƒ? are the ƒ??good guysƒ?.

    ƒ??Godƒ??s on our sideƒ?, oh yeah. Thatƒ??s not blind, is it? Not for the Taleban! ƒ?? whoops, I mean the Creationists!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bayani · 11 years ago
    Crikey, Jonesey, you still swanning around here?

    The vast swathe of Michael Yon's fandom are in MEGO catatonia from being subjected to the dustbin of your personal history.

    Is it really that awful being you?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Hello Mr Baloney, welcome back to the fray!

    One feared you had departed, deflated, to greener pastures new, some Rambo heaven of dead terrorists, or your usual catatonic state. [What are you on? Can I have some?] - but here you are, back again like Terminator, and fully puffed up with hilarious but empty rhetoric - as ever.

    Anything interesting to say? I guess not. But do pour forth more of your heady brand of vitriol as it most evocatively illustrates your mental state and value to mankind far better than any comment that I could dream up.

    BTW I think you missed comments 39 and 40, which were in response to your last salvo of amusing diatribe.

    Please do feel free amuse us all some more - I'm sure you're right, that most readers of this column feel annoyed by the truth - nothing hurts like the truth, they say - and show how life is good on the neocon manure distribution fan side of the fence, I'm jealous of your killing wit and pleased to know your fandom fellows are getting even more catatonic than before as a result of my pathetic and ill-judged attempts to satirise the dogs of war. Maybe, resting in full MEGO catatonia they'll be in a position to do less damage to the rest of us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    My western friends who are working for HR, freedom and democracy in Kabul, to whom I was talking yesterday, were just reassuring me that every single Afghan that they talk to swears they hate the Taleban, and are 100% on the side of western-style freedom and democracy.

    Do they think that these guys would admit they liked the Taleban because the Taleban took over in 1998 largely by negotiation, very little fighting, and they made the whole country (except that under the Northern Aliiance) peaceful, disarmed and secure after 20 years of war? (That's what they all told me, when I was in Kabul and toured the surrounding countryside in April 1999, a few months after the Taleban took Kabul - it was totally secure at that time and with my wife we drove all around and toured all the places in Logar, Nangrahar, Sarobi and surrounding provinces, upto Panjshir, no escort needed, no driver, we drove ourselves, totally unarmed, there was no threatening behavious, no danger was felt anywhere - is was cool and my even wife thought the Taleban were sweet. That was our experience and bona-fide western tourists at the time).

    No, now those same Afghans tell the westerners what they figure the westerners would like to hear - after all, if they give the impression they supported the Taleban they'd be disappeared and rended extraordinarily to Bagram torture centre, if not Gitmo.

    So watch your backs because those very same Afghans who now swear they hate the Taleban will stab you in the back one day and be proud of their loyalty to the freedom of their country. That's what Afghans do. Foreigners may think they are treacherous, turning on you when you least expect it, but for them that is cunning and loyalty to their country. They swear they support you 100% and you are the best guys in the whole world and thank you for liberating us, we love you Americans, British are great, long live NATO, whatever. Then the moment your back is turned - you get toasted, castrated and your body thrown in the river, if there is a river, and your trusty Afghan servant will exult that he has done his duty well.

    That's what Afghans have done to invaders throughout history. DO you believe what they tell you and think they that now it will be different because they say they want your brand of freedom and democracy even if it's imposed with an army of occupation that is there to kill other Afghans?

    Do you think that because people don't have long beards they must be against the Taleban? All that is so naive.

    Yesterday CNN reported the DHL "security" guard did just that and decided it was time to blow away these foreign invaders on Afghan soil. He could not wait. Boom! Another two invaders bite the dust. I am really sorry. It isn't me who supports that kind of behaviour. It's Afghans who are doing it. No doubt he had been carefully vetted and passed as an anti-Taleban, pro-western, modern, democratic, freedom-loving Afghan who could be fullt trusted to protect the westerners at the cost of his own life. "Freedom-loving Afghan" would have been the only correct bit of that assessment.

    So wise up, you guys, you've got it coming sooner or later. The Afghan will never be subdued, he will wait his chance, act nice and friendly, take all the dollars, smile, swear alliegance, and then one day boom!boom! You are toast and he exults. He has done his duty to his country and his people and struck a blow for freedom and democracy, Afghan style.

    When I look at these photographs of these great kids smiling for the camera, and no doubt taking handouts of Hershey bars and money to buy food, what I see when I look in their eyes is Afghan kids who dream of growing up and one day having the chance to kill these foreigners who think they are so welcome here.

    Dream on, guys.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Daniel Dan · 11 years ago
    Wow Sean Jones...Sean Jones...It's terrible being you. Your negative voice tone just make Americans like me stronger and stronger. Your anti-american ideology is just way too obsolete, mate. I hope you would go on and live with that ideology for the rest of your life. So, young americans like me would be able see black and white, dark and bright, and avoid bad things like you've poccessed. Live well, mate!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Dear Daniel Dan,

    Thank you for your comment, I really appreciate that you have the guts to speak up and voice your thoughts, and I admire your positive sentiments. Iƒ??m very glad to see you care, but you have got a slightly wrong impression coming from my earlier arguments with your rather more militant and aggressive brothers, that I would like to be able clear up for you and anyone else following these interesting and illuminating comments.

    I love Americans, I have loads of great American friends, with open and enquiring minds and they are all willing to debate and consider facts and other peopleƒ??s experiences and draw the right conclusions. Donƒ??t mistake my warnings and advice from my personal 40+ years of experience in Afghanistan for anti-Americanism, my friend, just because it questions the conventional wisdom that is promoted on Faux News.

    Afghans are fine too, they have their traditions and this is what I am trying to get across. It doesnƒ??t mean to say I subscribe to Afghan views, or applaud their vengeful culture; I support whatever is helpful and I oppose bad and harmful acts of everyone, whether they are Afghans or Americans.
    Donƒ??t shoot the messenger because the message appears distasteful! Be wise, keep an open mind, unglued-up with prejudice, un-blinded by narrow, nationalist bias. Think big, think ƒ??worldƒ?, and be big enough and open-minded enough to take on board in a positive way things that might be helpful instead of retreating behind this concrete defensive wall of guilt and nationalism.

    The situation is that the USA has invaded Afghanistan militarily and a large proportion of the people of that country are fighting back because thatƒ??s all they know to do under these circumstances. I oppose anyoneƒ??s military occupation of other countries. If the Afghans invaded the USA and occupied you militarily I would oppose that too, but this is not the case. The USA is the aggressor. Itƒ??s not a bordering country, itƒ??s 12,000 miles away.

    OK, so itƒ??s true that Al Qaeda did 9/11 then went to hide behind the Afghans, took advantage of them, and the Afghans naively gave them sanctuary, so you went and blew up the whole country and killed tens of thousands of people there, that taught them a good lesson, but that was 7 years ago, what are you doing, still there now in 2008 and planning for troop surges and many more years of military occupation on the pattern of Iraq? Better go home, guys and stop creating more enemies. There are what, 30 million Afghans, and for every single one you kill another 10 from his/her family will rise up and take arms against you. This is why the insurgency is growing and growing as everyone can see and we can all see what itƒ??s going to lead to as well. Nothing good for anyone.

    I deeply respect your soldiers and the sacrifices they make for their country, they are as brave as any other soldiers. Itƒ??s your Commander in Chief, who orders them to go attack this country, that country, whose policies we questions as deeply flawed. My heart goes out to the brave guys who die or get their limbs blown off, in what obviously seems a lost cause to anyone with a modicum of experience and a basic knowledge of relevant history.

    Why doesnƒ??t anyone come back with proper arguments or facts? I challenge you with different views and facts that do not compute with your rhetoric, and all you can come back with is more character assassination, sarcastic and meaningless remarks like ƒ??it must be terrible being youƒ? and more dumb rhetoric. Letƒ??s hear something factual, something that makes sense, please.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Iƒ??ve no ƒ??anti-American ideologyƒ?, this has no basis. Iƒ??m anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-pre-emptive war, anti-torture; pro-freedom, pro-democracy, pro-accountability, pro-education, pro-peace; Iƒ??m pro-American in the sense I support all good things America does; Iƒ??ve a healthy proportion of amiable, admirable and patriotic Americans amongst the friends I love dearly and in general I see Americans as the same as others, why not? Iƒ??ve no bias to any particular group and I donƒ??t oppose anyoneƒ??s actions unless they are shown and known to harm others, like Al Qaeda - or your Neocons. We all have the same body, mind, emotions, brain, pain, needs and aspirations. Itƒ??s just that a gang called the Neocons somehow seized power over there and is busy screwing up the whole world for everyone else, plus screwing up its own country in the process.

    We all have to really thank GWB and gang for ripping aside the curtain of propriety and apparent virtue that used to cloak the USAƒ??s image in the world.

    He exposed it for what it is for everyone to see, naked aggressors, excessive greed, and who cares what anybody thinks ƒ?? ƒ??we have the power, weƒ??re gonna use itƒ??.

    Thatƒ??s what I donƒ??t support, but I donƒ??t see it as something ƒ??Americanƒ?, itƒ??s just bad human traits that sometimes get in power and wreak havoc. It happens from time to time in whatever country all over the world. Donƒ??t take it personal, kid! In my book, Americaƒ??s just as good as anywhere else, and in some respects itƒ??s even better.

    I grew up in comfortable western post-war affluence, conditioned with this image of the USA as a benevolent giant, the saviour of the downtrodden; emancipated and enlightened, well-meaning and kind to the dispossessed, the impoverished and the victims of oppression, a US that established and supported the UN to establish peace, freedom and democracy by peaceful means all over the world.

    In the last 8 years that happy image that we all treasured, which gave us hope and happiness has been shattered. The curtainƒ??s been ripped aside and the world enabled to see the naked truth of US actions in the world ƒ?? and internally ƒ?? unashamedly exposed. The economic meltdown that American greed and dishonesty has created is additional evidence, if needed.

    We love Obama, a ray of hope, all my American and other friends hope and pray that he, and if not him then someone else, will do the necessary to reinstate that idyllic America that we an image of as we grew up, that now lies broken.

    This is the America we all love and we all want to see rise up again ƒ??from the ashes of the Bushesƒ?.

    I hope this goes some way to clearing up your distorted impression of my ƒ??anti-Americanismƒ?.

    I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to voice my views on this site and I feel like a very happy guy with wonderful circle of friends both locally and all over the world. My lifeƒ??s a gas and I love the opportunity to put my contribution in the mix. Thank you one and all for your contributions. I welcome all challenges: with discussion of challenges comes the chance to exchange views, learn and make progress in the world. And if anyone comes up with good arguments or experiences or points that I canƒ??t refute, I promise to concede and theyƒ??ll win.

    Iƒ??ve no personal axe to grind but enjoy communicating and sharing views about such vital things that affect our whole world and what it will become of it for our children. Iƒ??ve two sons aged 19 and 20 and Iƒ??m proud of how theyƒ??re developing and their attitudes. I learn more from them every day.

    So Daniel letƒ??s say it, loud and clear: ƒ??Long live Americaƒ? ƒ?? the version we love, that is ƒ?? and down with hate-mongers, warmongers, trouble-makers, the arrogant, the intolerant, the greedy and the oppressors who go out of their way to invade, destroy and kill ƒ?? whether theyƒ??re Americans, Afghans or from Timbuctoo. Agree?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Petunia · 11 years ago
    One thing that needs to happen for Afghanistan to progress out of past centuries is for boys to stop girls from going on a fun adventure by throwing rocks at them. I am surprised and disappointed that neither Michael, Tim, Shem, nor Beata told them to stop and facilitated a little education desperately needed in this country: "Girls are just as good as boys."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    Tried that after the Soviet-sponsored government fell, and it had the opposite effect: Afghans blamed us for abandoning them. And we tried that after the 1991 Saddam war, and the Shia blamed us for raising their hopes. The past 6+ years have at least restored some American credibility, is that not so?

    Over at Michael Totten's blog, he revealed, from interviews, an important twist to thinking Lebanese thinking that may apply to Afghanistan as well: that it's ok to direct your anger against people who aren't your neighbors. Did American troops create lasting ill-will by their vast encampments in England before D-day? Just by being Americans - liberators - and interacting and helping the locals, encouraging them to join the anti-jihadist campaign, and leaving when they are comfortable with us departing - not before - isn't that the right way to go?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    In reply to Solomon2, thank you for your comment. I take your point, itƒ??s a good one. Unfortunately itƒ??s beside the point that I was making. By ƒ??Better go home ...ƒ? I meant itƒ??s better to do that than make more enemies by fighting wars, killing people and making everyone hate you.

    If the USA is truly liberating, and [as you say] ƒ??interacting and helping the locals, encouraging them to join the anti-jehadist campaign, and leaving them when they are comfortable with us departing ƒ?? not beforeƒ?, then I totally agree with you, thatƒ??s definitely the right way to go. Itƒ??d be great and thatƒ??s what the world dreams of and wishes the USA would do.

    I feel that in the 1980s the USA really did help the Mujahideen liberate Afghanistan from Soviet military occupation by sending stingers etc., and I applaud it. I felt so grateful, at the time, personally, because as I said Afghanistan has been one of my favourite hangouts since 1965 and I strongly oppose what the Soviets did there.

    Had the USA then moved in and followed up, helping out with rebuilding the country and facilitating development, then I suspect the Afghans would have welcomed it and the USA with open arms. Instead it was, indeed, abandoned, and in the USA-less vacuum the over-armed Mujahideen parties were left to slug it out between themselves and Najibullah. In the process the entire city of Kabul and whatever good the Soviets had done was destroyed, leaving the country totally exhausted and ripe for the Taliban to move in from 1994-97 and establish their kind of peace.

    So the USA missed an opportunity. The Taleban took power by default and were later conned into giving sanctuary to Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda, leading to 9/11.

    Had the USA done what you suggest and filled the post-Soviet vacuum with such a positive role as you portray then Iƒ??m dead sure theyƒ??d have been welcomed in to help rebuild, the Taleban would have stayed in the Pakistani Madrassas, Al Qaeda would have stayed in Africa, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO 9/11, Afghanistan would have been just as happy as the post-war British to host you and cooperate as a grateful client state and probably the world would be a far safer and happier place to live in than it is today.

    Unfortunately this is not what happened and on the contrary invading countries to beat up on them on false pretences (e.g. WMD) and killing huge numbers of people just makes more enemies and I still say itƒ??s better to go home and stay there than do that.

    But no use crying over spilt milk. I guess Obamaƒ??s got the smarts to fix this humungous neocon-generated mess with effective long term solutions. I have faith in him and the USA to learn from mistakes and get it right in the end.

    Good luck guys.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    "itƒ??s better to do that than make more enemies by fighting wars, killing people and making everyone hate you. "

    Stockholm Syndrome may have worked for you, but it doesn't work for everyone. The Yezhidis of Iraq didn't fight or kill people, nor were they very hated, but refraining from fighting didn't save the Yezhidis when Al Qaida (or was it Syria?) blew them up. The Taliban resurgence began not with attacks on U.S. forces, but on Red Cross volunteers.

    So it's OK for others to hate you - if that means you stay alive. The story of Moshe Dayan comes to mind. After their 1967 defeat, the Arabs hated him, yet respected his military skill. They were compelled to deal with Dayan personally after the 1973 war. Out of the background of respect plus the stimulus of personal contact a genuine admiration and even liking for the man developed. Maybe when you live in the jungle respect is a prerequisite to friendship.

    "I guess Obamaƒ??s got the smarts to fix this humungous neocon-generated mess with effective long term solutions. "

    I'd guess not; I put no faith in a modern-day Commodus. We'll need luck, and then some. However, our little discussion, neocon to neocolonialist, does suggest that renewed political discussion about the future and direction of Afghanistan is in order among the interested parties, and may even bear fruit.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    "Often, wounded soldiers and amputees would be placed in the arena for Commodus to slay with a sword. Commodus' eccentric behavior would not stop there. Citizens of Rome missing their feet through accident or illness were taken to the arena, where they were tethered together for Commodus to club to death while pretending they were giants." (Wikipedia).

    Doesn't exactly sound like Obama to me, sir.

    I don't quite get the point you are making with your other comments, either. Except that renewed discussion is in order - hear, hear. Don't forget to include ALL interested parties.

    By the way who are you referring to exactly as the Neocon and the Neocolonialist who have been having this discussion? I thought these terms indicated one and the same party.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    Commodus rose to power not just as the purported son of the previous Emperor (the hereditary principle wasn't a hard rule for Imperial succession) but on a wave of popular enthusiasm - you just cited one such event that evoked Roman enthusiasm. A gladiator rather than a statesman, Commodus spoke to everybody and cut a deal with Rome's enemies that, although it gave peace for a few short years, pretty much ensured long-term military conflict and economic decay.

    Yesterday on the radio I heard a pitch for Obama embedded in a supermarket commercial. That's something very new in political campaigning. There has been little substantial critical analysis of the candidate in the mainstream media. He owes everything to the press, and they know it. Why should anybody vote for a candidate who is tied by such a rope?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Solomon2, Iƒ??m beginning to have doubts about your democratic credentials. You accuse Obama for (like Commodus) being so sneaky, so devious, as to ƒ??RISE TO POWER ON A WAVE OF POPULAR ENTHUSIASMƒ?. Shock, horror! [And he was son of the previous emperor, as well? Sounds more like George W to me!]

    But anyway I always thought that was how democracy works. More votes = the winner. The most popular candidate wins the election. What do you propose as an alternative? Elect the candidate whoƒ??s the least liked by the people?

    Or did I miss your point?

    For years, the press supported George W Bush and his policies. Did you say then, ƒ??he owes everything to the press, thereƒ??s been no substantive analysisƒ?? I guess not, but that's what a lot of disinterested America-watchers abroad concluded. I refer to the years from 2001 to 2006 or so, when to question the wisdom of George W's policies was considered "unamerican" or "unpatriotic", and people who did so got lynched by the press.

    And then, you heard a pitch for Obama on the radio? How dare he! Does he think there is freedom of speech in the USA? Only Republican whites are allowed to make public statements?

    Are you kidding us? Should he be gagged because you don't agree with what he says? Do you want a one-party state like China where dissidents are gagged or jailed?

    ƒ??Why should anybody vote for a candidate who is tied by such a rope?ƒ? How should I know, Iƒ??m not American ƒ?? ask the clear majority of tens of millions of US voters who are so enthusiastically endorsing him, and backing his ƒ??rise to powerƒ? by voting for him in the polling booths.

    Donƒ??t tell me that you only preach "freedom of speech and democracy" so long as the candidate from your party is elected, and so long as you agree with what he is communicating?

    Oh, and you criticise Commodus for ƒ??ensuring long-term military conflict and economic decayƒ?? I canƒ??t believe that you are not comparing him to George W Bush here, but instead to the person whom the majority of your people clearly enthusiastically support as the man best able to come in and clean up the resulting mess and try to halt the tailspin your country is now in.

    I guess you are getting a little twisted in your attitudes and thoughts. Come on, where is your democracy, where is your freedom of speech and freedom of communication, Mr Solomon2?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    "What do you propose as an alternative? Elect the candidate whoƒ??s the least liked by the people? "

    Sure! I often choose to vote for somebody not because I like him or her, but because I think they're the right person for the job.

    "...2001 to 2006 or so, when to question the wisdom of George W's policies was considered "unamerican" or "unpatriotic""

    The period of fairly unified foreign and defense policy between Democrats and Republicans lasted from 9/11 to roughly August 2002, when division over the issue of the upcoming war to oust Saddam developed.

    "you heard a pitch for Obama on the radio? How dare he!"

    Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. It was a genuine commercial for a local supermarket chain, but whoever created the commercial embedded a partisan pitch for the candidate inside it. I've never heard of combining commercials this way before, and I found it intensely distasteful.

    "Are you kidding us? Should he be gagged...Donƒ??t tell me that you only preach...the majority of your people clearly enthusiastically..."


    You are putting words in my mouth here, and I don't like their taste, for I don't accept their validity. Your value as an interlocutor is much diminished when you do this since denying baseless accusations and red-herring statements is a great waste of time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    I apologise for time-wasting. Rather than ƒ??put distasteful words in your mouthƒ? I was trying to practise the time-honoured tradition of using logic, rhetoric and irony in the cut and thrust of a lively debate to draw out certain conclusions inherent in your statements and expose their flaws.

    I deeply appreciated the wisdom of your earlier gems like ƒ??Democracy is the wrong form of government for Afghanistanƒ? and ƒ??These people [the Afghans] need a kingƒ?. From these and similar I concluded that, unlike moi, youƒ??d enjoyed a classical education and unlike Bayani et al you understood Afghan history and their character. I fully agreed.

    Since Solomon1 understood the language of even birds and ants, as an accomplished debater I thought that youƒ??d follow and respond in like manner, without taking it personally. Iƒ??m sorry if my rhetorical was lost on you. I thought youƒ??d be equal to having your views questioned and regret it caused offence. My bad.

    So, back to the chase: ƒ??I choose to vote not because I like him or her, but because I think they're the right person for the job.ƒ? Now itƒ??s you whoƒ??s playing with words, splitting hairs. Was I over-generous in assuming US voters would LIKE their candidate BECAUSE he/she was the right person for the job? I assumed, if one judges a candidate right for the job, one ƒ??likesƒ?? him/her, and vote accordingly. Wrong, apparently!

    You imply youƒ??d vote for McCain as the right person, even though you donƒ??t like him. How very noble. Well if this be so then at least I can say that I half-agree with you - I donƒ??t like him either; but thatƒ??s my bad too: Iƒ??ll try to like him more. After all heƒ??s human and we have the same basic feelings and other attributes. I guess the problem is his conditioning. As an ex-POW his credentials are impeccable. Anyone whoƒ??s been a POW must be of excellent character, yes? Is that not so? Does that also apply to the enemy and his POWs? Only if God is on his side? But that includes Gitmo! Oh, shit ... it canƒ??t be right. Please, can you kindly clarify this point for us, sir. I guess itƒ??s all down to a question of subjectivity. Like, good guys/bad guys and primitive Neocon stuff like that.

    ƒ??The period of fairly unified foreign and defense policy ... lasted from 9/11 to August 2002, when division over the issue of the war to oust Saddam developed.ƒ? Thanks for the correction. We never knew opposition to the war in Iraq went so far back, and in addition, we wrongly thought it was prosecuted because of WMD and Saddamƒ??s role in 9/11, as well, like Colin Powell was unforgettably made to tell the UN. Well, Iƒ??m glad to know opposition went back to 2002, even before the invasion. We thought America was fully united and anyone disagreeing was a traitor until around 2006 when the press timidly started to question what the hell was actually going on. The Democrats have risen in my estimation.

    ƒ??It was a genuine commercial ... but whoever created [it] embedded a partisan pitch for the candidate ... I've never heard of combining commercials this way before, and I found it intensely distasteful.ƒ? Thatƒ??s very sensitive of you. I assumed this kind of thing was totally legal and fair. I read the US government spends billions of dollars on ƒ??perception managementƒ? [ƒ??propagandaƒ? to us], and personally I find this somewhat distasteful. Whereas if a supermarket owner uses his freedom of speech and expression to spend his personal funds to support his candidate, as a donation to his campaign, in such a hotly-fought contest, Iƒ??d strongly support his freedom to spend his money in whichever legal way he wants. Unless, of course he was supporting McCain ƒ?? then I admit, Iƒ??d totally agree with you: Iƒ??d find it intensely distasteful.

    Iƒ??m glad to see that weƒ??re in full agreement now on almost everything; that feels really good, oh wise one. I look forward to your clarifications on any outstanding divergences.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean Jones · 11 years ago
    Alan Johnston was the BBC representative in Kabul when we visited during the Taliban regime in 1999, He was later held hostage in Palestine for a long period. He has been back to Afghanistan to interview people and has uncovered some interesting points to make, including the following:


    "We talked to the former CIA man Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit set up by the agency to track the al-Qaeda leader as he moved across Afghanistan. Mr Scheuer told me of his deep frustration at the Clinton administration's passing up of what he believes was an extraordinary opportunity to kill Bin Laden in the governor's palace in Kandahar one night late in 1998.

    And after studying his target very closely for years, Mr Scheuer drew conclusions about Bin Laden's motives that you might not necessarily expect from a CIA man.

    "The war that America is fighting now has nothing to do with what any American political leader has been willing to tell the Americans," he said.

    "We're fighting people who believe that our foreign policy is an assault on their religion and on the people who believe in that religion. You don't have to agree with that, but you have to be an adult in the sense of understanding what motivates your enemy if you hope to defeat him."

    Strategy

    Among our interviewees there was much criticism of the strategy that the West has pursued on all fronts in the aftermath of the ousting of the Taleban.

    It was argued that far too little in the way of troops and resources were thrown into the project, and that the Americans too quickly moved on to the Iraq war - imagining that their work was largely done in Afghanistan.

    There was criticism too of the West's collaboration with the former warlords who have done so much damage to Afghanistan in the past."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solomon2 · 11 years ago
    I note that Sean Jones' assessment of Afghan and Pastun character is largely complimented by this article in the Telegraph (excerpt):

    "One of the abiding challenges faced by coalition forces in Afghanistan, and the local forces they are training, is the question of loyalty. The word carries a powerful and straightforward message for British and American troops. For many Afghans, however, loyalty has far more nuanced meanings that cut across family, tribal and religious lines as well-honed survival instincts of those caught between warring sides. "

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/3447679/The-failed-suicide-bomber-who-changed-the-war-on-terror-in-Afghanistan.html
  • This commment is unpublished.
    sean jones · 10 years ago
    Itƒ??s fairly obvious that the so-called ƒ??Talibanƒ?, otherwise known as ƒ??Freedom Fightersƒ?, like all their Afghan forebears, enjoy a good scrap, love their guns, and delight in nothing more than resisting foreign armies on their sacred soil. This is, in my view, quite normal amongst most sovereign nations with a sense of patriotism.

    The Afghans are exceptional because as a particular warrior race they have always thrived on such circumstances. One of their greatest boasts is that they ƒ??prefer a strong enemy to a weak friendƒ?. Thus even the Soviets despite their merciless brutality and overwhelming firepower were forced to beat an ignominious retreat.

    The idea that by bringing in more foreign troops the invaders can tip the balance against the freedom fighters is at best naive. The more foreign troops are brought into the country, the more the Afghans will rise up and fight against them; conversely, the sooner the foreign troops leave, the sooner the freedom fighters will go back to their husbandry, banditry and sorting things out politically between themselves in their time-honoured tradition.

    The whole of NATO policy and the whole NATO strategy is blind, foolish, idiotic, naive, stupid, ignorant, misconceived and bound to fail. Sorry! Itƒ??s as plain as the nose on your face

    We were told back in 2001 that the priority was to train the Afghan National Army to protect Afghanistanƒ??s borders, and probably to fight against internal enemies of the current leadership like the so-called ƒ??Talibanƒ?. That is now seven years ago. Let the Afghans fight amongst themselves, if they want, in their own way. If their National Army with all the resources poured into it canƒ??t resist a rag-tag army of villagers with Kalashnikovs and a few RPGs and IEDs, how can foreign troops whose presence multiplies the insurgentsƒ?? numbers tenfold by their very presence in the country?

    It is just pathetic that western powers think they can force ƒ??democracyƒ? down the throats of people like the Afghans, at the point of a gun.

    If the ANA is not yet capable of coping with insurgents, call them what you will, despite being the countryƒ??s ƒ??National Armyƒ?, with 7 years training by the best that NATO can provide, and armed to the teeth, then when will it be ready?

    In my long life I have rarely witnessed a political situation of such ineffable stupidity than that which the west has forced, and continues to force (with the most moronic justifications imaginable) onto Afghanistan.

    Go for it! The Russians took eight or nine years to figure it out, how much more stupid is the west than that? Nearly there, keep going guys! Long live freedom and democracy!
  • This commment is unpublished.
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    mark123 · 9 years ago
    I justify for time-wasting. Kinda than ’??put distasteful language in your mouth’? I was trying to execute the time-honoured tradition of using logic, bunk and humor in the cut and actuation of a sparkly disputation to entertainer out careful conclusions implicit in your statements and endanger their flaws. I deeply apprehended the wiseness of your early gems like ’??Philosophy is the criminal forge of polity for Afghanistan’? and ’??These people [the Afghans] requirement a king’?. From these and confusable I over that, unlike moi, you’??d enjoyed a classic breeding and unlike Bayani et al you understood Asiatic account and their trait. I full united. Since Solomon1 taken the faculty of justified birds and ants, as an realized.
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    mark123
  • This commment is unpublished.
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