Leaving Afghanistan, Parting pictures

Inside the C-17 aircraft.

As I write this entry, we are on board an Air Force C-17 aircraft flying to Al Udeid AB, Qatar.  Originally, we were supposed to fly into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan.  But ever since the uprising it has affected our travel plans.  One day they are accepting inbound and outbound flights.  The next day all flights are suspended.  Nobody on my team projected a regime overthrow in Kyrgyzstan; therefore our departure mission has been see-sawing back and forth.

Throwing concrete at the wall.

Yesterday I made my final trip to ANA land.  At one of the entrance gates, some Afghan local employees were working on a new building.  It was a bit comical to see how they were applying the concrete mixture to the exterior wall.  They would use their trowels and scoop up a gob of concrete and then throw it at the wall.  Only half of it would stick, but they were persistent with this process.  Then another employee would come along and smooth out the concrete.  I guess this additional layer of concrete is to strengthen the integrity of the concrete block wall.

Smoothing out the concrete wall.

I met up with Omid and had hoped to see the ANA Sergeant Major one last time.  We went to his office and found out he was still out on mission.  So I will never know what kind of a cook the SGM is.  I still appreciate his gesture of kindness and wish him and his family the best.

Our next stop was the Kandak Assistant Religious Officer’s office.  He wasn’t there, but the ANA Mullah was present.  He invited us in for some tea.  He seemed to be upset about something.  I learned his superior was trying to take away the cell phone I had presented to him.  Somehow, this person was under the impression I gave the phone to the Mullah to present to him.  This officer is also a former Mujahedeen commander, but I never had the opportunity to interview him.  Based on my research, he was one of the financial managers for Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance.  He also had a dislike for Americans.  I rectified the cell phone issue and the Mullah was happy.  We drank our tea (my last cup of chai in Afghanistan) and said our goodbyes.

The rest of the day I spent packing my gear, uniforms, books, etc.  I was quickly running out of bag storage space due to my last minute impulsive shopping trip to our small bazaar outside the camp.  These merchants will be sad to see me go…lol.  But Mrs. T should be happy with my purchases, especially these igneous and metamorphic rocks that I bought at bargain basement prices.  Some people refer to them as gem stones and are very appealing, especially the corundum.  The time quickly flew by and before long it was night time.

Fastening tarp on LMTV holding all of our luggage.

In the morning I packed my final belongings and we loaded them on an armored LTMV for transport.  This would be our last mission and this time, we would all be passengers in the back of the MRAPs.  Our 173rd Army brothers would be our chauffeurs.  It was time to pass the torch because now they will be responsible for running their own

AF TSgt assists Army SFC with .50 cal machine gun.

missions.  We had a small hiccup with the radios not communicating with each other and took some time to resolve.  My Air Force team made a habit of checking the vehicles and communication equipment the day before the mission to prevent delays the day of the mission.  But this is no longer our worry and hopefully this Army team will come together as a team and figure it out the same way we had to.

As we drove through the capital city one last time, I took notice of my surroundings.  Being a passenger allowed me to look further back into the side streets and focus on the people longer than I normally would if I was driving.  It was only fitting we had to dodge around hundreds of people gathered in the market area and swerve around a horse cart.  I don’t recall seeing too many horse carts in Florida, although near my home in Pennsylvania, the Amish still travel around in them.

Horse cart in the middle of traffic.

We arrived at the Kabul International Airport (KAIA) military terminal and off-loaded the truck with our bags.  As luck may have it, after several hours of waiting, we were able to

Military terminal at Kabul International Airport.

leave there the same day.  Our first stop was Al Udeid AB, Qatar.  This is the temporary processing center until the situation in Manas gets resolved.  It was obvious they were still struggling to accommodate the large influx of passengers and clearing customs there can be a royal pain in the butt.  Unlike most other Air Force personnel processing through, my

Waiting for our plane.

team was rather unique.  We still needed to turn in our Army weapons and gear.  The Army is a real stickler for accountability and we are personally accountable for thousands of dollars worth of gear.  No inventory, except for the weapons was performed.  Instead, we filled out name tags and attached them to our bags of gear.  Some of it has to be shipped to Manas AB, once they start allowing flights, while the majority of the gear and weapons will be returned to Fort Riley, Kansas.  Either way, it was a relief to return these items.

Our team before leaving.

Lady Luck was still smiling on us and we caught another flight to Ali Asaleem AB, Kuwait.  This place is great and I am nicknaming it “Air Force Club Med”.  To be cont’d…..

A Visit to the Past

Decaying walls of 14th century ruins.

My curiosity finally got the best of me and today I would pacify it.  I’ve driven past it dozens of times and had hoped to see it up close.  Today a handful of teammates and I would visit the 14th century ruins that reside on a portion of ANA land.

We were a bit skittish at first, because of rumor concerning landmines.  But I was assured if we stayed on the paths then it would be safe.  I led the way as we followed a dirt path to these ruins.  For me it was like taking a trip back into the past.  I’m still uncertain of the exact history, but I presume this might have been a garrison fortress at one time.  I have been told it dates back to the 14th-15th century.

14th century Mongul ruins.

Due to hundreds of years of erosion and war, the structure is in poor shape and badly deteriorating.  But the erosion effect provided a glimpse of the construction and architectural methods utilized during this time era.  Although I can’t be certain it’s possible the original structure was modified throughout the centuries and served as different purposes.  It

AF SMSgt peers over wall of 14th century ruins.

appears the foundation was built of fired mud brick and stone and then the mud mixture coated the outside forming a protective barrier over the brick.

Based on my research, crushed egg shells and straw was used with this mortar mud mixture to strengthen it.  Remnants of straw could still be seen in the mud mixture.  I tried to envision a

My Capt and ETT leader pose next to 14th century ruins.

garrison of Mongol soldiers living within the large confines of this structure during the 14th century.  It has been documented that Genghis Khan attacked and pillaged Kabul around 1221.  Then in 1398 the city was recaptured by the Emperor Timur (Tamerlane) who married a daughter of the governor.    Later in

Tajbeg Palace seen through wall opening of 14th century ruins.

1504, the city fell to Babur who set up his headquarters in Kabul.  So based on this snippet of history and the close proximity of the capital city, I will make the assumption this fortress was probably used by the armies of Tamerlane or Babur in the 14th or 15th century.  I seriously doubt this monstrous structure was abandoned.

Me standing on top of 14th century Mongul ruins.

Today the ruins take on a different personality.  The vacant interior has been used as a dumping ground for broken concrete, rebar rods, and soil.  At one time the ANA used it for a volleyball court too.  I looked around for any hidden artifacts, but was unable to find anything.  I’m also unaware of any plans to preserve or protect these historical ruins from further decay.  So I violated one of my own rules concerning archeological ruins and climbed up on the deteriorating walls for some pictures.  In one of the pictures you can see the towering Hindu Kush Mountains in the background.  While we are experiencing 80 degree temperatures at 5800 feet above sea level, these goliaths still have snow on their peaks.  I might also point out these mountains pale in comparison to the monsters up north who soar over 20,000 feet above sea level.  Now Honey that is a serious hiking trip!

AF Captain shoots jump shot.

With the weather heating up, so are the outside activities after duty hours.  Some of my teammates are engaged in sand volleyball games, while others take advantage of the new concrete slab poured for the basketball court.  I watched two of my teammates; an AF Captain and MSgt compete in a one-on-one competition.  The MSgt is the one who has religiously worked out at the gym and sports his 19 inch biceps.  The Captain was outshooting him 2 to 1, and I was certain the MSgt would lose.  But in the end, the enlisted prevailed over the officer….lol.

Nowruz Mission – Part 2

It didn’t take us long to figure out that the bazaar, restaurants and Px were relocated.  So we turned around and drove to the other side of the flight line where the military terminal was.  We parked our MRAPs and went inside trying to ascertain the arrival time of our guests.  The clerk informed my teammate, that the VIP guests would arrive by commercial

Ariana, Afghan commercial airplane.

plane and it would be on the other side of the base.  Once again we loaded the team back into the MRAPs and then drove to the other side of the base, the same place we had just left.

We were still early, so being late wasn’t a concern and took our time driving around the other side of the flight line back to a desolated parking lot.  Two of my teammates talked to some foreign soldiers who agreed to pick up the VIPs in an SUV and then transport them to our awaiting MRAPs.  After an hour of waiting we saw what appeared to be a commercial airplane land and were certain this was our party.  We waited and waited and I as I looked around the tarmac, the place seemed to be deserted except for an Ariana Afghan Airlines aircraft that was parked next to the building.  I recall Ariana is the money losing airlines (subsidized by the Afghan government) that makes 3 stops daily to Dubai.  Coincidentally this is the same country the Karzais and his powerful Afghan leaders have million dollar homes but are registered in the name of the Kabul Bank manager.  Karzai’s brother is also the largest Kabul Bank shareholder.  Hmmmmm…..

The SUV returned and dropped off our teammates.  We were informed this wasn’t the proper pick-up place.  My team was given some directions, but after being misdirected and driving to another desolate area on the base, it was time to call back to our camp and get an update and better directions to avoid driving around in circles.  Within minutes, we had a new destination.  It was several miles down the road and we would have to find the commercial airport for Kabul.  Nobody on the team was familiar with this place and we relied on our interpreter to point the way.  I’m sure this has happened to other State Department visitors, so today would no different …lol.

Entrance to Kabul commercial airport.

As we approached the airport, I noticed a large Soviet aircraft mounted on a pedestal.  I’m not an expert on aircraft, but it appears to be Soviet construction.  An ANP promptly greeted us and gestured for us not to enter and for us to do a U-turn.  The turning radius of the MRAPs is not that great and U-turns become 3 point turns.  Notice the sign in

Dressed up for Nowruz.

the picture prohibiting automatic weapons.  I presume this is a deterrent and a reminder for those who forget about their AK-47s in the back seat not to enter the airport area with them.  Our VIP guests were patiently waiting and be loaded them into the MRAPs and begin our journey back to camp.

It was now around 4 pm and

Afghan children giving us the thumbs up.

the traffic started to multiply on the roads.  The pedestrian traffic was also increasing and the citizens were preparing to celebrate their Nowruz or New Year.  The children

Another child giving us a thumbs up.

were adorned in bright color clothing and the adults seemed to be wearing their best apparel too.  Several of the kids gave us the thumbs up gesture as drove past them.

Afghan females in high heel shoes.

We cruised back through the city and were approximately 3 miles from our camp when the traffic came to a complete stop.  It was gridlocked and nobody was moving.  Out of nowhere an Army colonel jumped out of his armored SUV and told us to turn around because he spent an hour weaving and inching through this traffic jam.  Once again, we looked at our maps and relied on our interpreter to find us a new route.  This new route would take us on roads we have never traveled.  Oh, remember this is Nowruz, one of the most celebrated holidays in Afghanistan.  It didn’t matter which

Waiting on a ride in downtown Kabul.

street we turned down, traffic was heavily congested and barely moving.  This alternative route would steer us through village markets and rough roads for the next 2 hours.  We tried to be gentle with the low hanging wires and banners, but the MRAPs sit up too high and our antennas tore holes through the middle of the low hanging banners.  Most of the people just looked at us as we passed by.  One vegetable merchant didn’t appreciate our intrusion and threw onions at some of our vehicles.  By the time we arrived back at camp, it was 7:30 pm and the chow hall was closed for serving hot meals.  We would have to settle for soup and sandwiches.  A long day finally came to a close. 

Note to Self:  When in Afghanistan don’t travel by vehicle on Nowruz.

Nowruz Mission – Part 1

Prepping for the Nowruz mission.

For our ANA counterparts and Afghanistan, Nowruz is the celebration of a new year and for us it would mean a 12-hour mission to new places, new roads, and a new experience.  Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of a new year 1389 even though for us and our Gregorian calendar it’s 2010.  Nowruz has its origin with the Iranians dating back several thousand years and has been adopted by many Persian or Middle Eastern countries.  It’s interesting to note the Taliban banned the celebration of Nowruz, but after their removal in 2001, this rich tradition was restored.  Any time the Afghans celebrate a national holiday, it means gridlock traffic and a sea of pedestrians.  We knew this before leaving the camp and tried to plan accordingly.

Oops, traveling down a one way street.

The roads through Kabul are like a plate of spaghetti with no real rhyme or reason.  For security and size restrictions we have to be cognizant of the routes we travel, otherwise, we accidentally tear down power lines, banners, tree limbs, etc.  Some of the more direct routes go through city markets, dirt roads, round-a-bouts or paved arteries filled with hundreds of potholes.  Due to the Nowruz celebration, several roads would be blocked off to facilitate throngs of pedestrians and others would be congested with traffic.  As such, we had to find new routes to bypass these areas and still get through the city in time to meet our mission time line.  To facilitate travel our maps are coded with street names we can remember like those of states, colors, objects, numbers, etc., since we can’t memorize the Afghan names and for the most part, signage is nonexistent.  Even the landmarks are given nicknames such as “Pigeon Mosque,” because large flocks of pigeons gather outside this mosque daily.  These nicknames help to familiarize and identify travel routes.  But today would be new territory and roads we’ve never traveled.

We departed the camp on time and I readily observed the additional security checkpoints established by the Afghan National Police (ANP).  They were there to detect any possible insurgent attack and protect the large crowds of people.  These checkpoints created bottlenecks which caused the traffic to back up.  Our first detour caused us to travel against opposing traffic down a one way street for a couple hundred meters.  It’s not good COIN, but the alternative would have taken an additional hour or two.  Just as we planned, the traffic was minimal and didn’t cause any problems other than raising a few eyebrows.  But our next planned turning point was blocked by the ANP and they wouldn’t let us enter the street.  So now it was back to “Oh crap, where do we go now?”  We were downtown near several ISAF facilities and figured cutting through their complexes might be a shortcut.  We quickly found out that wasn’t going to work because the road narrowed and we feared getting wedged between two walls with our lumbering MRAPs.  Since there was no place to turn around, we tested our backing up skills for several hundred meters and continued on our journey.

After making several more U-turns and circles, we made our way out of the city.  OK, we got lost and even with the aid of an interpreter who lives here, we still took the scenic route weaving around the city’s congested side streets until we could find our way out.

Camp Blackhorse as seen through my window.

Our first stop was a place near and dear to my heart.  It was Camp Blackhorse, my first duty station before relocating to my current camp.  Other than a few changes, it still looked the same.  Since we didn’t have much time, we stayed on the outside of the camp and dropped off our passengers who were scheduled to attend a conference.  I looked hard but didn’t see any sign of the camp dogs Liberty or Justice.  I hope they either found a good home or perhaps they were out wandering on the ANA side of the camp.

Our next stop was Camp Phoenix to conduct some other administrative business.    As we approached the main gate, I readied my ID card to show to the guards.  But not today, we were quickly waved through the security checkpoint.  Perhaps they read my previous blog entry about how cumbersome this was and how it posed a danger to us by backing up traffic on the main road.  Or perhaps common sense prevailed and there are better and safer methods to employ.

Kabul Intl Airport, military terminal.

While at Camp Phoenix, we received an urgent call to pick up some VIPs at the Kabul International Airport (KAIA).  For some reason, their Personal Security Detachment (PSD) was unable to make it in time.  Our patrol would take their place.  Originally we were going to augment the PSD and provide additional security for these visitors.  Our guests wouldn’t arrive until 1500 hrs, so we decided to visit the coalition PX and bazaar area.  But when we pulled up to the site, all of the shops, PXs, restaurants, etc. had disappeared.  It was like they were never there, except for the concrete foundations that were left behind.  To be cont’d ……

Winter in Kabul

Are you sure this is the correct route?

Judging by today’s pictures, you would never know that we were in the middle of the winter season.  I’m unsure if this is an anomaly or Afghanistan (specifically Kabul) is experiencing a very mild winter.  But today I swore it felt like spring weather.  The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was rather comfortable.  This is rather surprising since

Captain, it's going to be a tight squeeze, but we can make it.

we are sitting at 5800 feet above sea level.  Of course in the higher elevations, they are still receiving a lot of snow.  The Salang Pass (12,000 ft elevation) just reopened after being closed for several days due to 17 avalanches.  The snow was 21 feet thick in some places.  Tragically at least 165 people perished in these avalanches, but 2500

Are those cows in coats?

people were rescued in part due to a combined NATO and ANA effort.  Our ANA Brigade sent 70+ soldiers to help with the rescue effort and the local news reported that Bagram Air Field (BAF) treated over 100 patients that were flown in by helicopter.  The Salang Tunnel was built during 1955-1964 by the Soviets and is the main artery that connects north and south Afghanistan.  During the Soviet occupation, the Salang Pass was also used by the Mujahedeen as a strategic ambush site.

At our 0730 morning meeting, our ETT leader announced the Cougar MRAP was repaired and to put together a mission to retrieve it.  He asked me to be the convoy commander and to depart the camp after lunch.  So after my daily mentoring session, we put together a mission plan.  My Captain would be my driver.  He hasn’t driven in awhile and being his Truck Commander and the Convoy Commander, I get to tell him what to do …. lol.  Actually, the convoy commander, regardless of their rank has the responsibility for the convoy and making critical decisions.  Each Truck Commander is responsible for their vehicle and follows the convoy commander instructions.

Unique way of carrying Naan bread.

We departed our camp and drove into the heart of the city.  The Captain was a little bit rough with the vehicle in hitting the potholes and it felt like we were riding horses.  The side streets and sidewalks were filled with a lot of pedestrians.  The vendors were taking advantage of the warm temperatures and set up their display carts.   One man was balancing fresh Naan bread on his head, while others were struggling to push and pull their overloaded carts.  The market area was extremely congested today and we had to

Pulling a full load.

inch our way through it dodging people, bicycles, carts, motorcycles, and cars.  It has been quite awhile since I last seen the market area so populated.  The city dwellers moved about conducting their shopping and bargaining for the best prices.  What really stands out is how many of them are dressed.  Some still wear the traditional garb and blue burqas, while others were dressed smartly in suits, sports coats and shoes.  Yes, most everyone is wearing shoes and giving their flip-flops a break.  Although you can still find some hardcore or perhaps poor people wearing their leather or plastic flip-flops with socks.

Lt's first time driving Cougar MRAP off camp.

The Army Lt and I visited the maintenance shop and signed the mechanic’s paperwork for the Cougar MRAP.  The starter went out and had to be replaced.  The Lt was anxious to drive since recently attending the MRAP driving course.  So now he will have a good picture to share with his students when he finishes this deployment and returns to being a school teacher.

Child begging for money.

On the return trip we encountered quite a bit of city traffic.  When the cars would stop, poor children with empty metal cans would approach the drivers in hope of getting some money.  I was rather surprised because in the past I don’t recall seeing this many children out begging for money.  Today I saw half a dozen children pandering.

On the outskirts of the

Let's stop for some fruit and lamb chops.

city, the people are much poorer too.  The suburbs are also where you will find the vegetable and open meat markets.  As you can see in the picture, the raw meat is on display and for sale.  If given a choice, I will take my chances with the fruit neatly stacked in the wooden crates.  I didn’t see any of the melons that Afghanistan is famous for.  Maybe they are out of season.

It also looked like the locals were taking advantage of a sunny day or perhaps it was laundry day in the city.  Clotheslines were stretched between apartment buildings and weighted down with

Drying clothes in Kabul.

clothes blowing in the wind.  On the home stretch towards the camp, I also got a picture of Afghan boys selling balloons.

Since returning to camp, the temperature has already started to drop.  Battleship gray clouds were hovering over the surrounding mountain peaks.  I wonder what tomorrow will be like.  Regardless, today was an enjoyable and beautiful day.

Balloons for sale.

“Armyisms” and Ban on Ammonium Nitrate

Army SFC in gunner's turret.

For the past 8 ½ months, I have written about my experiences, observations and opinions of being Air Force while being assigned with the Army.  Admittedly, I have chided them on some of their processes and in turn, they have apprised me on some unique Air Force peculiarities.  Of course, the outer planetary SNAFUs

Army SFC puts on gunner's harness.

experienced at Bagram Air Field still top my list, but today I encountered another one at Camp Phoenix.  As a result, I have coined my own term for these inimitable processes that make you scratch your head and stare in bewilderment.  From now until departure, I will refer to these as “Armyisms”.  Now don’t get me wrong, I value my Army brothers and would take a bullet for them, but some of their procedures have me perplexed.

Today’s mission was to travel to Camp Phoenix and turn in some up-armored HMMVWs.  We have too many vehicles and not enough people to sustain such a large fleet.  This was also a good opportunity to give our new teammates some driving time behind the wheel.

View of Kabul outskirts.

As such, I have been resigned to sit in the back of a MRAP as a dismount.  It was also an opportunity for me to take some pictures of the daily activities.  Even though we hit a concrete barrier before departing the base, I did not take a picture of it.  I think the new driver felt embarrassed enough and didn’t need to memorialize the event.

We cruised through the city with no problem.  The market area was back to normal and if you weren’t aware of the latest attack on Kabul, you would have never known the difference other than some additional security personnel strategically positioned throughout the city.  But I did notice more women returned to their habit of not wearing their burqa.  Based on my reader’s

Large mosque in Kabul.

comments, I wonder if there was a correlation on the day of attack.  I made the observation of more women were wearing burqas leading up to this particular day.  Perhaps it was pure coincidence or the weather is warming up again and this restrictive garment is rather warm to wear.

After arriving at Camp Phoenix, we took care of some administrative business and I tagged along with our ETT leader to their supply store.  He wanted to pick up some office supplies.  For this purpose, he is treated like the commander for the supply account and he authorizes members of the team to shop there.  But today he was doing the shopping.  He presented the clerk a letter showing he controlled the account

14th century ruins in Duralaman.

and funds expenditure for this particular account.  The clerk did not have a signature card on file for him.  Despite my leader’s attempt to understand, the Army clerk requested a signature card from him.  Now here is the kicker.  The signature card is normally signed by him as the commander authorizing other teammates to shop there.  But this time, the

Darulaman (Kings Palace) destroyed during the civil war after the Soviets departed.

clerk wanted a signature card authorizing him to shop there and signed by him as the authority.  So in a nutshell, he is signing a card authorizing his self to shop there.  Can you say Armyism?  I wonder if he has the authority to deny himself from shopping there? LOL

Afghanistan bans Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer

President Karzai issued a decree banning the use, production, storage, purchase or sale of Ammonium Nitrate.  This chemical compound has been used in 95% of the homemade bombs responsible for killing coalition forces and innocent civilians.  The farmers use it as a fertilizer on their fields and crops.  Now they have 1 month to turn in all of their stock of Ammonium Nitrate or face court action.  They are being directed to use Urea Nitrate instead.  The only problem with this fertilizer, it’s more expensive than Ammonium Nitrate.  Earlier this month, NATO and Afghan forces confiscated 10 tons of Ammonium Nitrate in the Kandahar Province.  Last November, they took possession of 250 tons of the suspect fertilizer in Kandahar.  The hope is this will decrease the amount of raw material readily available to construct deadly IEDs.

While a dismount (window licker) in the MRAP, I took a few pictures of what I viewed through the back and side windows of an MRAP.  Some of the pictures are rather clear, despite taking them through several inches of ballistic glass.

Back to work

Helicopter landing at LZ.

Well today was my first day back to work since contracting an eye infection.  Last night I put my contact lenses in and stored my spectacles in their case.  I’m still a bit leery about having to use steroid eye drops until I leave country.  But I am feeling energetic and reinvigorated and looking forward to resuming my duties.  A few changes have taken place since my imposed quarantine.  The morning meetings are now held in ANA land.  I found this out the hard way when I went to our office buildings and nobody was there.

ANA camp dogs frolicking about.

I’m still settling in with my new responsibilities of mentoring the Property Book Officer.  At times, he is elusive and confuses my interpreter with his answers and responses.  The supply system being used is archaic and based off the US Army’s antiquated system.  However, since the literacy rate and education levels are so low, this basic system is appropriate for the ANA military.  At least now the signatures required to be issued something is down to about 4 or 5, instead of the 2 dozen required in the past.  We learned previously that everyone who was someone wanted to sign and put their stamp of approval on documents.  But even now, getting signatures is a challenge in itself.  Personal accountability is a scary word, so now the reverse effect has taken place.  Getting signatures is like pulling teeth.

Kabul attacked!

Two days ago, a group of armed Taliban flexed their muscle and assaulted the capital city.  Suicide bombers and armed Taliban militants attacked various government agency buildings and destroyed a shopping center.  Although most of the insurgents were killed, there were also civilians and Afghan National Policemen who perished.  The attacks resulted in several dozen casualties.  This is just another prime example of the Taliban showing their disregard for innocent civilian lives to include children.  One would hope that the city populace would band together and demand that these thugs be caught and swift justice is served.  But the only public outcry seems to be coming from the Karzai administration condemning the attack.  Yet, when rumor spread once again that U.S. soldiers allegedly burned the Koran, several hundred villagers unite and demonstrated against the US forces.  Even though, no U.S. person would intentionally desecrate the Koran, the Taliban have used this tactic as a way to incite violence.  It’s debatable whether the Taliban are showing their might or whether this is an act of desperation because the coalition forces are taking back territory previously held by the Taliban.  Time will tell….

The United Nations has released its report “Corruption in Afghanistan.”  It found that public dishonesty is a bigger concern than national security or unemployment.  The average bribe was $160 in a country where the GDP is $425 a year.  Fifty percent of the people polled paid at least one public official for a public service.  This equated to $2.5 billion in bribes or 23% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.  If my math is right, opium trade accounted for $2.8 billion or almost a quarter of the GDP.  Due to lack of money and faith in the government, more villagers are turning toward the Taliban and tribal elders for justice and assistance.

I wonder where all of this money is going?  Perhaps this is what finances the million dollar “Poppy Houses” being built in Kabul and other major cities.  Not surprising, that former governors, ministers, current ministers, warlords, and drug lords live in these ugly mansions.  The Afghans have even coined a word for this type of architecture.  It is commonly known as narcotecture.

In other news, President Karzai made some of the rejected nominees acting ministers or assistant ministers in the Cabinet.  Parliament is fuming about this.  Parliament complained that the rejected Karzai nominees are either corrupt or linked to warlords.

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