Dec 31, 2009

How to Whip the Afghan Army Into Shape

Much of President Barack Obama's strategy rests on the creation of a new, more competent Afghan military. Here's what he'll need to know to get the job done.

In his Nov. 28 speech at West Point laying out his military strategy for Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama explained that success hinges on developing Afghan security forces that can control the country on their own. Tasked with the responsibility of figuring out how to develop them is Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, newly arrived in Kabul. According to the New York Times, Caldwell intends to devote unprecedented time and effort to improving the quality of Afghanistan's security force leadership, rather than merely concentrating on increasing the quantity of troops. This is an overdue change that promises real improvements.
In Afghanistan, poorly led soldiers and policemen have often proved useless or worse. For the past eight years, the lack of leadership in Afghan police and militia units has resulted in egregious abuses of power that have helped convince thousands of Pashtun tribal elders to support the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Those abuses have too seldom offset forceful action against insurgents. Increasing the number of Afghan troops, which some analysts believe must be the top priority, will not solve any of these problems without sound leadership. As U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry has aptly pointed out, "Ten good police are better than 100 corrupt police, and 10 corrupt police can do more damage to our success than one Taliban extremist."

In developing the Afghan National Security Forces, the U.S. and Afghan governments must combine short-term fixes with long-term development. It is a project that will take longer than American policymakers would like, no matter how many resources they allocate to it. It will also require smart use of U.S. resources.

Of the potential remedies for inferior Afghan leadership, the replacement of bad Afghan commanders with better ones is an obvious choice, but not an easy one. Numerous commanders in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) hold their positions because they have friends or relatives in the upper echelons of President Hamid Karzai's government and those patrons have been known to demonstrate resolve and guile in protecting their protégés.

A case in point is Brig. Gen. Shams, former commander of the 2nd Brigade, 201st Corps. Shams had far too little experience for a brigade commander and owed his position to political connections. Devoting more of his time to socializing in Jalalabad than to leading his brigade, he failed to organize any brigade-level operations, and corruption ran rampant within his unit. American advisors eventually appealed to higher levels of the Afghan government for help, but high-level Afghan leaders blocked action against Shams for many months. In the end, thankfully, U.S. persistence induced Karzai's office to authorize the brigade commander's relief. Read more

Dec 12, 2009

Drew University soccer star Shamila Kohestani leaves Taliban behind

BY Wayne Coffey
Five times a day, on the third floor of a boxy brick dormitory, a reserve forward on the Drew University women’s soccer team spreads out a special rug, sits down and tries to figure out which direction Mecca is.

For 10 or 15 minutes, Shamila Kohestani, of Kabul, Afghanistan, quiets her mind and says her prayers. Then she hustles back to her new western life, complete with fingernails painted pink, her name taped to the dorm-room door and a laptop that is rarely far from her side.

Shamila Kohestani never used a laptop until last year. She never did a lot of things. Life under the Taliban included periodic beatings and regular degradation, but not much in the way of amenities, and nothing at all in the way of education.

Sitting on her bed, alongside the patch of floor where she lays her prayer rug, Kohestani takes a short break from another five-hour night of studying. She looks toward a display of photos of her parents, six sisters and one brother, all of whom remain in Kabul - in a country where the life expectancy is 44 years, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

“When I first came here, people would ask, ‘What did you do for fun in Afghanistan?’” Kohestani says. She pauses and smiles. It is a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. ‘I’d say, ‘What do you mean fun? What is fun? I spent all my life in war.’

“I tell American kids, ‘You need to appreciate everything you have, because everywhere there are people who are starving, people who have nothing. Here there is so much.”

Shamila Kohestani isn’t so much a 20-year-old freshman as she is a social groundbreaker in shinguards, a cross-cultural wunderkind, a woman who captained Afghanistan’s first national women’s soccer team and who scarcely spoke English a year ago, and who, as recently as last month, had massive doubts if she could make it as a college student.

“The first days, I was sure I was going back home,” Kohestani says. “I told myself, I can’t do this.’” And then she did it, relying on the same indefatigable will that helped her through Ramadan last month, Kohestani fasting from sunup to sundown, going through grueling soccer practices without a sip of water.

“I’d get thirsty sometimes, and I’d just tell my mind, ‘Shut up,’” she says.

Christa Racine has been the soccer coach at Drew for 14 years, and a fixture in Jersey soccer since her record-setting days at Rutgers, a school she led to three straight ECAC titles, from 1990-92. That Kohestani has only gotten into one game this season takes nothing from what she has accomplished, in her coach’s opinion.

Dec 7, 2009

Exercise of Democracy in afghanistan.

The street is not silent but for his pounding heart, slapping feet, and spinning tire.

There are other noises: distant car engines rumble; horns scream point and counterpoint; air force planes roar overhead; and somewhere close by a couple is arguing.

But he hears only three things: his heart, his feet, and his tire. They consume his reality, shoving all else to the side, discarding it as unimportant.

The only thing that matters is getting his prize home before they find him.

He does not turn his head at the sudden shout behind him. He does not feel the struggle of his heart and legs to keep him moving.

Only home matters. He will be safe there. His prize will be secure there.

But then he reaches his street and as he turns to cover the final fifty feet to his front door he sees them waiting for him. He skids to a halt but the tire continues on its way, wobbling on unsteady rubber before collapsing midway between him and them.

He pauses in the midst of silent, swirling dust. They stare at him with no expression. Then smiles creep onto each scarred, dirty face, one by one.

And then they raise their guns and the silence is no more.

by Marc


For all the harshness of a world drenched in fear and bombing,

And all the wretched things this young boy has undoubtedly seenor perhaps even been a party to,

And all the horror his young mind has absorbed,

I wonder if his psyche can overcome, can forget.

For now, his mind is occupied by something that gives him hope--just an old wheel caroming through the streets, with an audience of poster people who do not laugh.

I wonder if he finds time to laugh; this photo brings out my tears for humankind.

by Wildspirit


Carve out playin

a bombed reality.

Dodging through streetsa boy focuses his joy.

by Septembermom


Posters hide the pock marks left my cartridges.

Ochre peels from the vertical plane.

Black cloth flaps round slim form as it runs beside.

Simple pleasure in the revolutions of a hoop.

Soon the boy will arrive home, he will be feted.

He will be dressed in a waistcoat of plastic and wires.

A clean robe will cover hiis frame, as his mother covers his face with kisses.

He will walk out with pride until he reaches his destination.

As he atomises, his thoughts will speed from him, racing to meet his glorious destiny, a smile on his thin, chaste lips.

by Christine

To see the Photos by Me see Basir Seerat