Letter from Afghanistan

September 8, 2006

lensFrom one of IN Editor Duwayne Escobedo’s clan:

Greetings, news and commentary from the far side (of the world), as of September.

            Mom always said to enjoy what I could, and put up with the rest.
Well, I’m beginning to enjoy the weather. It’s only 88 today, and it got down
into the 60’s last night. No goose bumps yet, but it’s now tolerable.

            We’ve had some storms come thru, and although we haven’t had any rain
here, they have in parts of the country. Last night was an excellent
lightening storm, and we expected rain, but it stayed in the mountains.
I’ll take whatever I can get at this point. Cooler is good.

            Several of you have asked about the country, what’s really happening,
what we are doing and what do I think about it. Well, here are some of
our daily challenges and issues. Not all of them, mind you, but some.
I’ll keep my evaluations to myself at this point.

            We are staying busy, and we haven’t run out of things to do. Our
soldiers are excelling at their jobs and, despite what you may hear, we
see improvements. I often become frustrated though, and then realize
we’re literally building a country.

            How do we teach governance (at every level), coach local leaders,build infrastructure, educate young and old alike, develop trust, overcome hundreds of years of tribal suspicion, fight corruption, instill ethics,
 train law enforcement, settle disputes, help build the credibility of the
GoA (Gov of Afghanistan), and overcome contention.

            We’re trying to do all of it while in one of the poorest countries in the world that receives one third of its income from illegal poppies and the heroin trade. It’s an overwhelming assignment.

            Then add to all of the above, we need to find the guys who: bombed the
new girls school, burnt down the Provincial Reconstruction Center,
kidnapped the police chief and his son and executed them, stop the
outside instigators from stirring up the populace, figure out if some of
the local law enforcement stole the weapons, and went to the other side
(insurgents), catch the guys leaving bombs in the roads, and see why the
Afghan Security Forces haven’t been paid for the last three months, and
who has the money. And, provide security for ourselves and the country
as a whole. Add to that, staying safe, keeping a low profile, and
maintaining hyper vigilance all the time.

            And we thought we might be bored. Not a chance.As we were told

when we arrived, everything in Afghanistan is difficult.

            It takes a mile of effort to move an inch, and some days

we’re lucky to make any headway. In looking back over the last 7 months,

I can see progress, but there’sstill so much to accomplish. Progress is

extremely difficult and time consuming.

            So much for my daily cogitation……. I’ve also got a lot to look

forward to.

            I’ve decided that with my pending R&R (coming soon), I need to start

making some sense of my pictures. I’ve spent the last few nights, moving
things around, from folder to folder and wondering what others will
think of the confusion I’ve got on my computer. These days of digital
photography are great, but I need to go thru and discard lots of stuff.
            When I’m partially convinced that everything is in order, I change it
again, and then try to remember what I thought was important when I
first got here. It’s a little like introducing someone to a new subject;
Where do I start, what’s important and in what order should I proceed.
Oh well, I’ll keep at it.


            I’ll add a little about our wildlife. I sent some of this to my family,
and told Janet not to look at the pictures. Well, she did, and she wrote
that she doesn’t want to travel here. I’ll send a couple of pictures of
some of the bugs and stuff common here. The Camel Spiders are a little
different, and when I took the lid off one of the plastic containers we
caught one in, everyone cleared the room. Somewhere, there’s a rumor
that they can jump. Somebody said they can jump a foot or two, and then
I heard 6 feet.             This little guy only crawled around, and I never saw him
jump at all.

            We’ve been catching ants for them, and I guess it’s a
diversion. The snakes are another thing. We’ve seen some off and on all
summer, but we had one get inside one of our buildings. They said he –
or she – was a juvenile. We’ve all been looking for mom and the
siblings, since. And no, Jeremy, we don’t keep them as pets. Spiders
yes, cobras no.

            We also run into a few camels (animals, not spiders) on occasion. I’ve
seen shepards (do they shepard camels?), with a heard of maybe 10-12 (do
camels come in heards?), but most often only one or two. The Kuchis (a
tribe of nomadic people) keep a camel or two (per family) they use when
they move from place to place. When I think about it, how else are you
going to move your family tent and belongings – in the desert? Makes
sense to me.

            I’m grinning a little more each day, and counting down. It’s now
somewhere close to two weeks, and I’m on my way home. Well, I’m not
really going home (sorry Yakima). I’ve got two new grandsons since I
arrived in Afghanistan, and I’m going to be properly introduced to the
newest Lindley men. I’m looking forward to time with family and taking a
little rest.

            It’ll be fun to visit Idaho and Arizona, and enjoying some
of the things I used to take for granted. I’ll catch up with the rest of
you next spring. With the flights around here and their unpredictable
schedules, I’m staying local for the next two weeks. I wouldn’t enjoy
being stranded somewhere remote, about the time I’m due to leave for the



One Response to “Letter from Afghanistan”

  1. Megan Says:

    From: Stephen Pizzo

    Man alive, this you gotta read…

    * * *

    Just had another fascinating phone call from my old friend Don B. We
    were at school together at the Central European University in Prague, ten
    years ago. Don has become a freelance anticorruption consultant in the
    years since then, and has kept his life constantly in motion, living and
    working in some of the most dangerous (and interesting) places in the world.
    An incomplete list: Belorus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,
    Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Iraq, Republic of Georgia (he’s on a first-name
    basis with Saakashvili). He called today from Berlin, on his way from
    Kabul, where he’s been for the past year or so…

    “Greetings from the front lines in the War on Terror. And oh yeah, we’re
    losing big time. Why don’t Americans know this? The Taliban are stronger
    than they’ve ever been, and they rule the country except for a few blocks of
    downtown Kabul. I got out just ahead of a car bomb; I made it to the
    airport, and then the road was sealed. It went off right in front of the US
    embassy, killed a bunch of US and Canadian soldiers.

    “The security rules for the UN workers are that no one can leave the
    compound, although people do sneak out. For the US personnel it’s much
    stricter; if you get caught even one block outside Camp Phoenix you’re
    immediately fired and sent home. This means, of course, that everyone in
    the US camp has no idea what’s happening in the country. And they’re all
    kids anyway, most of them in their twenties. I go to meetings where there
    are thirty of these young Americans in the room and two Afghan officials.
    These kids are telling the Afghans how to run the country, laying out the
    5-year plan for reconstruction and development. They seem to earnestly
    believe in this. But five years? The Karzai government is going to fall in
    the next few months. Everyone knows this.

    “The only Americans who get out into the countryside are the Christian
    fundamentalist missionaries. To most Afghans, these people are the face of
    the US. They go out with their kids to some of the most dangerous places in
    the country, seeking martyrdom and sowing hatred of the US.

    “Since the US personnel can’t travel their only knowledge of the country
    comes from their drivers and cleaning ladies, who tell them what they want
    to hear. Any American who actually speaks Dari or Pashto is extremely
    suspect; I had a friend here, an old Afghan hand who’s been here twenty
    years and speaks Dari fluently. They sent him home, he was embarrassing
    them, he knew too much. The people who stay here don’t know anything about
    the country, none of them read the history. They’re all ideological

    “Why isn’t the US press writing about this? There’s a village right nearby,
    sort of a suburb of Kabul. The central government’s control just about
    covers the mayor’s office building. It doesn’t cover his house, though, so
    he’s sort of afraid to go home…

    “The UN, what a joke. It’s the most corrupt and incompetent thing I’ve ever
    seen. The head of the UN mission here gave away his family fortune to the
    Vietcong in the ’60s. Sure, people can change, maybe he’s not so naïve now;
    but his last gig was in Kosovo, he made a huge mess of that, so they figured
    they’d post him to Afghanistan. After all, it’s not an important post,

    “All the US administrators here talk about Karzai as a ‘stand up guy.’ Are
    they kidding? Karzai’s brother is one of the most corrupt officials in
    Kabul, well known for it. And Karzai won’t do a thing about it. Oh yeah,
    they also talk about Musharraf as our great ally. Look, everyone here in
    Afghanistan knew about September 11 before it happened; in fact, that was
    one of the reasons Mullah Omar had a big falling out with Osama, because
    Osama was blabbing to everyone. The cleaning ladies knew about it. So
    Musharraf, who was running the Taliban before 9/11, clearly knew about it.
    So either the Pakistanis told the US there was going to be an attack and got
    blown off, or they kept it to themselves. and these are the great allies in
    the War on Terror?

    “Word here is the US has a plan to seize the Pakistani nukes if
    fundamentalists come to power. But the focus is on Iran. Apparently the
    Israelis are pushing the US hard to do Iran, and the Armageddonists in the
    Bush administration are all for it.”

    I object that we don’t have any military available for Iran. “They’d have
    to use nukes.”

    “Well, yes, as you say. The Armageddonists are fine with that. The whole
    security focus here is on the Iranian border, putting pressure there,
    Special Forces operations. No one cares about the Pakistani border; that’s
    totally porous, and that’s where all the guns for the Taliban are coming and
    all the opium is going out. But Pakistan’s our ally, Musharraf’s our guy.

    “I don’t get it. What’s happening here is so important, it really is the
    front line in the war on terror, and we’re losing more and more every day,
    and no one cares. So long as Bush can get away with saying, ‘We’re winning
    in Afghanistan,’ it doesn’t seem to matter to the US press and the US
    politicians that no, that’s not the case on the ground. And all the
    neighbors are watching. If we lose Afghanistan, all of Central Asia will
    go, I’m telling you, I’ve spent a lot of time here and we will lose it,
    either to hostile totalitarian regimes like Turkmenistan or to Islamic
    fundamentalist chaos, and this will be a tremendous victory for the

    “I was talking with the head of Canadian military intelligence here the
    other day, telling him all this stuff. At the end of the conversation he
    said, ‘Talking with you is very depressing.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Isn’t it
    sort of your job to be on top of this stuff?’

    “I’m kind of enjoying being here, watching the ship slowly sinking. It’s
    very interesting. It’s an education. But I don’t think I’ll want to be
    here when it actually goes down. No, I’ll be getting out before that.”

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