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Kabul Korrespondence

Fresh, factual, and funky view of Afghanistan and the surrounding Central Asian region

Time for a change

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A lot of people have been asking why there wasnt soooo much activity at Aina over the last month. Well there was, it just was not public activity.... We have moved location!

For the last 2 weeks we have been packing up and unpacking a whole media centre! The new location is a little smaller, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in style, location, security and comfort.

So if you are in the neighbourhood, drop in for a cuppa.....
posted by Travis, 10:58 pm | link | 1 comments |

So the Oz special forces aren't all savages!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Courtesy of AFP

Australian soldiers did not fight in a heavily-criticised Dutch-led assault on Taliban fighters in Afghanistan because of concerns about differing rules of engagement, the military said Sunday.

Some 52 civilians were reported to have died in the battle in the Chora Valley in southern Uruzgan province in June, prompting Afghan President Hamid Karzai to slam the "indiscriminate and unprecise operations" of the foreign forces.

A spokesman for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) said that Australian officers were involved in the planning of the operation and in manning vehicle checkpoints but did not take part in the June 16-17 combat.

"As the situation in the Chora Valley deteriorated... ADF personnel in Afghanistan became aware that Dutch procedures for this operation differed from Australian targeting procedures and expressed their concerns, including at senior levels," Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said.

Nikolic said Australian troops shared the same concerns as NATO soldiers about civilian lives being placed at risk by Taliban fighters who were choosing to attack from inside heavily populated areas.

"Australian forces operate under rules of engagement that aim to avoid and minimise civilian casualties," he said.

While unable to discuss the rules of engagement for Australian forces, Nikolic said they were consistent with the objectives of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
posted by Travis, 5:53 pm | link | 1 comments |

Every bit helps.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just wanted to say thank you and good bye to Simon, who volunteered his time and energy to Aina Photo for 2 months.

In this time Simon did some great work, completing the Nation Geographic Kids competition project, cleaning out our virus infested archive and standing in as Chief Editor while I was away working in Europe

Simon’s meticulous work ethic meant things were completed on time and a email report was sent to me everytime. Simon again represented his country well and reinforced the strong work ethic of the Germans. Simon I wish you well in whichever direction your career takes you and you are always welcome back at Aina.

Also I want to take this opportunity to welcome our newest volunteer, Elissa from the United States. Elissa has defied the US Embassy's and the locals on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border's advice. She has crossed into unknown territory and is handling it well. We hope that her honesty and background can bring the American and Afghan communities closer together.
posted by Travis, 12:42 pm | link | 0 comments |

An email to my editor

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

hey Anne

I got back to Kabul a couple of days ago and there was a receipt on my desk for a package. I went down to the 'post office'..... (If you could call it that), I had no idea what was in the package.

I went through several different people, signing paperwork and slipping small bribes to them. This is normal in Afghanistan, (0.30 cents goes a long way in this country). Then the package was brought out to me and I read on the package: From Swindle. Everyone had a smile on their faces.......

The man in charge, said I had to follow this old hunchback Afghan man up stairs. So I did and he took me to the "Parcel Review Office" (A new name for Vice and Vritue). There was a burly man siting behind a desk, I handed him some paper work along with one copy of your mag.

He spent a good 10 mintues flicking through the mag, stopped on the Jamica whore house story (eyebrows raised) and then kept flicking. Finally he closed the mag, took out a form, filled it in, gave it his signature and slammed a big purple stamp on it and handed back to me.

Swindle has been cleared by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a acceptable material!

Thank you for the extra copies, I will pass them on to the drug rehabs involved, the journo who wrote the article and keep a copy for my students here so they can see what a real US mag looks like.

keep in touch

posted by Travis, 10:19 am | link | 0 comments |

Just trying to do our job

Part of our work here is to follow the attacks on miltary and police within Kabul. As soon as we here of attack we jump on my motorcycle and race to the scene (quite fun really).

A couple of months ago we turned up at a bombing on J'bad road (known as the most dangerous road in Kabul). For unknown reasons the British military was in control of cordening off the area. (Usually it is either the US and or the Afghans).

So as journo's we try to get close to the scene to get a good picture, sometimes you can get litterally inside the vechile that has been hit. Not on this day. The British were being quite assertive with the line that was 'not to be crossed'.

On behalf of my fellow Afghans jouno's I went up to the solider in charge to discuss why we were continually being pushed back. He told me "I am just doing my job." I replied to him with the same answer. Then he commented that it was not me that he was worried about, it was the Afghan journalists: "Any of them could be carrying a bomb for all I know." This was where I got a little defensive for my fellow local journo's and ask this solider why he thought Afghan journo's could be seen as potential suicide bombers....

At this point he became increasingly aggressive and pointed his gun at me and told me to step back. I replied "No problem, but dont point that gun at me!" He shouted back at me, "I am not pointing my gun at you! Now move back or else!"

Just this week one of those local jounro, come suicicde bombers sent me these images.........
posted by Travis, 9:55 am | link | 3 comments |

Believe it or not..............

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Once you have been a here a while, you start to hear stories that will never hit the news stands or nightly news channels. Some are urban myths, others are elaborate tales and then their are some that are so incredible that you can't help but think..."hey that’s possible in a country like this."

So I don’t know how many of you know about the recent 'rescue' of a German 'NGO' worker that was 'kidnapped' for two and a half months. This is today's media report on the kidnapping case.

Kabul, 22 Oct. (AKI) - Al-Qaeda's media arm, al-Sahab, has posted a new video on Islamist websites showing a Taliban leader who they claim was released in exchange for a German hostage kidnapped in July. He was freed earlier this month by the Afghan government together with four other Taliban fighters in exchange for the release of German engineer Rudolf Blechschimdt, who was kidnapped together with four Afghans in July. Mohammad Naeem, the governor of Jaghato district in the Afghan province of Wardak, had announced at the time that five freed Taliban prisoners were not prominent members of the hardline group. With this latest video, the Taliban have denied this assertion and told al-Qaeda's followers on the Internet that the release of this high-level Taliban figure is a victory for Islam.

Well, over a couple of imported beers the other night, I heard another perspective on this tale.

The kidnappee (Rudolf) was a well known arms dealer in Afghanistan. Rudolf wasn’t in the police's good books, because he sold arms to private security firms without a license. Rudolf also still owns one of many brothels (or as we call them: Chinese restaurants) in Kabul. So he had some enemies, most arms dealers come pimps do......

Back in July Rudolf was contracted by a Afghan firm to visit Wardak province, the police escorted Rudolf to his 'business' meeting. But instead of delivering him to his new business associates, the police escorted him to the local kidnapping gang. The kidnappers showed their appreciation by kidnapping the police too. (Mainly for show) Anyway the police were released a couple of hours later.

So the Kidnappers kept Rudolf for almost 3 months and he was used by the press and politicians as one point on the 'scoreboard of abductions'. At this point in the match the South Koreans were clearly in the lead!

Later one prominent NGO got involved and tried to negotiate with a bundle of cash, but this fell through. The cash was never exchanged in Kabul. Basically, there was a cock up, which pissed off the hostage takers. Tit for tat started and the Afghan police decided to kidnap the father of one of the original kidnappers and threaten to kill him if they did not let Rudolf go. The kidnappers told them they didnt care for the old man and to go ahead and kill him. So the police kidnapped the whole family.

I know its confusing, but stay with me.

So then the prominent NGO got involved for a second round of negotiations with the same bundle of cash. The prominent NGO negotiated the release of Rudolf in exchange for $US40,000 and a group of Talibs. (Apparently $40,000 is the going rate for hostages these days...)

Ok now I hear you say "When did anyone say that the Taliban was involved...?"

Well, the kidnapped family members convieniently turned into imprisoned Talibs for the benefit of the press and the outside world. So the prominent NGO had saved the day. They had successfully negotiated the release of a German 'engineer' in exchange for some loose change and some Talibs.

In a final twist in this tale, the prominent NGO negotiators were also kidnapped at the second round of negotiations, but were shortly after released. (Again for show)

In a closing epilogue of this grandiose extortion excerpt. It is common knowledge that the current occupying forces will go into the area of kidnappings, after the negotiations are finished and wipe out the whole group involved in the kidnapping. The fate of the Wardak kidnappers would most likely have been the same as the South Korean kidnappers. Extermination.

Believe it or not..............
posted by Travis, 8:36 pm | link | 3 comments |

MY ISAF (nato) file!

Monday, October 15, 2007

TO: CPT. P---- K----- to SSG. R--- McB-------

FROM: The Rend Group

DATE: 27 JUN 07

RE: Media Analysis

The following memorandum provides background information on Travis Beard of the Aina Media and Culture Centre.

Travis Beard is an internationally renowned photographer working in Kabul at the Aina Media and Cultural Centre. According to its Web site, http://www.ainaphoto.com/, the NGO’s vocation is humanitarian, with a focus on developing/strengthening Afghan media organizations and photojournalists. It is the first Afghan photojournalism agency and has numerous Afghan photographers across the country. Beard is one of its leading instructors. His photography and that of the students at the Aina Photojournalism Institute has varied considerably, ranging from exhibitions on dog fights and Buzkashi to ISAF and drug burnings.

Beard and his students may be interested in visiting a US military PRT reconstruction project or in viewing an ANA training session. His photos may be distributed to Afghan media. Providing access to Beard and/or his students may help cultivate relationships with future Afghan photojournalists.

Beard’s work has focused on the Middle East, Central Asia, the Americas, Australia, and Europe. His photos have been published in numerous international newspapers and magazines.
posted by Travis, 7:30 pm | link | 3 comments |

Natational Geographic Kids Competition: Animal category

Like I promised, here is a selection of the portrait images that were captured by the students:







So please send me some feedback on which image numbers you like and why, then I'll pass it on to the students
posted by Travis, 6:48 pm | link | 5 comments |

Theories from the battle ground's dressing room.

By Massoud Ansari in Kila Abdullah, Pakistan The Telegraph (UK) / October 14, 2007

Millions of dollars handed over to secure the release of South Korean hostages in Afghanistan have been used to buy weapons deployed against British and American forces in the country, the Taliban claims.

Major Alexis Roberts, 32, Prince William's former platoon commander at Sandhurst, was one of the victims of the Taliban offensive funded by the hostage money.

According to Taliban fighters interviewed by The Sunday Telegraph, the money has also been used to train recruits to carry out terrorist attacks in Britain and America.

South Korea has repeatedly denied claims by Afghan officials that it paid cash to secure the release in August of 21 Christian volunteers who were held for nearly six weeks. But in a recent meeting, three Taliban fighters involved in the conflict with the British in Helmand province said that $10 million cash handed over in two instalments had been used to boost operations in Afghanistan and abroad.

"It was a God-sent opportunity," said Mullah Hezbollah, 30. "It has helped us to multiply our stockpile of weapons and explosives to wage battle for at least a year or so."

He said the money had been paid in August, shortly before the Taliban's fugitive spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, ordered Operation Nusrat (victory), an offensive against coalition troops which ran throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which finished last week. During the operation, four British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan, including Major Roberts
posted by Travis, 6:23 pm | link | 4 comments |

Natational Geographic Kids Competition: Landscape category

Saturday, October 13, 2007











Again, I wana hear your feedback
Maybe better to send email our office address
posted by Travis, 10:07 pm | link | 6 comments |

Over 155 civilians killed in suicide attacks, fighting in September

KABUL, 12 October 2007 (IRIN) - Over 155 Afghan civilians died in ground military operations, aerial strikes and suicide attacks by Taliban insurgents, US, NATO and Afghan government forces in September alone, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has told IRIN.

"At least 80 civilians lost their lives in suicide attacks and over 75 others were killed in military operations and aerial strikes in September," said Farid Hamidi, an AIHRC official.

The AIHRC is yet to verify the gender, age and other details of the civilian victims.

Dozens of civilians are also feared wounded and many others have been displaced as a result of insurgency-related violence, the rights watchdog said.

Suicide attacks were all but unknown in Afghanistan until 2002 but have soared in the last two years. Since January 2007, over 103 suicide attacks have been recorded compared to 100 in the whole of 2006, the UN reported in September.

Noncombatants make up to 80 percent of suicide attack victims, found the UN study Suicide Attacks in Afghanistan (2001-2007
posted by Travis, 10:02 pm | link | 0 comments |

Natational Geographic Kids Competition: Portrait category















posted by Travis, 9:33 pm | link | 1 comments |

The US works its 'magic' in many ways

Friday, October 12, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan authorities this week shut down two private security companies and said more than 10 others — some suspected of murder and robbery — would soon be closed, Afghan and Western officials said Thursday.
Authorities on Tuesday shut down the Afghan-run security companies Watan and Caps, where 82 illegal weapons were found during the two raids in Kabul, police Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal said.
A Western security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said some major Western companies were on the list of at least 10 others tapped for closure. He would not identify them.
The crackdown echoes efforts by authorities in Iraq to rein in private security contractors often accused of acting with impunity. Blackwater USA guards protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy in Baghdad are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in a Sept. 16 shooting, an incident that enraged the Iraqi government, which is demanding millions in compensation for the victims and the removal of Blackwater in six months.
The incident in Iraq has focused attention on the nebulous rules governing private guards and added to the Bush administration's problems in managing the war in Iraq.
Dozens of security companies also operate in Afghanistan, some of them well-known U.S. firms such as Blackwater and Dyncorps, but also many others who may not be known even to the Afghan government.
The U.S. military employs some 29,000 private contractors in Afghanistan for a variety of goods and services.

Thank you to Afghan News, FISNIK ABRASHI and JASON STRAZIUSO for this Article
posted by Travis, 12:34 pm | link | 2 comments |

Ramadan unfortunately doesn't unite Afghanistan

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The rush-hour suicide blast in the west of the city ripped off the sides and roof of the bus, which was smeared in blood and flesh. Parts of seats were flung into nearby trees.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the militia was responsible for the carnage. It also claimed Friday's attack on a defence ministry bus that killed 30 -- one of the bloodiest bombings of the insurgency.
The attacker, strapped with explosives, had tried to board the bus but a policeman on the vehicle became suspicious and shot him, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.

Wounded, the bomber still managed to detonate his explosives, Bashary said.
"Thirteen Afghans lost their lives -- eight police and five civilians, including a mother and two of her children," Health Minister Sayed Mohammad Amin Fatemi told AFP. Ten others were wounded, two critically, he said.
The minister, who had earlier visited the scene of the blast, expressed outrage.
"This was an anti-human act that scars the heart of every Afghan," he told AFP. "I hope the Afghan nation never forgives the perpetrators. I believe God will never forgive them."
A resident of the area, named only Atiqullah, said he heard a "terrible explosion."
"I stepped out of the house and I saw thick, black smoke. When I ran to the blast site, I saw around four civilians, including a woman and a child, who were dead being carried to a car," the 28-year-old said.
"I cannot describe the scene -- blood, bones and flesh. These poor people in this holy month."
The Taliban had vowed a campaign of attacks for the Islamic month of Ramadan, which will end in two weeks. There have been six suicide attacks that have caused casualties since Ramadan started in mid-September.

Image by Fardin Waezi/AinaPhoto
posted by Travis, 6:40 pm | link | 4 comments |

Congrats to the Kabul Kids!

Simon presented the photo contestants with their certificates today.

Well done guys, fingers crossed one of you wins and get to fly to Washington DC!

posted by Travis, 6:37 pm | link | 0 comments |

Mission Complete

Monday, October 01, 2007

I am proud to announce that the National Geographic Kids Photographic competition is finished.

We salected the best 3 images (one landscape, one portrait and one animal shot) and we uploaded them to their website today. Now we must wait to see what the results will be....

In the meantime, I will be showing you a selection of our best images on this blog. If you have time I'd love to hear your comments, feedback and choices of what YOU think are the best images.

I will relay this info back to the kids, so they can see just who out there is watching and what they think about their work.

so stayed tuned!

And thank you to Simon and Nasim for their great work on this project!

posted by Travis, 1:16 am | link | 4 comments |

Just how dangerous is it...?

I am currently travelling through Europe. The number question on peoples lips is:
"Just how dangerous is it...?"
I always start my answer with: "Well it depends on your personal level of what is dangerous......"

ANSO is a NGO that provides information to NGO workers on current security activity with in Afghanistan. This is what they had to say this week:

Assessment: Wardak has seen a significant escalation in AOG activity in the last 4 months with 5 NGO staff kidnapped in the province since July. All have subsequently been released within a few days unharmed and so it is anticipated that this case will follow that form. The incident highlights the relative vulnerability of humanitarian agencies in the area however and demonstrates that even agencies employing excellent security management protocols can be successfully targeted.

Advisory: Since June of this year kidnapping has emerged as a leading threat to NGO. ANSO records demonstrate more than 350 people have been kidnapped across the country this year with about 77 of those working for NGO. Although most kidnapping cases end peacefully within 6 - 8 weeks (the notable exception being the murder to two of the South Korean abductees) the sheer volume of kidnapping and the apparent ease with which they can be undertaken in many areas should be cause for alarm.

It is clear at this point that NGO need to consider themselves as attractive and (relative to other actors) easy kidnap victims for both criminal and AOG groups.
posted by Travis, 1:04 am | link | 1 comments |