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Kabul Korrespondence

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

My Brothers

Monday, February 09, 2009

Since living in Afghanistan I have been lucky enough to befriend some locals to the extent that they joke about it saying: "We are brothers from different mothers."

Many of my international friends here have commented on the camaraderie between us and confided in me that after being here for so many years, they wished they had such good Afghan friends.

Last month I decided to move into a new house with a recording studio. I talked to my two best friends here (Max and Massoud) and we decided to live together. There are not many internationals whom live with Afghans here. Or maybe there is just not enough.

I believe that the ever widening gap between locals and internationals could be shortened to some extent by them living together. I'm not saying that this will solve all the countries problems but it could certainly help.

So yesterday I got a email from Max, attached were some pictures of us moving into our house. I wasn't even aware that he was taking the pics. For these young boys this house is a chance to sample freedom and independence from the usual family environment they live in.

Here is to a warm and fun spring/summer in our new home (Khana)

posted by Travis, 10:08 am | link | 9 comments |

You have to read this

Saturday, February 07, 2009

With a nudge and a wink, MoD has dragged me through the mud

The Guardian
Rachel Reid
Friday 6 February 2009

Yesterday it emerged that a senior British army officer, Colonel Owen McNally, had been arrested under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly passing classified information to a human rights worker in Afghanistan. Unnamed sources suggested he had become "close" to the campaigner Rachel Reid. Here, for the first time, she responds to what she says is a "vicious slur"

According to news reports, Colonel Owen McNally has been flown back to Britain, where he will reportedly be interviewed by military police. The Ministry of Defence has told media that I was the recipient of these secrets as a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Whatever the MoD has whispered into the ear of the Sun, Col McNally and I met only twice, both times in a purely professional capacity, both times at the Nato military HQ in Kabul. Both times we met to talk about civilian casualties from US and Nato air strikes.

What has happened in the last couple of days has been bewildering. I do not understand how these two meetings might have led the British government to accuse McNally of a serious crime that could lead to a hefty jail sentence, and why my government might want to see my reputation dragged through the mud, when I live in a country where a woman's reputation can mean her life. The meetings seemed unexceptional. A QC retained by Human Rights Watch has confirmed that the kind of information I received is not covered by the Official Secrets Act.

If the ministry had been seriously concerned that one of their officers was leaking information, why leak it to the media? Why was my name released to the media by the MoD, with a (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) libel that our relationship was "close"? They would know exactly what impression they were creating, and presumably decided that my reputation was expendable in order to ensure coverage of their "story".

Why did journalists from the Sun, the Times and the Mail write this as a story focusing on the MoD's entirely bogus suggestion that I had some kind of "relationship" with McNally? Why is it that my photograph was published? Why have journalists not been asking questions about why the MoD has been encouraging them to publish a vicious, false slur about me in order stop me from doing my job for Human Rights Watch in asking for information from the Nato official in charge of monitoring civilian casualties?

Living in Afghanistan, where democracy, a free media, freedom of information and freedom of expression are still a faraway dream, I have developed a deep appreciation of the freedoms I grew up believing I had in Britain. I expect better from my own government and from the British media that I used to be a part of.

I am proud of the work I do in Afghanistan. I care deeply about civilian casualties, as should the Ministry of Defence. This is what they should be focusing their energies on, not impugning the reputation of a human rights worker or charging one of their officers for trying to explain to me the precautions that international military forces were taking to avoid killing Afghans.

I talk to Afghans in the south and east of the country where the conflict rages. They tend not to begin with the horrors of the Taliban and other insurgents. What they want me to hear first are their stories about the women and children bombed at a wedding party, the Qu'ran that was ripped up by foreign soldiers in a night raid, or the family shot dead in their car because they didn't understand orders in English to stop at a checkpoint. They are outraged and bewildered by the killings, in particular the air strikes. By UN estimates, more than 500 civilians were killed in air strikes in Afghanistan last year. The insurgents may have killed more than 1,000, but Afghans expect little from the Taliban.

The worst civilian casualty incident of last year took place in Azizabad, in a district called Shindand in the west of Afghanistan. In August 2008 the US launched a "kill/capture" operation, targeting a mid-ranking Taliban commander. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says that at least 76 civilians were killed, 59 of whom were children. The UN put the civilian death toll above 90. Among the many photographs of the dead, one in particular has always stuck in my mind. It is of a young girl who looks as though she could be sleeping. But beneath the long lashes of her closed eyes is a line of shrapnel wounds. She was five years old, and she was called Kubra. And in that photograph you can glimpse how the last moments of Kubra's life must have passed.

The US military, whose forces carried out the air strike, was cold and dismissive about the reports of civilian dead. Initially they denied any casualties, later admitting five to seven civilian deaths. It was only weeks later, after video evidence emerged that they were forced to investigate again and revised the civilian death toll up to 33. Whatever the final figure, the death toll from this incident was shocking. The subsequent military denials compounded the fury that Afghans already felt about these deaths.

In a letter to US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on January 15, Human Rights Watch sharply criticised the Pentagon investigation. I don't know what the McNally case is really about. If I had to guess I would say senior US and UK defence officials are angry about our forensic dissection of the Pentagon's investigation, which exposed reassurances about US and Nato commitments to avoid further civilian casualties as at least partially hollow.

If the military would hold its people to account for these terrible mistakes then human rights organisations would leave them alone. In the meantime, they should remember that this has nothing to do with individuals like me, and everything to do with little girls like Kubra.

• Rachel Reid is Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch

Rachel is a friend of mine in Kabul and we here are al behind while she fights off the ridiculous allegations.

posted by Travis, 9:02 am | link | 2 comments |

Obviously 'No Commet' (to some) means a comment...

I think this post: No Comment has the record for the most comments in reaction to my one of my 300 + posts.


For the first time my blog was referred to as a 'hate blog' and for the first time two sponsors requested their logos removed.

I was about to reconsider the action and whether it was correct, when I got two emails from other sponsors supporting my blog and informing me that contrary to complaints they had decided to keep their logos on the blog.

Thank to all for helping bring the related atrocities in Gaza to more peoples attention.
posted by Travis, 8:48 am | link | 24 comments |

Please dont the same mistake AGAIN!

Monday, February 02, 2009

US-funded program to arm Afghan groups begins
By Rahim Faiez

KABUL, Afghanistan – A U.S.-funded program to train and arm community members in Afghanistan's most dangerous regions as a way to defend against the Taliban has begun, the country's interior minister said Saturday.

The U.S. will provide funds to arm the community force with the same weapons used by Afghan police — Kalashnikov rifles, said Interior Ministry Mohammad Hanif Atmar.

The program has already begun, but Atmar refused to say where, citing security concerns. Other officials have said the program will begin in Wardak, an increasingly dangerous province on the southwest side of Kabul.

"After training they will have the responsibility of protecting the people, providing security for the highways, schools, clinics and other government institutions," Atmar told a news conference.

Afghan and Western officials have struggled to fight the perception that they are creating regional militias, and officials are even sensitive over the name used to describe the program. Atmar said the program is called the Afghan Public Protection Force.

Critics note that the program will put more weapons into Afghan hands, reversing years of government efforts to reduce the number of arms around the country.

The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment on Saturday.

The tactic of engaging local Afghan communities is endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus — the former top U.S. commander in Iraq whose outreach to Sunni sheiks helped oust al-Qaida-inspired militants from key areas and sharply decreased attacks.
posted by Travis, 9:41 am | link | 6 comments |