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Last Man Standing

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IMG_9036a-1000-webOur security—or at least we hoped it was our security—had secured likely ambush spots.

IMG_9037a-1000-webThe terrain: as beautiful as ever.

IMG_9041a-1000-webThere is a misconception that small groups of enemy fighters could not possibly hide from airpower in these places.

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Nearing Chora, we drove past a destroyed cell tower station.  Guerrilla factions in Afghanistan have love/hate issues with cell phones.  The love is obvious.  The reason they destroy the networks is that, for the first time in Afghan history, normal, local Afghans can use phones to relay information about enemy movements.

Many people take technology for granted.  It’s a little more complicated in places immersed in civil and tribal wars, where the technology is totally new.  In Nepal it was the government that shut down cell towers because the bad guys (who often were my porters) were plotting against the government with those same phones.  But when the Nepalese government cut off the phones, it alienated the ordinary people even more.

As in Iraq, some Afghan cell phone towers are built on the military bases to guard from attacks.  Mobile phone workers have been threatened, tortured, and killed.   In places under Taliban control, the enemy often forces the mobile operators to shut down the towers at night.  A map of areas where mobile service is safe, versus enemy controlled, might be a useful metric of real local control.  Americans love “metrics.”  Well, the metric here was that there was one cell tower and it was 100% not working.

IMG_9089a-1000-webLeonard points to Chora

Just before Chora, I asked Leonard to stop for a panorama, and in 29 seconds the camera recorded 28 images for this pano.

Please click for high resolution Chora Panorama.

And then we kept driving.

IMG_9132a-1000-webAfghan National Police (ANP) outpost just before Chora.

Zooming past a police post, Leonard mentioned that it had been attacked the night before, with one Taliban killed.  There was a mangled ANP truck, which had been destroyed in a separate IED attack.

Americans hide away the twisted carnage of the IED-stricken vehicles in “bone yards.”  After you walk through a few bone yards in Iraq and Afghanistan, you understand why they hide the vehicles.  You don’t want anyone—your own guys or the enemy—to see the toughest armor in the world ripped apart like a soda can blasted by a shotgun. There is nothing confidence-inspiring about a vehicle torn in half, or a small pile of parts that used to be a Humvee.  And that’s not to mention the terrible smells that stick in your sensory memory, creating a direct path to visions of burning hulks and screaming men, every time you sniff anything like it.  But the Afghans just drag the vehicles back and leave them anywhere.

image026Police post at Chora. (Damaged truck on left.)

IMG_9138a-1000-webBridge inside Chora.

IMG_9266a-1000-webCADG compound, Chora.

We crossed the Dehrashun River and soon were among hundreds of men working with pick-axes and shovels provided by AusAid and put to use by CADG (called the “implementing partner”).  A key difference between CADG and many contractors in Afghanistan is that CADG “implements” directly.  Many contractors merely shuffle paperwork, make heaps of money, and contract someone else to do the work.  So, for example, say that USAID has a million dollars to spend, so they hire someone in Washington who hires a contractor on the ground in Afghanistan (like CADG), who then hires Afghans.  The guys in Washington might have a tiny office in Kabul (so they can emblazon it on their letterhead), but in reality are just holding the paper, taking a cut, and doing exactly the same thing that makes us call the Afghans corrupt and ineffective.

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