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Last Man Standing


Hands-had-eys-IMG_6108a-1000-webTired hand in Farah Province.

The Afghans working in Chora were not friendly. Most of the workers I’ve seen at the dozens of projects over the past five years in Afghanistan have been friendly or even welcoming.  The feeling this time was more like quiet hostility.  I’ve seen dozens of CADG projects, including about twenty on this trip alone.  The atmosphere has varied from overtly welcoming (“let’s have tea”) to subdued acceptance.  Chora and Panjwai (Kandahar Province) were the only projects that felt dangerously creepy.

Few contractors would dare operate in a place like this without expensive security, which in turn puts local populations on edge, all while draining away the aid money.  CADG has always used an approach akin to a “Special Forces” philosophy: go in with a small footprint, befriend the local people and they will become your security.   More recently the Taliban has stepped up attacks on foreign contractors.  As a separate matter, Taliban troublemaking has helped CADG’s growth because the company has a “last man standing” work ethos.

For instance, in 2010, a neighboring compound filled with heavily armed and armored contractors was practically flattened in Kandahar City (the night before I was to arrive) by a lethal and impressive truck bomb.

This article described that attack:

Car bombs hit Kandahar killing at least 6; 4 German troops die in northern Afghanistan

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A suicide bomber targeting a compound shared by foreign companies set off a massive explosion late Thursday in the southern city of Kandahar, blowing out windows across the city and killing at least six people, the president’s powerful half brother said.

The blast came hours after another car bomb exploded outside a Kandahar hotel and injured at least eight people.
Fighting in the north of the country, meanwhile, left four German soldiers dead, officials said, while insurgents carjacked U.N. vehicles elsewhere in northern Afghanistan.

The Thursday night explosion occurred when the suicide bomber managed to get his car past one barrier leading into a compound shared by a number of western companies, then set off the explosion at a second barrier…The blast blew out windows as far as 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) away. The compound includes the offices of the international contracting company Louis Berger Group, the Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative and the aid contracting company Chemonics International.

Etc., etc.

I was not able to go to the office because the bomb had exploded the night before.  In early March this year, we had a BBQ on the same Kandahar rooftop of the now-repaired CADG building that had taken heavy damage in the blast.

The list is long and growing.  In Paktika Province on 28 March 2011, the Minister of the Interior reported a complex attack led by three suicide bombers who shot their way into a compound of Zahir Construction Company, where a bomber named Ali Ahmad detonated 4.5 tons of explosives inside the compound, killing perhaps 24 and wounding about 50.

When it comes to big truck bombs, there is no safety in numbers, but at least you’ll have company when you die.

War is like a field full of land mines: You never know what’s next.  Back in America, a preacher set out to provoke those who are easily provoked, and he succeeded by burning a Quran in Florida, and this continues to play out in Afghanistan in April 2011:

At least seven killed in attack on U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan

KABUL – An angry mob killed at least seven foreigners in northern Afghanistan and set fire to a United Nations compound, as a protest over a Koran burning in Florida swelled into chaotic violence Friday, according to Afghan and Western officials.

It’s amazing that a shot fired in Florida can hit and provoke fragile minds in Afghanistan, causing them to stampede and overrun security and commit murder of the very people who are pumping money into their pockets.

IMG_9267a-1000-webInside the Chora compound.


Until Chora, I had never seen a CADG project where Afghan soldiers guarded workers.  But in this case, I wasn’t sure who was being guarded from whom.  Were the soldiers guarding us from the workers?  Or maybe they were guarding the workers from the Taliban.  (I could go back and ask, but won’t.)  The photo above shows villagers working a few steps from the CADG compound wall in Chora.


The projects are normally mundane but important, such as karez refurbishments we’d visited in Kandahar, and previously in Nangarhar.  Karez are old, primitive but highly functional underground irrigation tunnels. When they silt up or collapse the crops die. The karez refurbishments I’ve seen have been successful, and that’s where you hear a lot of thanks.  Other cases, as here, villagers are starting with drainage work.  There is the impression that Afghanistan is always dry, but when it rains and the snows melt, there can desert tsunamis.  The floods can be sudden and final.  Afghanistan has two main problems with water: Far too little, or far too much.

IMG_9319a-1000-webAfghans inside the CADG compound in Chora.

The Australian PRT is few hundred meters down the unpaved road, but that might as well be a thousand miles away for Andy, a courageous Brit who has volunteered to singlehandedly manage CADG affairs in Chora.

IMG_9356a-1000-webNDS Officer in the meeting: The National Directorate of Security is Afghanistan’s version of the CIA and FBI wrapped into one.

Several local leaders conducted a meeting with CADG’s Matt, Chris, Leonard and Andy.  As per usual it devolved into a percolating but not boiling transaction as the Afghans stirred the air with raised voices and wild hand gestures.

IMG_9372a-1000-webTIA: This is Afghanistan.

No US, Aussie or any foreign military was present, though the man in camouflage is both a military commander and sort of a local mayor.  Imagine a US Army commander who is also a mayor in the United States.  Meanwhile, the NDS officer gesticulates and argues about something.  Again, imagine a CIA or FBI officer participating in contracting work for local drainage.

After the meeting, we walked out into courtyard of the compound.

Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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