Monday, August 30

Life continues to be very busy. I expect it to get busier leading up to the Afghan presidential elections on 9 October. If a run-off is necessary it will carry on for another month after that. Then over the winter things should calm down. The bad guys like to hibernate during the snowy cold winter. There are 17 candidates. If the winner fails to get more than 50% of the vote, a run-off will be held between the two top candidates.

Yesterday was a particularly interesting day. I'm on some special working groups dealing with elections security. Yesterday we had our first training exercise in preparation for the elections. We set up a small operations center on the U.N. compound, which is staffed by various shops in the coalition, the International Security Assistance Force, The Afghan Ministry of the Interior, Afghan Ministry of Defense, the United Nations Assistance Mission Afghanistan, and the Joint Electoral Management Body.

In the exercise we took calls from 'the field' about various incidents that may or may not affect public perceptions of the elections. We then assimilate the information, determine what needs to be done physically and informationally to manage the situation and make sure the public and media don't take the incident out of context or report any inaccuracies. For this election to be successful, the UN and JEMB need to determine them to be legitimate, but also the media and people here need to believe the elections were legitimate. They must believe their vote counted, that it was not currupt, and that everyone had an opportunity to vote. My working group is of course working on the information aspect of it-- make sure the people and the world view the elections as legitimate. If some polling stations are bombed, some people won't get to vote. That could affect the election or more likely people's perceptions of the elections success. We'll put out information about the incident, it's impact, the government's reactions, etc., to the press. We'll have a few more exercises like this and then man the op center 7-10 days in advance of the elections.
In the early evening yesterday, I heard a big boom and the large window behind me shook and rattled. I new right away something bad happened. This was different than the rocket attacks we've had, however. It was 5:45 p.m., not 9-11 p.m. when the rocket attacks usually happen. It was also much louder and more powerful of an explosion. I suspected it was a car bomb.

Most people went to their nearest shelter. The Quick Reaction Force did their job speeding out the gate to the site of the bombing, and the Force Protection guys scrambled to plus-up security on our perimeter. I understand the bomb went off just over 100 meters away in front of a headquarters for an organization that trains the Afghan Police. I think seven people died. The rocket attacks hardly ever inflict any damage, so this was very sobering to learn people died-- and some were American contractors. Our QRF brought a wounded American and a wounded Afghan to our aid station on our compound, where they were treated and then brought to a hospital later.

This was something very new and different for Afghanistan and Kabul. I believe the groups working against a democratic Afghanistan are getting more desperate to accomplish their goal. From what I can tell, Afghans will bear through some violence in order to realize their dreams for freedom and to put 25 years of war behind them.

Needless to say, we had a capacity crowd at our press conference this morning. The media are overwhelmingly supportive of the international effort here, so we don't get quite the hostile questions and negativity that the press has in Iraq. Lucky us, I guess!

Thursday, August 19

You may have read recently about factional fighting in Herat province and that Amanullah Khan's forces seized an Afghan government airport at Shindand. The U.S. Ambassador here brokered a ceasefire and the Afghan government rapidly deployed a couple of Kandaks (battalions) of the Afghan National Army to resecure the airport and monitor compliance of the cease fire agreement by the factions involved in the fighting. These are photo's of the ANA getting on U.S. C-130 aircraft at Kabul to go to Shindand. A few hundred Afghan National Police also deployed there. This was pretty big news here and the first time the coalition and ANA airlifted this many troops so quickly to take care of a situation in the country.

This is a photo of me with PAO's from the UK (Pete) and Canada (Ken).

Here we are taking a break in the shade. SSG W and SGT K, also from the 105th, are under the wing with me as well as some U.S. embedded trainers that are with the ANA.

Monday, August 16

You all probably saw that Sec Donald Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan last week. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was there too, Gen Myers. I was there to help coordinate the event. Here are two photo's I took. One of Rummy and Karzai at the podiums. The other was a shot of the press. I coordinated via email with Rumsfeld's PAO and coordinated in person with the U.S. embassy and Karzai's PAO. We also had a broadcast journalist from the 105th film at the conference, and had two photographers traveling around Kabul all day long with Mrs. Rumsfeld and Mrs. Myers as they visited Afghan schools and orphanages.

You would not believe how complex a visit from a dignitary is to organize. Just the security alone, not to mention the logistics of the press conference. There where numerous helicopters circling overhead, Afghan police, Afghan militia, Afghan Army, Presidential guard, Rumsfeld's security, embassy security, private security contractors, International Security Assistance Force, and the U.S. led coalition forces. All of these entities and probably more were involved and orchestrated perfectly (seemingly) to provide air, area, and site security. They even took my pistol away from me. To be quite honest, I think everyone was afraid to sneeze or even scratch their nose for fear that the body guards would 'take us down'. It's very sobering to realize how big a threat there is, even on the palace grounds; and to realize how courageous Karzai and other leaders are to significantly risk their lives to serve their country.

It was quite a memorable and exhausting day for all of us. It was good to meet with several of karzai's staffers though and refreshing to hear from their mouths the aims and hopes of the country.

Tuesday, August 10

Carpet shopping at the bazaar with MSgt B, the public affairs NCO. She spent $600 on three carpets. I spent none :-(

Sunday, August 8

In honor of the U.S. Coast Guard on it's birthday and my colleagues there, I flew the Coast Guard flag over the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan headquarters.

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