Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Travel To Afghanistan Q2-2006 - The Story Begins

Afghanistan from the sky - Photo Credit: Michael Yon

Michael Yon, one of the most widely recognized military type bloggers, is on a writing mission to Afghanistan and Iraq. This link is of his first dispatch from the field upon his entry to Afghanistan.

Maxine plans to post a link whenever Michael has a post in continuation of his story.

Excerpts from Michael Yon -

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006
Curious Circumstance
Mysterious Land
By Michael Yon

I met up with an old friend in Dubai. Steve Shaulis and I served together in the Army, and we attended the Defense Language Institute together. After we both left the Army, we headed in very different directions. Steve began doing business in places like Romania, Uzbekistan, Thailand, and Singapore, and I started a business in Poland. Still, over the past twenty years we’ve managed to stay in contact, encountering each other now and then on three continents and in perhaps a dozen countries.

Steve first began his forays into Afghanistan in 1997, years before the latest phase of the war. Back then, he was doing business during the reign of the Taliban. Sometimes I’d visit Steve when he was home in Florida, where we’d don our scuba gear at night and walk out his back door to hunt for lobsters in the ocean. While we were finning underwater in the darkness cutting swaths with our lights to lobster hideouts, faxes from Afghanistan would be piling up in his office.

Although television was eventually banned there, many of the Taliban were fanatical about pro wrestling. Steve looks like a wrestler, and he’d sometimes wear wrestling T-shirts which often prompted the Taliban guards to ask for updates on their favorites. The Undertaker was particularly popular there. “They might be fanatics,” he told me, “but they are simple folk.”
Enemy operations in Afghanistan are financed largely with drug money. Poppy eradication in Thailand had been a great success, and though the Taliban are widely credited in the press for having stamped out poppies in Afghanistan, their eradication program had only succeeded for a year. After the invasion, the Afghan farmers again planted opium poppies, so in 2002-03, poppy propagation in Afghanistan was on the up tick. Then, in 2004 the crop was bigger still, exceeded only by the crop in 2005. A State Department official recently told me that the 2006 harvest will be the biggest in world history—and nearly all of the opium from those flowers will be exported.
The Coalition forces are in Afghanistan for the long haul; permanent bases are under construction. Steve is currently fulfilling $15 million in base construction contracts in dangerous parts of the country. These contracts are mostly for the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations.
Some troops have begun calling the battle for Afghanistan “the Forgotten War.” They are largely correct. When it comes to national and media attention, Iraq is not much better, but since there are roughly six or seven times more troops in Iraq, it might seem that our soldiers there would get more recognition. An Army officer told me recently that per capita casualties for Afghanistan and Iraq are nearly the same. Although six times as much coverage would be about right, mathematically, most soldiers I encountered who were serving in Iraq told me they had never seen a journalist there.
Before coming to Afghanistan, I emailed to Nick Meo, a British journalist whom I had come to know in Asia a couple of years before. Nick is now in Iraq, but he had spent much recent time in Afghanistan. I asked Nick for suggestions about traveling in Kandahar, Helmand, and Urozgan provinces.

He answered quickly:
Yes. My suggestion is don’t go. They are too dangerous to travel in by yourself if you don’t know your way around. If you’re going with Steve then you should be okay, but they are all very dangerous places now and security has deteriorated massively in the last year. You might just about get away with driving or flying to Kandahar, and making some trips outside the city—maybe to Lashkargar. But you will not make it back alive from north Helmand or Uruzgan.
I did not take his advice, but as of this writing I am still alive. The journey has begun.
Read All>>

I urge all to read all. Following Michael Yon will be a little like following the stories from the front during World War II.

Mr. Yon does not pull punches and he also does not have a liberal bias or agenda. He is an experienced journalist who chooses to work independently.

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