War on Terrorism

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

30 Days Through Afghanistan: The Lion of Panjshir, Mazer-e Sharif – Day 15

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan
ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs

Today was our second travel day, which basically means Ken and I were stuck in air terminals all day. It did give us a chance to catch up on the Olympics though. Traveling Afghanistan is extremely difficult. I think the only thing more difficult is finding an internet connection.

One of the sayings in the military is “hurry up and wait”. This morning, Ken and I were in a mad dash to the terminal because we thought we were going to be late for the flight. We get to the terminal and sit for a few hours because the plane was late. Then they say “The plane is here! Everyone grab your kits!” So we again rush and throw our gear on and run to the bus, which speeds us to the other side of the airport. We discover a German cargo plane awaiting fuel and we sat on the flight line waiting for at least 90 minutes. The goal is to be ready for anything, not for anything to have to wait on you. It works, but it can be aggravating.

Ken told me before our journey north ever began that he was so glad to finally be moving again. I told him you’re never out of anywhere until you land where your supposed to. I think I jinxed the flight, because it was supposed to drop off some passengers in Kabul, who now have a free vacation here because they couldn’t land due to weather.

We’re now sitting in northern Afghanistan. While we were south, I was dreaming of the cold weather. Unfortunately, it’s pretty warm here. The first thing I noticed was the mountains. In the south, they also had them, but they were more single massive eruptions of earth from the desert. Here in the north, it’s an actual range from horizon to horizon.

We had an opportunity to chat a little bit with the experts tonight about counter insurgency up here, and it’s a very different stage than it is down south. Security isn’t nearly as big of a deal. There are five provincial reconstruction teams up here. The Germans run two, and the Norwegians, Hungarians and a Finish/Swedish team all run one each.

The good news about northern Afghanistan is this area was never completely held by the Taliban and their infrastructure is a little better than the rest of the country because of their proximity to it’s northern neighbors. It’s also a melting pot of various ethnicities. Not all Afghans are the same, there are a lot of different ethnic groups, such as Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Turkmen. As much as I would like to sit and write about each of these ethnic groups, I simply don’t know about them yet. But now that I’m in an area that has a rich ethnic diversity, I plan to find out.

Before we begin our journey throughout Northern Afghanistan, I want to mention someone who had a lot of influence in this area. Ahmad Shah Massoud, or “The Lion of Panjshir”, is well known in these parts. He was an Afghan military leader who fought against the Soviets and is credited by many for helping to drive them out.

He was also the leader of the Northern Alliance, a group of Afghans who fought against the Taliban. For context, he has been named a national hero here and he was also murdered two days before Sept. 11, 2001. Al Queida and the Taliban hated him. Ken also had a chance to talk with a Canadian who was here in the very beginning, and he fought side-by-side with the Northern Alliance, before the Afghan National Army was created. Massoud and the Northern Alliance definitely warrant some internet searching tonight to really come to grips with their effects on Afghan history.

Needless to say, in the north, Massoud is loved, but I’ve heard a lot in the south hate him due to his brutality in the south during the civil war. I did ask three Afghans I met in the south about him, and they like him. But another Pashtun interpreter I met months ago didn’t. He has mixed reviews, but definitely worthy of further reading. If anyone does do some research, it would be great to see some discussion on him and the Northern Alliance in the forums.

In a way, I feel as though the work the Northern Alliance did here to fight the Taliban and prevent the destruction of infrastructure has resulted in a relatively safe region today. I’ll be interested to see the progress being made here under these conditions.

While we’re out and about in the north, is there anything you want us to look into? Any questions you have? I’ll try my hand at more landscapes and maybe shoot a few panoramas for everyone because the country is absolutely gorgeous. Just let us know! I love working for all of you.

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