Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wake-Up Call

Just last week I was musing on the ramifications of my new quarters and the security measures therein, and I pointed out that Kabul is actually safer than most people think it is. There is always at least a minimum level of risk, but I'm not trudging through the valleys of Paktika or hiking the deserts of Helmand.

Why, oh why do I open my big mouth?

By now, anyone who follows even the headlines of media coverage about Afghanistan will be aware of the events of last Wednesday. (Coverage here if you've missed the nightly news lately.) It was a pretty shocking event, even by A-stan standards. There are occasional rockets or mortars fired into Kabul, most of which fall on the outskirts of the city and cause little damage and limited casualties. Even more rarely, a Taliban gunman will open fire on a police checkpoint and quickly get shot down. Overall, the ANP keeps a pretty tight lid on Kabul, with numerous checkpoints, guard posts and vehicular searches. Inconvenient sure, but necessary and up until Wednesday reasonably effective.

Well, apparently some of the bad guys slipped through the net. For reasons surpassing understanding, the BBC failed to report the most important aspect of Wednesday events, namely that the whole thing happened about 30 meters from my front door. Makes for a pretty exciting morning, I can assure you.

Below are a couple of videos, the first shot during the attack (although for obvious reasons it doesn't show the actual fighting), the second shot later on in the day. I apologize for the quality of the video; I wasn't fully in the right frame of mind for memorializing the event. Guess I wouldn't make much of a combat photojournalist.

Later on, some thoughts on the BBC reporting and the implications of this attack for life in Kabul.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


One of the benefits of my new lodgings is that I'm off by myself, rather than stuck in a dodgy hotel with the dregs of Kabul's transient population. It's nice and quiet, especially in the evenings when I'm pretty much on my own. There are half a dozen of my guys quartered on the ground floor (I'm on the third), but they're assigned to a static security site down the street and tend to be fast asleep when not on duty.

So, for my own peace of mind, I decided that it's best to rely on only myself for personal protection in the middle of the night. Although Kabul is safer than most people think, criminal kidnap is an ever-present threat. The targets of the kidnap gangs are almost always local businessmen, rather than expats, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Hence, my new toy:

That is an Automat Kalashnikov, Model 19(47), better known as an AK-47, the preferred weapon of guerillas, insurgents, thugs and various assorted bad guys around the world. Oh, and private security contractors in Afghanistan.

Now I have one of my very own. I'm still undecided if that's a good thing, or a bad sign.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Poor Response

I was sitting in my new office this morning (not much better than the old office, but at least it's private) and I got a call from one of our project managers. As usual when they call me, it's to complain about something. In this instance, the complaint was about some salaries that, due to an accounting screw-up, had gone unpaid.

Not get paid is a serious deterrent to effective performance, so I sympathize with the PM and his guys. However, he was all bent out of shape and ranting (mostly in Urdu, which I do not speak), so I began to get frustrated. Eventually, I had to fall back on my time-honored response to this sort of debate, which is to say, "Hey, it's just business. Nobody dies, right?"

Except that.....ummmm.....yeah, people do actually die in this business.* I have a disturbing tendency to be a little too flippant for a place like Afghanistan.

*Just last week one of our competitors lost an entire team of convoy escorts when they ran out of ammo during an ambush down in Khost. That's just poor planning.

So, I guess I'm going to have to find a new catch-phrase response for when things aren't going right. The long, cold silence on the other end of the phone confirmed that for me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Welcome Home

Well, I've been traveling a lot lately, taking a much-needed mental health break. Details on that to follow in subsequent posts (including some thoughts on the relative merits of strip clubs in Arlington vs. Washington D.C.).

Now I'm back in Kabul, and it's nice to see things haven't changed that much. The Taliban welcomed me back by waking me this morning with a large car-bomb about eight blocks from my new quarters. It was somewhere near the Ministry of Interior, to judge by the smoke cloud, and large enough to rattle the windows and knock some books off the shelf here. No reports on casualties yet, but I did appreciate the pre-coffee wake-up call.