Ten years ago I took these photos from the roof of my apartment building in SoHo:
My neighbor and friend Pete, who had just woken up and who I ran into in the stairwell in his boxers as we were all heading to the roof to see what was going on:
Today, I took these photos from a Blackhawk flying through Paktika province, Afghanistan – near the border with Pakistan.
I’m at FOB Ghazni, and I’ve realized 9/11 does not mean the same thing to the Polish as it does to the Americans. To Americans it only means one searing thing. When I ask a Polish soldier where he was on 9/11, he’ll pause for a moment and say, “You mean 2001?” The Americans don’t need clarification.
Please see below my recent article published in Foreign Policy on the war crimes trial that resulted after the incident in Nangar Khel in 2007.
Poland’s ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ in Afghanistan
I just returned from Afghanistan and will be updating in more detail soon. In the meantime, I have a piece in Friday’s Wall Street Journal Europe which you can read here:
OPINION EUROPE MAY 27, 2011
President Obama owes Warsaw his gratitude for Poland’s outsized support in the war on terror.
By ALEKSANDRA KULCZUGA
Barack Obama is due to make his first presidential visit to Poland today, as part of his week-long tour through a Europe that is more deeply divided than ever over foreign policy. To the east, Moscow is looking for ways to drive a wedge between Washington and Brussels. To the south, in North Africa, the Arab uprisings are sending immigrants en masse to European shores. And European nations have for years seemed unable to agree on how they feel about their American ally, a sentiment that often appears to be reciprocated from across the Atlantic.
In all this, one of the few constants has been Poland’s loyalty to America, even when that commitment has conflicted with Poland’s other interests. Yet Mr. Obama’s attitude toward the Poles has often seemed oblivious of Poland’s sacrifices at best, and dismissive at worst. When Mr. Obama’s team scrapped the missile defense plan that Warsaw had agreed with the Bush administration—much to the displeasure of Moscow and Poland’s Western European partners—it added insult to injury by doing so on Sept. 17, 2009, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
Let’s hope Mr. Obama is better versed in his contemporary Polish history, and uses tonight’s working dinner with the heads of Central European states to highlight Poland’s outsize efforts in Afghanistan. Today, Poland is one of America’s few allies with troops in Afghanistan whose mission, without caveats, is to fight. Poland, unlike Germany and France, deploys its soldiers to the war with the full expectation that they will find and kill enemy combatants. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was blunt last year in his response to Mr. Obama’s call for a troop surge: “We don’t want to send more troops to fight.”
Poland’s troops are as committed to fighting and winning the war as their American allies. For evidence of just how much the U.S. military has come to trust and rely on its Polish colleagues, look no further than Polish Brigadier Gen. Slawomir Wojciechowski, a graduate of the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania, who commands an entire U.S. infantry battalion in Afghanistan. “There is no real terrorist threat in Poland,” admits Gen. Wojciechowski. “We are here in solidarity with America. That’s something that Poles feel strongly.”
You can read the rest here.
I haven’t been posting because I’ve been busy getting ready for my trip to Afghanistan. I am in the Middle East already and should be with the Polish troops in a few days. I hope to get a lot of good reporting done on the work of the Polish contingent.
The exit strategy for all coalition troops in Afghanistan hinges on being able to train Afghan security forces to take over. The Poles work hard to train Afghan policemen, soldiers, and intelligence officers so that they can one day (soon, hopefully) take the security situation of their country into their own hands. Here’s a clip:
“There are Polish operational mentoring liaison teams working with every brigade in the Afghan National Army’s 203rd Corps,” said Polish Liaison Team Chief, Lt. Col. Przemyslow Zietalak of Zielona Gora, Poland.
Polish forces served alongside U.S. service members in both Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly ten years, developing a great deal of experience in the Middle East. Many Polish Soldiers also served in Lebanon with the United Nations.
Polish liaison teams help Afghan National Security Forces improve their ability to conduct combat training and to bridge the gap between Polish and other coalition forces.
Members of the liaison team are chosen due to their experience and language skills. All Polish Liaison officers must pass an intensive English examination and take courses in either Dari or Pashto.
Read the rest here.
When the Poles took over Ghazni in the fall of 2008, this news story appeared in Reuters describing the situation at the time (October 30, 2008):
Polish troops took command of security in Ghazni on Thursday, a volatile area just two hour’s drive southwest of Kabul where Taliban militants are gaining influence.
According to icasualties.org, 2005 was actually the most dangerous year in Ghazni, in terms of number of coalition deaths. Here are more details from the Reuters story, which shows the Polish troops took over a dangerous and deteriorating area in 2008.
Some 1,200 troops moved into Ghazni four months ago under U.S. command and have repeatedly come under fire since then. In the last six months of their tour, which began in another eastern province, Polish troops have been in combat 600 times and have been hit by more than 100 improvised explosive devices. Six Polish soldiers have been killed and 20 wounded, their outgoing commander said.
The article reveals that Ghazni started deteriorating in tandem with the general decline in all of Afghanistan in 2006:
Two years ago, Ghazni was seen as largely secure but since 2006 Taliban militants have moved into the region from the south and east, attacking traffic on the highway, burning schools and kidnapping foreign civilians.
Afghans from Ghazni say it is no longer safe for them to visit villages even close to the provincial capital and local journalists say Taliban fighters can now be seen on the streets of the city after dark.
This story provides a narrative counter to the one often repeated in American media that Ghazni was a safe and peaceful district when the Poles took it over in 2008.
In case you missed it, while Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski was visiting the U.S. earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that the U.S. and Poland were moving ahead with missile defense plans and a permanent U.S. military presence to be stationed in Poland.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed Washington’s plans to deploy missile defenses and Air Force units in Poland.
“As was announced by our two presidents in December, we plan to establish a new permanent U.S. air detachment in Poland, build missile defenses in Poland, and as agreed at the NATO summit, develop a contingency plan in the region,” Clinton told journalists ahead of talks with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski in Washington.
Wikileaks published U.S. cables in late 2010 showing that NATO was drawing up a plan on the protection of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland from external threats on a request from the United States and Germany.
Read the full story here.