These are from a patrol with the American PRT. We went out for a full day of visits to several development projects.
The U.S. PRT’s engineering representative stops to talk to the Afghan engineer on a road expansion project. Part of the goal that day was to inform Afghans with shops along the road that in addition to billions of dollars in aid, the Americans had also brought with them the concept of eminent domain. Those in the way were told they’d have to move so that the Kabul-Kandahar highway could go from two lanes to four.
The Americans spent a significant amount of time in the market that day. One soldier took the opportunity to get some shopping done – he cleared out all the eggs, onions, peppers and potatoes from a single surprised shopkeeper. The soldiers cook on hot pots in their rooms (anything to avoid chow hall food). The Afghans get really excited and happy when they see PRT soldiers coming their way. Little kids swarmed all over us saying “Give me something!”— the one phrase they know in English.
Of course when you don’t give them something, they often reveal the other English phrase they know, “Fu*k You.”
All the little boys were tugging at me asking me to take their picture and then show it to them on my display screen. It’s an endless source of entertainment for them.
These men wanted their picture taken as well. The one on the left spoke a few words in English. He asked me to bring him a copy of the picture and I told him his English was very good. He proudly said he is studying from a book, and pointed to his electronics shop to let me know where I could find him when I came back to give him his picture.
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.
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.
General Petraues gave an in-depth interview last week which augured heavy fighting in Afghanistan in the months to come:
“’The biggest difference from say last year is that there are many, many more troops, 110,000 more to be exact. And they are now in places that last year were very important safe havens and strong holds for the Taliban,’ he said.
A mild winter has meant that fighting has let up relatively little between the Taliban and ISAF, he said, but he added that the springtime still promises intensified battles and a decisive moment in a war that has dragged on for 10 years.
‘We know the Taliban is intent on trying to take back some of these areas that have meant so much to them and we have to be, and will be, prepared for that,’ he added.
Read the rest from GlobalPost and watch the video here.
I recently came across some videos of Polish troops in Afghanistan, and what struck me is that if you didn’t know any better – you might think these are American troops. Their uniforms, gear, equipment and guns all look to be at the same exacting standard as the Americans’ — not to mention the fact that they are actually fighting and firing their weapons. This video is very well put together:
Congratulations to Zolnierz007 for a compelling series of videos about the Polish troops in Afghanistan.
Many people heard of last month’s article in Time magazine, citing several unnamed sources who were critical of Polish troops in Afghanistan. It caused quite a stir in Poland (the Polish Defense Minister called it “scandalous“), as well as among the American military, who consider Poland a strong ally.
General Petraeus was quick to counter the criticism in an official statement:
“I have been privileged to command coalition efforts in Iraq and, now, in Afghanistan. In each case, Polish forces were very important members of the coalition and demonstrated impressive courage, professional expertise, and commitment. In each mission, I spent considerable time with Polish forces and valued highly what our Polish partners brought to the fight. Indeed, given my experiences serving with Polish forces during some 5-1/2 years in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2001, I believe I am uniquely qualified to comment on the enormous contributions Polish forces made in those countries – and that very much includes the contributions they are currently making in Afghanistan.”
“Most recently, I visited Polish forces last week in Ghazni, and as in the past, I was very impressed by the excellent work of the Polish contingent. Brigadier General Reudowicz and the Polish conventional, special operations, and mentoring forces have established superb relationships with their Afghan counterparts. They are carrying out a comprehensive campaign in a very challenging part of Afghanistan, and doing it in outstanding fashion. They have, as they did in Iraq, sustained tough casualties over the years, but they have never wavered.”
General John Campbell, Commander of the Afghan region where Polish troops are currently stationed also issued a statement saying:
“I was dismayed at reported comments made by unnamed US senior leaders and some unnamed members of my command. I can assure you I will personally address the issue of disparaging comments to the press made about our Coalition partners.”
When I speak with American military personnel who have worked with the Poles in theater they almost universally praise their Polish allies. Because the Time article used unnamed sources in all but one instance (it cites a local Afghan police chief), it’s difficult to judge whether these anecdotes genuinely reflect the reality on the ground, or whether this reporter dug up the most damaging quotes he could find and painted the entire picture with that brush. I hope that in my future trip to Afghanistan I can find out more.