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Hostages, Security and the US in Afghanistan

Paul | 04.12.2004 12:27 | Oxford

I live in Afghanistan and try and give news you may not get. I have my news and views and also related articles from a variety of sources plus some photos.

The three hostages were released, received medals and have gone home. Apparently the kidnapper’s car did not completely block the UN car and the UN driver wound down the window to shout at the car which had cut in front of him. If he had been properly trained and immediately taken evasive action they may not have been kidnapped. They were well looked after by the captors, given regular meals, warm blankets, western music and a pack of cards. They kidnappers were not Taliban. The Taliban could not have taken the photo of a man with two women. It was not only internationals relieved by their release; Afghans were very upset by the kidnapping especially of women which goes completely against the culture. The majority of Afghans were very angry and upset. A UN friend tells me she was involved in a kidnap attempt only days earlier. Luckily when she saw a gun pointing at her in the rear view mirror she ducked down and called the security nearby on her mobile. If she had used her radio it would have gone through to security that is over 30 minutes away and they probably would not be able to find her anyway.

There have been some warnings of car bombs, suicide bombers and more kidnappings but thinks have been relatively quiet. This may be because attempts have been foiled or they have not materialized. On 7th December is Kharzai’s inauguration with Cheney and Rumseld heading the US delegation so security will be very tight this next week. After the inauguration he has to choose his cabinet which should test his political skills. The infamous warlord, Dostum, says that any cabinet without him would be illegal but Kharzai says he will not have a cabinet of warlords. There is increasing crime in the north where Dostum lives and many think this is a message about security if he does not get a cabinet post.

Seven unidentified helicopters sprayed poppy fields last week. There is an investigation concerning rashes and diarrhea in the area. The Afghan government had said no to spraying for health reasons. The American ambassador has said he thinks it was warlords doing it to cause resentment.

A friend involved in construction tells me he has just hired a contractor who says that he was previously contracted to build small underground prisons for about 5 prisoners near large towns. It was the US military who contracted him.

I have found that USAID through IOM pays the salary to some government deputy ministers and Kharzai’s spokesman. Most of the US money (90% I believe) goes to the military mission, ‘Enduring Freedom’ so this is part of the remaining 10%.

On a personal note I am still working most of the time and trying to make my projects as sustainable as possible with for example introducing community based maintenance systems for wells and water networks. I have a two story school soon to become three story but my engineers tell me it is not safe and can not take the load of a third floor. There is a lot of political pressure to let the work continue especially as the contractor is a friend of the education minister. I will let work continue only after I get a letter guaranteeing it is safe from an engineer and I do not think that will happen. If it is taken out of my hands and continued I will have to look at other action. I have included a basic health and hygiene course for women in some of my construction as well as gender projects. I do not think USAID checked the budget with some of these which means that I can expand some. There are few of the provinces I am responsible for in my programme that I can visit due to security reasons. Panjshir is one of the few. The attached photos are from a recent visit. I have also attached a few articles that give one a better idea of the situation here.