Friday, February 26, 2010

My Day Started With a BANG!

I shuffled to the bathroom at the crack of dawn. I'm still recovering from broken ribs that I collected last week and I'm still not moving briskly. I have to go outside and down a little walkway about twenty feet in our compound to get to the bathroom. The bathroom is in the same building, mind you, it's just not connected to the rooms via an interior access.

I assumed the seat and BANG! An SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle Borne IED) exploded a few blocks away rattling the windows...then the gunfire. And I'm sitting there thinking, man is this bad timing!

As the shooting didn't sound too close I stayed where I was. Completing my mission, I went outside and stood in the rain for a bit and listened to the pitter patter of AK fire. Someone was having a bad morning. I went out to the street and asked our Afghan guards if they knew what got hit. They told me it was near the Safi Landmark Hotel, which is a four-star hotel that opened up in 2006 at the edge of the diplomatic quarter in town. OK, far enough away not to get excited.

It turns out the attack was done by five bad guys this time. The first one blew himself up in the SVBIED. The second one was shot and killed before he could detonate and the other three holed up in a guest house nearby until the police went in and killed them. Luckily it was a Friday and The Prophet's birthday (PBUH). The attack occured before folks really got moving around and the normally busy shops in the area weren't open yet.

The Safi Landmark Hotel
Apparently most of the windows in the front were shattered by the blast.

By noon it was all quiet and things were starting to return to normal with cleanup crews and the fire department hard at work. Looks like about nine civilians (mostly Indians) and three police officers were killed and about thirty-two people wounded. Timing is everything. It could have been much worse just two hours later.

The pictures below are of the scene afterwards by Reuters photographer Ahmad Masood.

©Reuters/Ahmad Masood

©Reuters/Ahmad Masood

©Reuters/Ahmad Masood

©Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yes, I'm Still Alive and In Afghanistan

First off, let me thank all who've enquired after my health during my long silence. Second, no good excuse for the silence except perhaps exhaustion...mostly mental. Every week I've thought I'd post and then simply didn't. So, here's the latest update.

The Queen's Palace at dawn.
The wee sliver of the moon is visible in the upper right.
Yes, we got snow...and rain...and snow.
Surprisingly, mild winter overall in Kabul,
though last week was pretty cold.

This is what you call a "bad air" day. This is the kind of air you get when you don't have natural gas, Western style coal-fired power plants, or nuclear power plants to provide heat and electricity to a city of almost 5 million people. There is some hydroelectric, but it can't handle the load. Current wind and solar technology can't produce enough per $ spent, which for the Afghans is a critical decision point. There's also the issue of security. One can secure a couple hundred acres of a nuclear or coal-fired plant. One can't secure a sprawling solar or wind array.

Similiar shot on a different day, but the point I'm going to show here is how fast things can change. This picture is at 09:50 in the morning.

This picture of the same mountains at about 1:30 in the afternoon...after a stiff breeze blew through.

Oranges are the current fruit dejour.

Old Mamma Dog.
She's ready to drop another litter in this picture.
Which she promptly did the same evening (this past Tuesday).

Manchester United seems to be a popular team around here.
I've seen at least six different vehicles with ManU pillows and other decorations.

As construction advances down this main street, these street vendors are getting forced off to side-streets. Note the orange back hoe behind the cigarette stand.

We've been calling this billboard "The Love Doctor".
If you can't read Dari, you can come up with all sorts of interpretations.
It's really about the importance of getting a check-up.
Note that the Paula Abdul look-alike on the left doesn't seem too amused.

On a slightly more serious note, this is the building gutted during the Taliban attack downtown last month. Nine bad guys killed, one captured, two perhaps weren't keen on collecting the virgins and may have escaped. Surprisingly few civilian casualties given the bad guys had suicide vests and detonated two suicide VBIEDs (vehicle borne IED) in the middle of the day when the streets were full of people. Most of the good-guy casualties were the Afghan security guys. We figured the bad guys were expending ammo before the weather got crappy, which it did about a week later.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Some Progress in Town...Inspite of Problems

We've had an exciting week here in Kabul. Since Westerners were killed, you likely heard about the attack on the Guest House where some UN staff resided. More on that in a bit.

A couple hours later we had a rocket attack. One rocket landed in the lobby of the luxury Serena Hotel in the center of town but didn't detonate. Lots of soiled underwear among the hoity-toity who stay there I'll bet.

We were also blessed with earthquakes this month. We had one on
22 October that measured 6.2, followed by a 5.8 to the southwest on
24 October and last night's 6.0, followed by a 4.2 aftershock.

We've also got a cholera outbreak due to heavy rains that are causing mudslides and soiling the water. Though that is mostly to the east of us, there are cases here in Kabul also.

Add the excitement to the east in Pakistan and the bad guys here trying to disrupt the runoff election and you have "high anxiety," at least among the Western media.

Now about the attack on the guest house. For me the picture below is a strong counterpoint to some asinine comments by a retired Sergeant Major over on "American Thinker" and some cheerleaders there who shared his stilted view. That view being that "all Muslims are evil" they "don't care about human life in Afghanistan" and "they aren't willing to fight." To those sentiments I say, pardon my French, "BULLSHIT!"

In the first place, two Afghan guards died defending the guest house occupants. There was a 10 - 15 minute gunbattle before the police arrived (probably a faster response time than in many US cities). Around these parts the security guys tend to run toward the sound of gunfire. That's a good thing.

One policeman died trying to rescue the UN staffers. As the Reuters picture below shows, an Afghan Muslim police officer is carrying a German on his back to safety. So much for "evil, don't care, won't fight Afghans!"

The weather is also changing more rapidly than last year. I've already mentioned the rains. Well, there's also more snow...a lot more. It's going to be a cold winter!

The snow has reached down near the 9,500ft line.

Now for the lighter side of progress...

Only the richest Afghans throw away anything that might be useful.
You never know when an old empty plastic jug might come in handy.
Yet these scenes are becoming more rare.

There's still some ruins about, but they are rapidly being torn down and replaced... new mansions.

I wonder which Bollywood star is going to live here?

Looks suspiciously like LA.

Even the less-affluent are getting into the building act.
This is one of many "cliffhouses" being expanded.

And the hillsides are getting a bit more colorful too!

And even on a day that saw a shootout and rocket attack
in the middle of town, the balloon guys were out in force.

They even found a buyer.
In a country where the next meal is iffy,
when you can spend money on balloons,
it's a sign that things are improving.