On the Ground in Afghanistan

Posted by Alison Blosser
October 23, 2007
Alison Blosser in Asadabad, Afghanistan

Alison Blosser is a State Department Representative/Political Officer with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Asadabad, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Alison's next post: Priovincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan

Flying in a Chinook helicopter up the Kunar river valley into mountainous Asadabad is a spectacular way to arrive at post. I have come to Afghanistan following a one-year tour as a Political Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, ready to develop a truly cross-border perspective of tribalism, development, insurgency, and Pashtun hospitality.

My home/office has become a dorm room at the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Asadabad, Afghanistan, where I am the State Department representative (and currently sole civilian) liaising with a Naval Commander, a robust military Civil Affairs team of officers and NCOs, and a professional and experienced force protection element to address provincial and local governance, infrastructure development, and overall security.

After a week of orientation briefings and check-in at Kabul Embassy, where I lived in a "hooch" (read: modified shipping container split into two rooms and faux-wood-paneled with bathroom, TV/DVD, mini-fridge, Ethernet, phone, microwave, twin bed, and shelves), I flew out to Jalalabad Air Field (JAF)....

...As a stowaway on the flight carrying Deputy Secretary John Negroponte, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher, and staff. They paid visits in early September to Afghanistan and Pakistan, key allies to the United States in the War on Terror and critical partners to improving regional stability in south Asia. (Needless to say, the C-130 was plenty spacious for a "strap-hanger" and her three giant bags plus body armor issued by the Embassy.) From Jalalabad, I boarded the Chinook and landed in Kunar province.

Since arriving in Asadabad in mid-September, I have removed about 2 pounds of dust from my room, unpacked, set up like a college student, and re-met all the guys and the few gals I met last March during civil-military training at Ft. Bragg. The night stars here are stunning, and there are hardly any lights on the hills nearby (no electrified villages). The mountains are craggy, dusty, deforested, and enormous.

Ramzan, the Islamic month of fasting, began just as I arrived, and with it the season of fast-breaking at sundown. The PRT hosted an Iftaar reception and dinner with the provincial governor, who allowed us to use his downtown compound and invited most of the provincial cabinet. At Iftaar, those who have been fasting all day await the sundown call to prayer. As the call to prayer is sounded, everyone takes a date and some "sharbat," usually juice or rose-flavored fizzy water. Then everyone goes to offer prayers. Once they return, the group eats dinner together – the table was heaped with mounds of rice, goat and mutton meat, chicken, sweet late summer grapes, and fruit chaat (a dish common on Ramzan tables – pomegranates, bananas, apples, grapes, and fresh yogurt). Although Afghanistan's cuisine is blander and uses fewer spices than further southeast on the subcontinent, the fruits, particularly pomegranates, are the sweetest in the world and add exotic flavor to many meals.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team took foodstuffs out to each of 14 provincial districts to augment food supplies for the neediest people during Ramzan, with the hope that their Eid tables would be bountiful. We also included religious items such as prayer beads and extra new copies of the Koran for mosques in remote areas. District Administrators worked with the PRT and local elders to appropriately distribute these items among villages.

Our engagement is much broader than simply humanitarian assistance during holidays. As I continue my tour here, I will describe some programs to assist the Afghan government to be able to provide security, stability, service delivery, and effective governance. These include training the Afghan National Police, encouraging the transformation of former personal militias into security protective forces that can join legitimate law enforcement entities, working with the governor and line-ministries to publicize their efforts on radio and television, and building or re-building schools, mosques, wells, river-control walls, roads, and more.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
October 22, 2007

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Hi Allison,

I was wondering how your team takes assesment of need in a new area. Sorry if this sounds simplistic, but do you ask village elders for a "to do" list?

Thanks for serving by the way. Keep up the good work.

Twu
October 23, 2007

TWU writes:

As a development person, I am very curious about the State Department Representative/Political Officer and the U.S. government's position.

Thomas
|
Pennsylvania, USA
October 23, 2007

Thomas in Pennsylvania writes:

This is very much the sort of day-to-day workings of the Foreign Service in which I am most interested. Thank you for sharing.

I have several questions. Can you give some specifics on the sorts of projects with which you are involved? What is your role in them? How do you split/share responsibilities with the Civil Affairs folks in the military? Are the security measures you must take interfering greatly with your work (specifically not asking what sort of security measures those are)? How long do you expect to be in your current posting? Do expect taking such a hardship/danger post to enhance your later career options?

We appreciate your sharing your experiences. Thank you for your service.

Peter
|
District Of Columbia, USA
October 25, 2007

Peter in Washington, DC writes:

Hi Alison,

Thank you for posting your blog entry. In your opinion what is the single most pressing need in Afghanistan for the common people? Also, how can it be delivered most directly without interference from corruption? Finally, what can average concerned U.S. Citizens do to help in Afghanistan?

I know those are some tough questions, but I would be extremely grateful for your sincere thoughts.

Kate
|
Nevada, USA
October 31, 2007

Kate in Nevada writes:

I would love to know if anything in Alison's job description to help the victims of DU poisoning in Afghanistan. The United States military has used tons of this in ammunition spent in the region, and it would be interesting to know if there are any plans to clean up this nuclear mess to insure the safety of Afghani citizens.

Mark
|
Minnesota, USA
November 2, 2007

Mark in Minnesota writes:

Greetings,
I was part of the PRT-Asadabad from 2006-2007.
Best of luck to you!

Roch
|
Kansas, USA
November 6, 2007

Roch in Missouri writes:

This is fascinating reading. I am interested in our rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan since my cousin's son was there for 15 months with the 10th Mountain Division as a language/intel specialist. And he's likely to be going back there.

I'm curious, what kind of mass media is present in the outlying provinces? In other words, how does the central government communicate with its mainly rural people? Do they have radio? Newspapers? Radio might be ineffective because of the mountainous terrain, and production costs and distribution would definitely be a problem with newspapers. It seems to me that radio would be most cost-effective, especially in an environment where the literacy rate is low.

Thanks for your comments.

Diane
|
Ohio, USA
November 24, 2007

Diane in Ohio writes:

Alison, I was stationed in Asadabad Afghainistan from 2006-2007 with the Navy, my name was Mother Goose, I was the oldest female there, so I was like the mom, and miss it every day, working with the locals, interpeters, and the FST. I was the S1 there in Admin, but of course I had several other jobs, working as Camp Mayor, and I believe you know Momin and Mattrula engineers there.

Since returning, I have taken a Teacher's Aide on line course, and have done several on line courses. I try to keep up with my Pastu, hoping to come back there again to Asadabad. I also ran the Blood Donar Program. I have been researching civilian jobs, to come back to Asadabad, if not with the Military then as a civilian to help out. I laughed when you said about the dust, we called in moon dust.

Hope to hear from you, take care and thankyou for all the work your doing there.

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