Archive for December, 2007

With the Afghan Army

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007


Kabul, Afghanistan

The half dozen cadets at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan stood straight and tall in the cramped room they share with six others. I asked, “Are you worried about graduating and going to fight the Taliban?” They smiled. “If you are afraid, you are not here,” one said in English.

Seeing these self-assured young men, each of whom has beat out five others for one of the 300 places in the freshman class, it’s not hard to understand why the Afghan National Army is one of the unqualified success stories of coalition nation-building efforts. “Since April, the ANA has not lost an engagement with the insurgency,” says Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in six eastern Afghan provinces. A 2006 survey showed that 91% of Afghans in the volatile eastern provinces had “a lot” or “some” confidence in the ANA.

Beginning in 2002 with a few dozen officers, the ANA is now 50,000 strong. Most have come through the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC), which currently puts 5,000 men at a time through a 10-week Basic Warrior Training course modeled on the program at Fort Benning, Ga. A kandak, or battalion, of 1,000 soldiers leaves to fight every two weeks, each one deploying as a unit in a province where security is iffy. Just two corps of the army are in the stable northern and western provinces; three are in the south and east. (more…)

Lost Kingdom; A 1964 memoir conjures old Afghanistan

Monday, December 3rd, 2007


Land of the High Flags Afghanistan When the Going Was Good by Rosanne Klass Odyssey, 358 pp., $19.95

Land of the High Flags is an artifact of a time when a foreigner could unabashedly enjoy being in Afghanistan the way one enjoyed Kenya or India or Sicily, even while going there to do good. Now, Afghanistan is a “war zone” in everyone’s eyes, and a sense of its granularity has been lost in the cliches. The 1950s Kabul that Rosanne Klass entered as a novice high school teacher was a poor country which Westerners were trying to modernize, and which some fell in love with. Klass–still a feisty Afghanistan expert in New York–chronicles this love affair in a burnished, formal style that was slightly antiquated even in 1964. Perhaps she was influenced by Freya Stark, Gertrude Bell, and other well-born lady travelers in the Muslim world, or by the Victorian novels she must have read in her childhood.

It feels of a piece that Klass manages to get through the whole book without discussing the husband with whom she went to Afghanistan (and from whom she was soon to be divorced) and that she visits Jews in Afghanistan without ever saying that she is Jewish (though it can be inferred from her surname and a discreet reference to a Succoth of her youth). This is the high old practice, and has its merits. Klass is preoccupied with others rather than herself, and always ready to see the good side of the people she meets, when there is one. (more…)