Monday, May 7 -- My first night in Kabul, Afghanistan was in a well fortified, quasi-government compound located at the base of a 3,000-ft. mountain dotted with makeshift huts. Access to the facility is at the end of a single-lane, unpaved road lined with dilapidated, open-air mud-and-stone huts from which merchants sell a variety of goods.
Both the restricted access and the towering mountain -- from which Taliban have a clear line of sight into the compound -- are major sources of concern. For protection, many sections are fortified with walls of sandbags, and at every turn inside the camp are heavily armed Nepalese Gurka soldiers, known for their bravery and fierce fighting. They pack 5.56-cal. Squad Assault Weapons, 7.62-cal. machine guns and sniper rifles equipped with night vision scopes. Fortunately the compound is situated right next to where a powerful war lord lives with his family. That's no guarantee that the facility won't come under attack, but it does provide some degree of comfort.
Getting here from Kabul International Airport was an experience in itself. I was in the second of three armored SUVs that traveled as a convoy that stopped for nothing throughout the half-hour trip. We followed the lead vehicle that cleared our way, while the third vehicle a half-car length behind -- a 50-cal. machine gun barrel sticking out the back window -- never left our right side to shield us from would-be attackers. IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) aren't the deadly scourge here in Afghanistan that they have been in Iraq; rather, it's cars and trucks carrying bombs, and they're becoming more of a threat. It was clear from how the three vehicles sped through the city, often over roads that seemed more like obstacle courses, and the defensive maneuvers of our "wing man" that this was serious business. For me, the reality of where I was at and what I was doing suddenly hit home.
In one respect, Kabul looks like a war zone. Rusting hulks of what used to be Soviet tanks can still be spotted, and mounds of rubble are everywhere you look. But there also are encouraging signs that in time the capital city and eventually the country itself may be able to recover from decades of war. I was told that a growing number of children are returning to school, vehicle and pedestrian traffic is increasing, and commerce is picking up.
Still, there is an ominous trend that doesn't seem to be making the headlines in the popular press back home: Taliban fighters are becoming more brazen, and attacks are on the rise. In the short length of time I have been here, peacekeepers and government contractors are openly expressing anxiety about what may be in store for Kabul and surrounding areas during the next 6-12 months. More on that subject and the implications in a article in an upcoming issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology ...
--Tony Velocci, Editor-in-Chief, AW&ST