I departed BKK Wed. night at 9 PM. We flew to Dubai on an Emirates Airline Eurobus 380 -- a flying cruise ship. the upper deck has a first class section of around 15 persons (with two shower rooms), and the business class section holds around 75. with the crew members there are nearly 500 persons on board.
Arrived in Dubai to find that my onward flight on Safi had been cancelled. Safi says they had not received payment for the ticket, so the cancelled it 48 hours before departure. I was unable to use the local phone system, so I purchased a new ticket with my credit card.
Arrived in Kabul at 0700 and was met by a company employee. Kabul is a very dreary place with light misty rain, muddy streets, and barbed wire, guns, and walled compounds everywhere. I traveled to my company's compound in an armoured SUV with an armed guard and learned that, by contract, that is the only way I am allowed surface travel in Afghanistan. Have not decided if that is a good policy or if it just paints me as a target.
My first night in Kabul, there was a large bomb attack and shoot out at a hotel and guest house about a mile away. It occurred at about 0630, and I slept through it. It was fairly serious, though with more than 15 people killed. The buildings contained mostly Indian medical personnel who are providing services for local hospitals. The Taliban claim credit. It is thought that they are reacting to two things: 1. The large NATO operation that is occurring down in Helmand province, and 2. the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.
In the early morning hours of my third night in Kabul, there was a 5.5 earthquake. I slept through it too.
The place I am staying is comfortable and the food is OK. As I mentioned, however, no one is allowed to go off the compound unless is a "hard car" (armoured car), so sightseeing and shopping is severely limited. To add to the dilemma, most of the hard cars were brought in early in the conflict (for all the contractors) and were operated with a kind of "wink and nod" without proper licencing or proper tags. Now the local police are starting to seize them and the DoS is making slow progress on getting them the correct credentials. Both of ours dare not leave the compound for fear of being seized.
I have learned a couple interesting things about the job:
1. There are seven counter narcotics advisory teams (CNAT) in seven different provinces. I will be assigned to one of them. They are 100% Afghan. I am their "international advisor." They have a team leader, office manager, public affairs officer, gender affairs officer (to work with women), alternative livelihood officers (to help find alternatives to poppy growing), a couple members to monitor poppy planting and verify eradication or change of crop, and an officer that coordinates with a UK funded project. They have no law enforcement function and are focused on moving the farmers from poppy growing to other livelihoods. They are located in the Provincial Governors compound of the provinces they serve and have ongoing advisory liaison with the governor, district chiefs, village chiefs, etc. CNAT has no money to provide their clients, but they are very active in acquiring funding for various self-help and capability-building projects to help provide livelihood for the Afghans. They then monitor the use of these funds. Therefore, they are highly regarded as being non-corrupt and honest brokers of assistance funding. I will give what advice I can and also serve as a conduit for information and liaison with other foreign organizations and the military where, because of security concerns, it is usually difficult for the Afghan team members to gain access to them. The CNAT team members report to the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics. The US Embassy has agreed with the Afghan government to provide logistical and administrative support as well as an International Advisor (me).
2. Most of the transportation my company is provided by a large government contractor who has a fleet of aging airplanes and helicopters (many, maybe most, of Soviet origin) piloted by foreign (and American) pilots. If the aviation contract is to the DOD, these planes will likely be operated to military standards. I am fearful, however, that it may be a DoS contract and that the aircraft may be operated as US "public use" aircraft -- which permits government agencies to pretty much establish their own safety standards. I have had a great deal of exposure to the "public use" concept in the past. It often means that there are virtually no standards at all, or that they change from day to day -- until there is an accident serious enough to bring outside scrutiny to the situation. I will try to get more information in the next few days.