Snapshots From Kabul, Take 1

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Helicopters at Kabul Airport.JPG

My Safir Airways flight from Dubai to Kabul was filled with American, European, and African contractors, diplomats, some military -- but very few Afghans as best as I could see.  With the US spending $120 billion a year here, it's good money for those who want to get a financial break.  And living in a world that feels something like a Mad Max movie has its own rush.

Afghanistan Contractors.JPGI'm over here this week with a small group of DC types meeting a variety of players in the Afghan economic, political and civil society scene.  We are supposed to keep a low profile -- and my group handler is not all that pleased that I'm going to blog what I can of my impressions.  Until we are out of here, I'm going to respect our group's safety needs and keep some things blurry and genera.

Just sent this note to my significant other about our arrival:

Well, I'm safe in Kabul, so far.  The feeling one gets here pretty quickly is that of a Mad Max movie set.  All sorts of characters -- lots clearly hardline Islamists, chiseled, hard edged features and severe beards..wives completely covered.  Very dusty place. 

Massoud Circle cr.jpgWe walked through a section near the airport on the way to a too far for comfort parking lot, very crowded, like the time we were in that square in Istanbul, where I saw lots of Afghans milling, squatting, waiting for something to happen -- and I felt no warmth from them towards us at all.  I was watched, observed -- but at a distance.  No smiles -- just tension.  This could be my tension.  I know that the Afghans are warm, caring people -- but right now, that's not the side of them I'm seeing.  This certainly is not an Atlantis Cruise port call.

Haven't really seen any of the city yet -- just drove by places on way from airport to our hotel compound -- behind large walls and lots of barbed wire.  I saw one roundabout with large picture of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance commander killed by bin Laden's folks two days before al Qaeda struck in NY and DC. 

When our bus got to our hotel...guards with AK-47s came out and guarded us as huge door was opened and we got bus into a very small space.  It really felt like Mad Max or Waterworld without the water. 

The place we are staying reminds one of something slightly nicer, but not much, than a youth hostel.  Most of the rooms are "doubles".  They wanted to put me in a double room with one of the others in the group -- but Bill Goodfellow, my fairy godfather on this trip, intervened and said that I tend to work much of the night and would drive anyone crazy I bunked with.  He's totally right -- so good for me and for the near victim.

Unbelievably, there is a nice pool here....some weights and stuff for working out -- a really beautiful and friendly German shepherd named "Rambo."  He likes me a lot -- and of course, I like him.

Now, I need to move beyond dogs -- and meet real people which we will in a very full, busy schedule tomorrow.

The picture above is one I took at the airport -- of one of many of the helicopters we saw.  Lots of different kinds here.  The Kabul Airport has a large number of US military and ISAF cargo and transport planes along the runway.  Reminds me of the same juxtaposition of private activity and military as flying into Albuquerque Airport and seeing so many of the Kirtland AFB planes.

Next depicts a line of people I snapped while waiting to go through the passport check point after landing.  This is a small sampling of the contractor crowd that filled more than 90% of the seats on the plane on which we flew.

The picture to the right is of the circle I mentioned above of a circle dedicated to the memory of the late Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.  There is a portrait of him immediately as you enter the hotel in which we are staying.  I realize the quality of the pic leaves a lot to be desired -- but was on a bus with dirty windows.  Click any of the images to make them larger.

More soon.

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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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