Afghanistan: A Slice of Life at FOB Kalagush

Parun, Nuristan
Parun, the “capital” of Nuristan province, courtesy flickr user Saleem Nuristani.

Not your typical embed: Andrew Klavan spent a few days with Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalagush and wrote his account in the U.S. magazine City Journal. It's quite well-written: despite the requisite Kipling shout outs (though they make much more sense here, this being the literal setting of a famous Kipling novel and actual biography), he explains well the challenges the U.S. faces:

This so-called provincial capital was largely a figment of the Afghan government’s imagination. As we carried our packs along the lone mud road, we came upon the “town”: a collection of half-finished ramshackle buildings and wooden huts with idling native workers staring balefully from the porches. Rory, who had a habit of echoing my unspoken showbiz thoughts aloud, muttered to me, “Deadwood,” just as I was thinking, “Tombstone.” …

The main mission was to break ground on a new FOB site. Moving the PRT close to the provincial government would make overseeing new projects much easier. The trouble was, the chosen site was owned by a little nearby village called Pashki. Four months ago, the Pashki elders had agreed to sell the land to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. Now, though, they were worried that the U.S. presence would attract attacks from the Taliban.

It's worth reading in full, even if you have to skip past all the references to how he wants to make it into a screenplay just to give it to those America-hating Hollywood liberals. The point about moving the PRT makes sense in one way: PRT Kalagush is practically in Laghman province (see, for example, this BABEAA post), and many of the locals there view themselves as in Laghman. The PRT has to airlift itself to Parun to do business with the provincial government, or else suffer through an agonizingly slow two-day trip hundreds of miles out of the way thanks to the steep valleys.

But in another way, moving the PRT doesn't make a jot of sense.

FOB Kalagush, Afghanistan
FOB Kalagush, courtesy flickr user Hayat Nooristani.

As Klavan so ably put it, calling Parun the capital of anything is more of a wish than a statement of fact. Aside from the basic fact that provinces in Afghanistan don't have capitals the way states in the U.S. do, Parun in Nuristan is a particularly ineffective one. In his lecture at Boston University, David Katz, a senior foreign service office attached to FOB Kalagush, mentioned that Parun is not only basically inaccessible from Kalagush, it is for all intents and purposes inaccessible to the rest of Nuristan as well. Moving FOB Kalagush from an accessible, if possibly disputed, area to one that is basically inaccessible doesn't seem to make much sense.

Regardless, Klavan's article is a wonderful snapshot of the sorts of challenges the U.S. faces as it pushes into isolated communities in Afghanistan. And of the many policy challenges facing the government—well, both governments—as they try to build lasting institutions that can eventually contribute to peace.

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