Deploying to the MEAO - Day 18
Day 18 - not really here
Today we arrived in the capital of Afghanistan: Kabul. We are staying at Kabul International Airfield - North (KAIA-N), home to defence personnel from many countries who have joined the fight against the Taliban. This is my second trip into Afghanistan – the first was to Tarin Kot (TK) but then we flew out to the UAE again. On neither occasion was my passport checked nor stamped. It’s as if the two military bases I have worked and stayed in are island enclaves within the country. The military talk about going “into country”. I feel like I’m geographically in Afghanistan, but not really here. I haven't tasted any Afghan food, heard the call to prayer or seen any feasting celebrating the Afghan new year (Spring Equinox - 21 March 2013).
I feel more like an intruder, than a visitor. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), lead by Hamid Karzi, welcomes the support of countries like Australia, so I guess my intrusion under the umbrella of the ADF (Australian Defence Forces) is sanctioned.
The majestic mountains around Kabul are part of the Hindu Kush and are closer than those around TK. They look ripe for climbing. If Afghanistan had not been at war for most of the last 200 years, it could have a thriving nature tourism industry.
For the first time, I have gone ‘outside the wire’ “in country” as we drove to the other side of Kabul to visit the burgeoning Afghan National Defence University. This is where Afghanistan will train its military officers and soldiers. A coalition of nations – Australia, Britain, USA, France, Romania, and a few others – are helping Afghanistan to establish its “Sandhurst of the sands” (although “Duntroon of the dust” is more accurate, in my opinion.) One of the subjects in our portrait project is mentoring Afghans in their roles as company sergeant majors. He finds this easier than negotiating the politics around security and SOPs (standard operating procedures) at a multinational base where every country has their own way of doing things which they think is best.
Women are able to join the defence forces, and segregated accommodation is being built for them at the base. ABC journalist Sally Sara tells the story of two Afghan sisters who had to overcome entrenched discrimination in order to train and work as helicopter pilots in the Afghan airforce.
Although it was Good Friday when we arrived in Kabul, there were no hot cross buns in the mess. I don’t think the Easter Bunny will hop into Afghanistan, even though he won’t need a passport.
Twelve months ago I went to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) with the Australian War Memorial. I was working on an oral history-photographic project. The core part of the project was interviewing and photographing 19 currently serving members of the ADF - from the army, navy and airforce - before, during and after their deployment in 2013 to the MEAO. In another 12 months time, you should be able to see the results of this work in an exhibition which will travel around Australia.
These blog posts were written while I was in the MEAO but were not uploaded to the AWM website at that time.
I am planning to upload one blog post each day, exactly 12 months on from the actual day I was on deployment. We left Canberra on 12 March 2013.