Categories
Barnes & Noble Review

In the Graveyard of Empires

A review of Seth G. Jones’s In the Graveyard of Empires, in the Barnes & Noble Review.

 

A few years ago, the Turkish defense minister bragged that the Turkish contingent in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had finished an entire tour in Afghanistan’s Wardak province without firing a shot. To some, including his intended audience of Turks, this boast was cause for approval and appreciation. To others — presumably the battle-weary American soldiers who complained bitterly that ISAF had come to stand for I Saw Americans Fight — the boast demonstrated all that was wrong or bogus about the NATO effort in Afghanistan, and epitomized the woes that the Americans would eventually have to redouble their efforts to repair. 

Categories
Foreign Policy

Scenes from a Withdrawal

Originally appeared at ForeignPolicy.com.

What will happen to Iraqi reconstruction when all the marines are gone?

Last week I listened to Maj. Ashley Burch, a Marine civil affairs officer in Ramadi, explain a raft of ambitious reconstruction aimed to smother the town of Karmah — a persistent center of insurgent activity — in American largess. I was duly impressed. Then, as I walked out of the office, I glanced at a wall map of eastern Anbar province. A bright stripe of yellow Post-its ran across the 104 km highway that connects Ramadi to Baghdad, each with the words “No-Go Zone” written across the top and a date, with the more recent dates closer to Baghdad.

Categories
Atlantic Monthly

Leaving Iraq

Over at The Atlantic, I wrote a cycle about returning to Iraq in the run-up to the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities.

Categories
Atlantic Monthly

Holding Pattern Kuwait

Not my favorite place in the world, but my new blog at The Atlantic, Prepared for the Worst, starts here.

Categories
New Republic

Body Shots

Originally appeared at The New Republic.

 

Let Us See the Angel Flights

U.S. Marines, not noted for their sentimentality, call the flights that carry their dead comrades home “angel flights.” I witnessed my first of these at a remote airfield in Anbar province, Iraq, in 2005. For about an hour, all activity on the tarmac ceased, including my own unloading of a 727 in my job as a commercial shipper. A furious Marine officer ran to confront me and demand that my pilot cut the 727’s engines. The pilot protested–his plane was nearly unloaded, and he wanted to fly to a safer airport as soon as possible–but the Marine permitted no debate. The engines powered down, and in the desert silence, from a distance of a few hundred feet, I could hear the clopping of individual boots as hundreds of Marines filed in to stand at attention and watch the chilled metal box proceed slowly into the belly of the plane.

Categories
Atlantic Monthly

An Air-Conditioned Nightmare

In Afghanistan, some soldiers are pampered. Should they be?

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD—Being on a big military base, even one in a relatively dangerous spot, can feel a bit like being on a cruise ship. Grand exertions are made to ensure comfort, and leisure is organized: basketball at six, bingo at 11. B-list celebrities, armed with camera-ready smiles, are on deck to shake your hand. The food is rich and plentiful, and cooked with the primary goal of not sickening anyone. And there’s no exit, other than jumping overboard, or over the concertina wire. Base life is, as Samuel Johnson might have said, like being in prison, with a chance of being mortared.

Categories
Salon

A Prisoner’s Tale

Salon

The saga of a hapless New Zealander who ended up behind bars after seeking work in Iraq reveals the darker side of the U.S.-led coalition’s operations.

When Andreas Schafer was released from a prison in Iraq earlier this year, the Iraqi police apologized abjectly for having inconvenienced him for three months. They made sure he knew that if ever he wanted to get back at the arresting officer by, say, slaying the man’s brother, it would be all right by them. And he could expect not to be prosecuted for the crime.

It says something about Iraqi justice and the American-led occupation that Iraq’s finest viewed an invitation to murder as a triumph of decency and due process. Schafer, a hapless, idealistic 26-year-old New Zealander who had gone to Iraq in search of a job with a nongovernmental organization, ended up languishing in a prison in southern Iraq as an unacknowledged prisoner of the U.S.-led coalition. By keeping Schafer in an Iraqi-run prison, rather than in a prison monitored by Americans or international observers, the United States avoided putting him on the books and having to account for his treatment, even to his own government.