When I got that question a few days ago, I realized that today was going to be interesting. I and another Marine from the office were going to make a run with the General in charge of our section at the Embassy out to visit the Governor of Parwan, accompanying Ambassador Eikenberry and the Ambassador from the Republic of Korea. Initially, the other Marine and I were going to be driving the General in one of our own SUVs, but that changed at the last minute, and we went as riders, both to get a chance to get out of the "Ka-bubble" and see some of what is outside the Embassy compound, as well as to provide a little more firepower if necessary.
So off we went this morning, and had a great trip, start to finish. No shots were fired, although based on the lunch served by our hosts, some chicken, lamb, and cows were harmed in the making of this event. Following the meeting between the Ambassadors and Governor, and the Q&A with the press, we were all invited to a fantastic lunch of rice, kebabs served on three foot long metal skewers, some kind of spicy chicken soup, and locally baked flatbread. Truly, a superb meal. Once done, the Ambassador made a decision to take a walkabout down in a local market area blocks away from the Governor's compound, so off we went, surrounded by heavy security of Afghan police, Afghan army, some US military, the Korean protective security det (PSD) covering the Korean ambassador, and me with my 9mm in my pocket. When the security level appears to be acceptable, we are trying to reflect that level by modifying our own personal protective posture. In the compound for the brief, the Embassy personnel (including myself) grounded our flaks and long guns to send a message that they were, in fact, unnecessary (of course, "unnecessary" because of the protective bubble provided by some other folks WITH flaks and long guns). We probably spent only 20 or 30 minutes out in the 'ville, but it was a real eye-opener to me. It wasn't "normal" to anyone from the outside looking in, but to a guy who had been in Ramadi in 2005... this was a lot better than I had expected. Five years ago back with Team Drifter, we would never - ever - have even considered walking around downtown on a shopping trip, but it is in fact BETTER here than it had been there. I picked up on nothing weird in the "atmospherics" amongst the locals.
There is some serious fighting going on out in the Regional Commands (RCs), especially RC-South and South West, where the Marine Corps has established "Marine-istan" based around Camp Leatherneck, but the parts of Kabul we visited today are better than expected. In my opinion.
Once complete, we mounted up, and rolled out to a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) location for the Ambassador and General to get a tour of the progress being made there. There is a lot of really good work going on out there.
The drive back was uneventful and we returned just at dusk. I had a screaming headache by then, some from wearing that flak jacket and being crammed into the back of an armored SUV all day, but a lot from scanning out the window for any threats and just having sensory visual overload. The people, the poverty, the terrible roads, the heavy traffic observing absolutely NO LAWS, the mix of donkey carts and armored SUVs, the sheer level of activity, spanning medieval to modern. I will try to write more about this later, but it was a LOT to take in.
Enjoy the pics. More to follow.