Letter from Carsten Jacobsen
We received this letter from Carsten Jacobsen, presently stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A letter from Afghanistan
Deputy Commander ISAF
KABUL - AFGHANISTAN
With this letter, I am starting again to report to you from Afghanistan. Two years after my last tour I have arrived in Kabul again, took over my new assignment and prepare for another year of service in this headquarters.
A lot of things have changed since my last deployment here, but many things are at least similar. And, of course, there are many familiar faces. The open and genuine happiness I feel when I meet people again after this break is very moving and motivating. I do like the Afghans from my heart.
What has happened in the two years since my last letter, dated June 2012 ? Well, at first there was work, of course. In Germany I commanded First Panzerdivision in Hannover – one of the most fulfilling jobs in my service years. Two years of exercising, reorganizing, re-tasking and finally preparing for deployment – soldiers of the Division today serve in Afghanistan, on the Balkans and in Mali.
A year ago the Division was deeply engaged in stemming the floods of the Danube and the Elbe, hard work, but something that brings a smile to my face with clear pictures and countless memories.
On the 28th May, I had to hand over command to my successor, after only two years - not an easy moment. Northern Germany and the garrisons of the Division have been important to Sally, the boys and me for most of my military life. Squadron Command in Celle north of Hannover, Battalion Command near Hannover, and Brigade command half way between Hamburg and Hannover – this part of the world has always been home. Friends and neighbors, including numerous British friends and comrades, are the result.
Following the handover, I prepared for my deployment. A lot of things well known from last time – for a start, I had a clear picture of where I was going. This time, we had the advantage that we did not have to move house in the last minute, like in 2011, a great advantage.
Sally and I have now firmly settled in Munster in the Lueneburg Heath, about 60 kilometers south of Hamburg, at the home of German Armor, our Bovington or Fort Knox.
For the first time, we live in our own house, and over the last 2 years it developed more and more into an English cottage – I wonder why. Perhaps Sally has something to do with it.
Also for the first time, we could place our furniture the way we want it to stay – an utterly new experience after 17 moves. And during the last days before deployment, I had a few nice swims in the pleasant lake right outside our doorstep, something I miss already.
The family is well. Sally is busy with the house, and focusses on family welfare in Germany’s largest Army garrison. She also teaches English again. The boys are finally approaching the finish line in their respective universities, John in Bonn and Alexander in Cologne.
I arrived in Kabul on the 17th of June. I am still collecting impressions, but one thing is already obvious – Afghanistan clearly moved forward in the course of the last two years.
The main task of ISAF, building the Afghan Security Forces and security apparatus, has hugely progressed. For us, the next task is sustainability – the long term support in training of leaders and specialists, the improvement of procedures and processes.
In a series of major events in Kabul and across the country, the Afghan Security Forces clearly proved their value and capabilities. Two elections where secured against declared enemy intentions and threats, a number of major events like the Loya Jirga happened without incident, and also out in the country the insurgents could nowhere succeed against them. Only in recent days, a major insurgent attack in southwestern Afghanistan was stopped successfully, with hardly any support from international forces.
There are continuous attacks, though. On Thursday, some missiles struck into Kabul and did some damage to the airport. A number of lorries where set ablaze in Kabul last night – enough to make it into the media, but certainly not enough to derail or even disturb the political processes.
And so, it is the political process itself that needs careful observation. 2 successful elections were held, millions of Afghans defied the insurgent threats and voted with their feet – literally, with many having to walk miles to their nearest polling station. An impressive demonstration for something new, for a better future, and against the spirits of the past. A high turnout of women, and in all a participation of well above 50% of the electorate. A figure that most of our countries would dream about.
But unfortunately, the old ways still exist. In the runoff, the second round between two candidates, there is suspicion of massive fraud, leading to a deadlock at the moment, with an unclear outcome. If it can be settled, Afghanistan will see something entirely and excitingly new in its national history – a peaceful transition of power on 2nd August. A president, that relinquishes power to a democratically legitimated successor. It is what the people want, and what Afghanistan is ready for – but the path is thorny, and the outcome still uncertain.
If a peaceful change is achieved, it will be time to roll up sleeves and rebuilt this country, and overcome the shortfalls of the recent Karsai years. It would be also a success for the international community, a reward for all our common efforts. 30 years of war could be overcome, for the children of Afghanistan to grow into a peaceful future. But we are not there yet, and only the Afghans can find the way.
On their success depends our success. We are already restructuring, reducing, reorganizing, and we prepare for a new task. The mission of the International Security Assistance Force, as we know it, ends at the end of 2014. This was the plan all along, the dates were clear when I was here last time. And it is time – the military task of ISAF, given by the international community in 2001, has been completed already. What remains to be done is something entirely different, a new mandate. It is no longer involving combat missions, it is focused on training and advising. Training the leaders of the security forces and the specialists, whilst advising staffs and decision makers in key functions like force planning, budgeting, procuring and maintaining. This is a large undertaking, but a valuable long term investment. It is also necessary to assure optimal use of donor investments in the future. A quick look across Afghanistans borders and into the region shows the importance of lasting support in stabilization, to avoid a return to radicalization. Of course, there is the need to protect the advisory function by military means in a still challenging environment. There are some embittered fighters out there, and they remain dangerous. They will, though, not be able to stop the process.
Let me finish my first report with some initial observations.
Kabul remains a huge building site, but a lot has been done since I was here last. The schools are running for boys and girls and produce a generation that can read and write, at last. It will be important to provide work and opportunities for this youth in the future – there is enough to do.
Health services have improved greatly, and the media is far more professional than at my time as ISAF Spokesman. Everybody communicates – there is hardly an Afghan who doesn’t use a mobile phone. And the Internet rapidly gains in popularity.
Traffic is still chaotic in Kabul, but far more structured than in 2012. On the street one notices what surveys show – there is considerable trust in the Army and the Police amongst Afghans.
And the Afghans, they are as friendly and amicable as I remembered them over the last two years. I continue to wish them well for a safer, better and more peaceful future.
And as I did two years ago, I will finish this letter with one of those countless quotes the Afghans use to describe the world:
Qattra qattra daryaa mey-sha
A river is made drop by drop