Letter from Carsten Jacobson
In his next installment, Carsten Jacobson shares his thoughts an observations from Afghanistan...
Dear friends and family,
Our mission comes to its end. Or does it not ?
On September 10, 2001, I started my tour as Military Attache in Washington DC. My predecessor had left me a staple of invitations for various Independence Days, National Days, Memorial Days and simple Celebrations. Two to three a day, a staggering amount. On the 11th was the day of my accreditation to the Pentagon, and Sally was checking in with the doctors. Exciting times.
The flight had been easy. Simple checks, a walk through the scanner, off to the plane. Inland flights inside the US where even easier. Rules in Europe where tighter than in the US, because of the 70s terrorists. But that was a long time ago, in 2001. A new century had arrived, and peace had broken out in our world. No more wars. And I was Military Attache in the United States.
Day two started as a beautiful morning. Clear blue skies, not to hot, near perfect. Everything was just right. Just right, until my sergeant came into my office and told me that I should better switch on the television. War had returned into our world. And on this day, I was right in it with my family - I never want that to happen again.
I am, though, pleased that we lived at the side of our American neighbors and friends when it happened.
2014, 13 years later, I have just returned to Kabul. 2 weeks at home and in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where we were training the next contingent of soldiers for deployment to Afghanistan. In Germany the grey November days around Remembrance Sunday, the annual time to reflect. This year, the memory of the fallen had faces, faces of friends and comrades, like in years before.
2014 is also a year full of anniversaries. 100 years World War 1. 75 years World War 2. 50 years Dien Bien Phu and the Hydrogen Bomb. 25 years fall of the wall. I met Sally in Berlin on the 7th November, close to the anniversary date.
At the Memorials of War the following weekend, there were hardly any Veterans of World War 2 left. The old men that always made Sally cry, they are leaving us for good. But there were new Veterans. Familiar faces.
Sally accepted, though with grinding teeth, that I spent half my leave in Uniform. She is too much a soldier herself not to understand it, and too much a wonderful wife not to tolerate it. It was still a fulfilling and loving time, and the re-energizer we both needed.
On the 22nd, I returned to Kabul, and my optimism is challenged again. A series of attacks shook the city in recent days, some of them to close for comfort, and one of the first things to do was yet another grim morning at the airport, saying a last farewell to fellow soldiers. One of the fallen was a Sergeant Major, CSM Turner, who served as Sergeant Major to my fallen friend Harold Greene. He was about to redeploy home, 2 weeks later. His son was standing on the runway, a proud young warrior, who took his father home. Also on the runway, the Band of Brothers.
The motivation of the insurgents is not surprising, I repeatedly said it in my last letters. With little effort, a quick strike here, a quick strike there, they manage to discredit the new government. Knowing that every blast in Kabul will attract high media attention, all they have to do is wait for an opportunity. For a determined individual it is not difficult to infiltrate into a city of more than 3 million, hidden under Burka, dressed in Police Uniform – you don’t need to be James Bond, it would work at home as well.
They also attacked the empty camp in Helmand that British and American troops left in October - and again, no surprise. A really good video opportunity. An empty city of plywood barracks, so large that the surrounding fence stretches over 17 miles. Setting light to a number of those buildings, playing a few heroic songs and posing some gunwaving fighters – first class recruitment, and a clear message: We chased the infidel away.
Unfortunately for them, it was too obvious. Over the summer, we stood up an Afghan Guard Force for the protection of vacated infrastructure. A light force, a deterrent, but now called into action straight away. And there it went, their Foto opportunity – like everywhere over the last months, they where defeated. It took a little longer than it would have with all regular forces, but the Guard Force stood its ground.
Whilst the cameras of the world, the few that still report on Afghanistan, are focused on the attacks in Kabul, the insurgency shows its true and ugly face in the countryside. As in so many places in the world today, they detonate their bombs in groups of innocent civilians – the worst of these attacks killing more than 60 young people at a sports event in one of the eastern provinces, just after I came back.
And like everywhere in the world, you have to ask yourself the question: What do these murderers aim for ? What signal does it send to kill as many innocent countrymen as you can reach ? Who do they want to scare ? Whose support do they want to get ? Why is senseless violence so attractive ? And what makes young people kill indiscriminately ? Nigeria, Kenia, Syria, Afghanistan, today in Chechnia – where will they strike tomorrow ?
With all our passion, we have to stem this ugly tide. And that answers the question that we will hear repeatedly in the coming weeks:
Was it worth it ?
If I take the bridge from the first lines in this letter, you know my answer. I already said it. I never want to see my family in this again. I want to continue to face it where it roots. We have been very successful in Afghanistan, I gave examples in my letters again and again.
If we want Afghanistan to build on our combined achievements, this success needs to be reinforced. That is what NATO did in Brussels this week, and what the international community in London is going to guarantee.
Because it was, and it is, worth it.
Peace is always worth it !
I finish, as always, with an Afghan quote:
Qadr-e zar-raa zargar mey-danad
A goldsmith knows the value of gold
To my Christian friends and family: Merry Christmas
To my Jewish friends: Happy Hanuka
And to my Muslim friends: A happy celebration of Mawlid
To all: May our Creator grant us peace in 2015
Another Christmas in Kabul! (In 2011, I found myself in a highly responsible role !)