To Afghanistan and Back (NBM Publishing, 2002)

Monday, July 28, 2008



Described by Time magazine as "an astringent alternative to government press releases and the network news", To Afghanistan and Back is a graphic travelogue of journalist Ted Rall's visit to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 and during the Northern Alliance and American war against the Taliban. Among the realities discovered by Rall, largely unreported by the major news networks, were that the USAF was carpet-bombing cities, Northern Alliance towns were something akin to Mad Max where you could have anyone killed for a few hundred dollars with no repercussions, and the Northern Alliance and Taliban switched sides back and forth so frequently that they were virtually the same army. Eye-opening reading, this is the sort of investigative reporting that corporate-owned major networks do not have the stomach for anymore.

Posted by St. Drogo at 12:40 PM  

14 comments:

P. 9 - "Weeks after the 2001 suicide bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the people of the wealthiest nation on earth launched an intensive, high-technology bombing campaign against the poorest. U.S. policymakers were so unfamiliar with the region that the Central Intelligence Agency was forced to issue a public appeal for Americans fluent in Pashto and Tajik, yet these same people considered themselves qualified to radically restructure Afghanistan's fundamental culture and politics."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

P. 11 - "This New War is merely an escalation of genocide by trade sanction, this time with a few old-fashioned bombs and covert commando raids thrown in for popular effect. And while the explosions will look cool on cable TV news and the vague rumors of American death squads trekking through the mountains will sound dashing in a Rudyard Kipling-cum-Rambo kind of way, it will accomplish exactly nothing."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

P. 13 - "Nonetheless, it's always possible to carry a hypothetical war on terrorism to its logical extreme: somehow, perhaps using satellite surveillance and pixie dust, the U.S. and its allies successfully hunt down every single member of every militant Islamic organization in the world and either jail or kill them. Who knows how? Anyway - it still wouldn't matter. Those dead and jailed militants have mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. They have friends. And countless ordinary Muslim people would watch, driven to vengeance by the extraordinary ruthlessness of such a massive assault by America on individuals whose only proven sins are their beliefs. A new army of jihadists would rise from the ashes of Bush's 21st century crusade."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

P. 19 - "Integral to the shaking fists and flag-waving hysteria and the funerals - thousands and thousands and thousands more of those to come, by the way - is a rage born of impotence. Conservatives applaud and liberals deplore our expensive governmental monitoring systems - what would we have argued about had we known that neither the CIA nor the NSA knew what was going to go down September 11th? For what does it profit a country to starve its schools if its fattened Pentagon can't even protect its own headquarters from a terrorist attack? The United States has finally been unmasked as the greatest Potemkin ever conceived - 'great magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms,' in Breslin's words. Or to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson's classic dis of Fred MacMurray in 'Double Indemnity': We thought we were smart, but we were wrong. We're just a little bigger."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

P. 24 - "The aid agency workers, mostly Christians and retro-granola types, consider the journalists vultures of the lowest order, gleefully snapping pictures of gore and cruel acts. The laptop and video-feed set look at the aid workers with a mix of pity and contempt, for they believe their efforts are both pointless (feeding a few thousand while millions starve) and self-interested (converting Muslims to Christianity). Both are right. The real winners here are the Afghans and Tajiks sufficiently educated in English and the ways of the marketplace to exploit the army of expense-account-funded scribblers and proselytizers in their midst."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM  

P. 29-30 - "In just 24 hours, the place where I was standing a few minutes earlier is pulverized by mortar shells, and the town I'm living in is randomly bombed by Air Force dipshits. Mostly, though, it's a mind-numbingly dull existence. For one thing, I engaged in mere tourism where the locals are born pro. For another, the advantages of life over death aren't quite as apparent here as they are back home."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 31-32 - "There is understandable uncertainty in the air about whether 'the current government', as locals call it, will stay in power. But it's more than that. Women as well as men dread a return to the 'Mad Max'-like state of anarchy that characterized the early '90s, when the Northern Alliance last ruled this country. From the April 1992 deposal of President Mohammad Najibullah until 1996, when the Taliban dragged him out of a U.N. compound and castrated, shot and hanged him, the Northern Alliance's Islamic State of Afghanistan was less a government than a state of institutionalized chaos. The highways were trolled by rapists and warlords, and the cities became so unsafe that few Afghans dared venture out after dark. During this period, Afghanistan secured its role as the world's leading supplier of heroin. The Taliban put an end to all that, but at a terrible price - the rule of law found its pinnacle at 3 o'clock Friday afternoons when criminals were taken to the soccer stadium east of Kabul and subjected to amputation, stoning and execution."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 39 - "I'd been to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan, and I loved them all. Even when the Talibs in Kashmir threatened to execute me for being American, I couldn't stop returning to central Asia. Its clash between Islamic fundamentalism and left-over Soviet totalitarian dictators, plus its special witches brew of tribal feuds and a Caspian Sea oil rush, made it as fascinating as it was scary. The problem is, knowing about the 'Stans is like seeing a U.F.O. Nobody believes you when you talk about it. They thought I was crazy. Sometimes I wondered if they were right ... especially on the 11th, when I was shocked but unsurprised."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 40 - "October was weird. Bush's dad had cozied up to Osama Bin Laden, but now the son was blaming him for the suicide attacks. Rather than negotiate for extradition, the U.S. opted to bomb the Taliban out of power ... As it had during the 80s, the cultural and ideological clock turned back to the 50s. McCarthyism - even overt racism - was back. The President promised to lie to us, and the media pledged to go along ... World War II-style propaganda posters appeared ... America was becoming repressive, paranoid and vicious. I'd never experienced anything like it before."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 53 - "Taloqan, a mid-sized provincial city that was home to perhaps 50,000 souls, had been surrounded by Northern Alliance soldiers a week earlier. The Americans dropped bombs until the Taliban commanders led their troops out to surrender. The prisoners immediately became defectors. The erstwhile Talibs rushed to the Khanabad Bazaar across the street from a park where they'd previously gathered to watch thieves being amputated and cheating wives and husbands stoned to death. They paid 20,000 afghanis (40 cents) to get their beards shaven; $1 bought a pakul, the Nuristani beret made famous by assassinated Northern Alliance general Shah Massoud. Less than 24 hours later, the clean-shaven ex-Talibs were fighting alongside other Northern Alliance troops who themselves had defected exactly the same way earlier."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 65 - "The Taliban were described as a rag-tag militia, but the Northern Alliance wasn't any better. They were kids with nothing to do, trained for banditry by their dads in a nation with 90% unemployment. The Taliban had been simple-minded, cruel hicks. But they'd brought law and order. Now that the Northern Alliance had restored anarchy, one couldn't help being disgusted at the Afghans for tolerating these thugs. Even military heirarchy was impotent. General Daoud addressed us front-line reporters - 'Leave before dark or my troops will rob you.'"

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM  

P. 66-67 - "Contrary to the propaganda back home, the U.S.A.F. bombed anything and everything. You'd think that predictability would make being bombed worse, but it didn't. Most raids ran from 6 to 9:30 pm. Bombs evaporated dozens of people each, yet they weren't scary. Again, it was a sound thing - unless you were directly under one, it sounded like someone punching a pillow."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:32 PM  

P. 77-78 - "I'd come to Afghanistan to get the truth. The truth turned out to be obvious and clear; why wasn't it that way in my living room back in Manhattan? Americans were being told that their bombs were hitting with pinpoint precision. I'd suspected something less than 100% performance, but here they were, carpet-bombing Northern Alliance cities. CNN said that the alliance were our allies. I'd assumed that they were just as scummy as the Taliban, but they were not only just as bad but the same exact people. I'd expected to find pawns being victimized by cynical superpowers. And I did. But day after day of getting gouged, ripped off and treated badly couldn't help but harden you. Everyone, including me, was scum."

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:32 PM  

http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0150,rall,30661,1.html

St. Drogo said...
August 22, 2008 at 3:32 PM  

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