Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Afternoon in Dubai

What does one do with 8 hours to kill in Dubai? Dubai is one of the world’s great shopping paradises with malls so large and opulent that one even has indoor snow skiing. I hear stories from my associates about visits to the malls during layovers and of the great spas and messages than one can get in the large hotels. Given my distaste for shopping and stiff back from flying, the choice might seem obvious. But, my trip to the bazaar in Kabul has whetted my appetite for something more in keeping with my fantasy of what a Middle Eastern market ought to look like.

My fantasy is somewhat fulfilled with the ancient souks of the old Al Ras section of Dubai, adjacent to the Dubai Creek. It did, however, have a inauspicious start. My first taxi ride from the airport was to one of the modern malls. It was truly grand (as malls go). There were all the shops that you would expect in any upscale mall in the US, with a scattering of specialty shops catering to the local need for Arab dress. Except for the sight of the occasional couple in flowing Arab garb, you could be in Passaic, NJ. I couldn’t get out fast enough.

The next taxi ride is to the Spice Souk. My Indian taxi driver (this is a city filled with guest workers) assures me that this is the “old city” that I am looking for and provides some sage haggling advice as we drive. One block off the main thoroughfare, he is proven right. Under the ancient wooden arches, that protect the streets from the blazing sun, are spice shops whose smells overwhelm the senses. I work my way down the main streets and small side alleys that house lesser shops selling “dollar store” merchandise. I buy spices after the appropriate haggling (though not as skillful as a true professional shopper). I continue on to another of the storied areas of the old city, the Gold Souk. If the Spice Souk overwhelmed the sense of smell the Gold Souk attacks the sight with windows covered floor to ceiling with bright gold chains, necklaces and bracelets. Store after store display their shiny wares for the shoppers who stroll the shaded streets. I am duly impressed by the shear scope of this display of wealth but refrain from temptation and make no attempt to press my haggling skills.

But, the souks have fueled my interest in exploring this part of the city. I continue on to the working class shopping areas that are adjacent to these famous souks, where locals purchase their day-to day needs. I also walk the length of the docks along the Dubai Creek. Here, one can observe the full spectrum of Dubai life. Ancient wooden commercial boats, some ornately decorated, load and unload their cargos of lumber, generators and auto parts. Small water taxis crisscross the creek, from designated stations, loaded with locals and adventurous tourists. Beautiful wooden tour boats offer moonlight dinner cruises and 100 foot luxury yachts are moored two-deep at the large hotels.

The water taxi ride across the river and the dinner cruise on a moonlit night are both tempting (no offers from the yachts,) but I have a rapidly approaching flight home and blisters rapidly developing on my right foot. Maybe next time.
A Haiti Flashback in Kabul

Driving down Jalalabad Road, with the sun beating down on a line of shops thrown together with cinderblock, corrugated metal and abandoned shipping containers, my mind drifts to Haiti. If you focus on the bustling street and not the faces, you could just as easily be driving down the airport road in Port-au-Prince. The sun beats down on tired looking vendors, who scrape a marginal living selling jerry cans of cooking oil and a strange combination of odds and ends. Bicycle parts hang from shop awnings and small stacks of wood for cooking, actually not much more than branches, line the dusty streets which are home to a mix of battered autos and donkey carts.

While the streets lined with ragged shops is reminiscent in one way of Port-au-Prince, I am also aware of a striking difference. Today's trip was rescheduled after a suicide bomber, using an IED, attacked a military convoy along this road just the day before. It killed four Afghans and a British soldier and closed the road for a day. Unlike Port-au-Prince of the early 90's (and recent years) with its regular nightly automatic weapon fire becoming part of the almost unnoticed background noise of the city, Kabul is comparatively quiet. Gunshots near where I am working, when they occur, are infrequent enough to catch your attention. But Kabul is part of the new world where the deceiving nature of the relative calm can be shattered at any moment by a violent explosion.

My trip is uneventful but for those who must patrol the city, yesterday's events are another reminder of uncertainty of life in Afghanistan.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I am not a shopper by nature but in my travels I have felt the need to collect some tangible reminder of my stay. I also have created expectations from family members that they will find themselves presented at Christmas with some strange artifact from a far off land that no one on their block can claim to have. So, the non-shopper, who couldn't be forced to go to an outlet mall at gunpoint, heads to the much talked about Friday bazaar.

I would have like to have found myself in an exotic bazaar like one sees in the movies - Casablanca or Marrakesh style. However, as an American in Kabul, one must settle for the next best thing - a bazaar in secure area. While the surrounding environment in not as authentic as strolling from your hotel to the historic old quarter of a city, where you can explore the narrow alleys and grand open squares, it does offer exposure to Afghan artisans and local crafts from remote cities. I buy a hand crafted knife with camel bone handle, scarves from Kandahar, and a traditional rug. I buy some jewelry made from Afghan lapis, in a beautiful shade of blue, which could have come from mines that provided it to the Egyptian pharaohs.

I never knew I had so many friends in Kabul. Every vendor is my "good friend." Because it is morning I am offered the special "morning price" or "my first customer price." Both, I am told, are very good prices. I speak to other shoppers who tell me that the same line is used in the afternoon for excellent "last customer" prices. I haggle, as required, but not to extreme. I walk away at least once from every sale and get the next lower price. Everyone is happy.

Packing my loot for the trip home will be daunting but a problem for another day.

Making the approach to the airport in Kabul, one flies past jagged toothed, snow capped mountains that look as desolate as the face of the moon. Below the snowcaps is a dry and barren slope leading to a dust covered valley. It is little wonder that finding someone in these mountains can be virtually impossible. It seems like every valley could swallow you up forever.

Landing at the airport in Kabul offers a much more social experience. It was reminiscent of arriving in Port-au-Prince or many other developing nations. A large number of people squeezing into a constricted place with systems ill-equipped to process the amount of traffic that multiple international missions can generate. Even newly installed high-tech passport readers seem to operate at their own pace or perhaps it is they just ever present coating of dust that makes eight or ten passes through the reader necessary.

The streets of Kabul are dry and dusty and colors seem to fade in the intense sun and heat. Even the dominating mountains, which should look majestic from the city, sit in a muted haze. Traffic is chaotic, testimony to the apparent abundance of petrol, the presence of so many internationals and the enterprising nature of the locals. As I sit in my seat, flying through traffic in a jet lagged state, my consciousness adjusts to the familiar chaos of war turned to fragile peace.

While my movement is restricted, I am pleasantly surprised at the opportunity to enjoy magnificent hospitality and local cuisine in the home of an Afghan American family returning to their former country to work in the reconstruction. Another pleasant surprise is an Italian restaurant, run by a Croatian couple, that served a very acceptable pizza. My previous experience with the Italian tourist influence in the former Yugoslavia is that fine pizza is available from Zagreb to Pristina. This tradition seems to have found its way to Kabul.

I look forward to Friday, the traditional Muslim day off, when I will have the opportunity to shop in a bazaar and collect my hoard of souvenirs. An Afghan Christmas is in the offing. (August 30, 2006)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Are Lessons Really Being Learned?: Rebuilding the Police Service in Iraq

Ambassador Paul Bremer's 2005 book My Year in Iraq and James Fallows’Atlantic Monthly Article "Why Iraq has No Army"(December 2005) raise serious questions about our ability to learn and apply "lessons" from previous post-conflict interventions. This applies to both mission planning and execution. One area where these questions are most apparent is the ongoing effort to rebuild the Iraqi police.

The US and the international community are no strangers to police rebuilding efforts, particularly since the end of the cold war era. Since 1989, the rebuilding of police services have been part of post-conflict interventions in Panama, El Salvador, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere. Neither is there a shortage of documented "lessons learned" from these police rebuilding efforts. In the United States, dozens of government, non-government and academic institutions have been analyzing and documenting lessons learned from past interventions. The US Army War College, Naval Postgraduate School, National Defense University, International Peace Academy, US Institute for Peace are just a few. On the international level, several other nations have similar bodies that analyze and document post-conflict redevelopment lessons, including police rebuilding. The United Nations, Division of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), has established a Lessons Learned unit whose primary purpose is to collect mission reports, lessons learned documents, after-action reports and other source material to analyze and distribute lessons learned resources.

Despite this wealth of material, it is curious that in the detailed accounts Ambassador Bremer provides regarding conversations with senior police and military advisors on rebuilding the Iraqi police, discussions of experience from these previous efforts never appears. While these previous efforts cannot necessarily equate in scope and intensity of the police rebuilding effort in Iraq, especially the intensity of the on-going insurgency, many of the same issues facing Ambassador Bremer and his staff were faced in these previous rebuilding efforts.

Following the invasion of Panama, the failure to fill the so-called "security gap," when indigenous security forces collapse during or after the conflict, was identified as a critical issue. Planning for “Just Cause” did not include adequate plans for addressing the breakdown in security or for providing for “interim” policing. Based on the Panama experience, this successfully addressed in Haiti and in subsequent interventions. The need to train thousands or tens of thousands of new police was central to the efforts in Panama and El Salvador. In Haiti pressure to establish unrealistic training timelines, driven by the military "exit strategy," forced a planned 5-year effort to be completed in 15 months. Somalia typified conducting training police in an insecure environment. Each of these issues, and many more that Ambassador Bremer and his staff faced, have been encountered in the past and have been addressed with varying degrees of success or failure, all documented in some detail.

The Atlantic Monthly article provides one example of this failure to learn from past lessons. As reported, Lt. Gen. Mattis answers his own question “Should we have had training teams ready to go on the day we crossed the border?” with a resounding "Of course." This demonstrates one stark difference in police planning and execution between Iraq and previous interventions, such as Haiti. The Haiti police rebuilding mission was planned and executed based on the lessons learned from Panama. During the summer of 1994, months prior to troops entering Haiti, a police development plan was drafted which included: organizational structures, recruitment standards, deployment plans, complete training curricula for an "interim force" made up of former members of the security services to fill the "security gap," and a full four-month recruit course to create a totally new civilian police service. Both training programs included detailed lesson plans, drafted in advance by an international team of police training experts, supported by Haitian attorneys in exile in the US. These training programs, and a core staff of civilian police experts to begin implementation of both, flew into Port-au-Prince on US troop transports in the first days of operations. Training of the "interim" Haitian force began almost immediately and new recruits began the full police training curricula within three months military forces arriving. Over 5,000 new recruits put through the full basic training regime in 15 months. Despite these planning and operational lessons from previous interventions, Ambassador Bremer documents that, in Iraq, the most fundamental recruitment and training issues were being debated as late as August of 2003 - more than three months after major combat operations were completed.

These August conversations also raise disturbing questions related to mission planning, particularly with regard to lessons learned in interagency planning and civilian-military cooperation. The interagency approach to managing "complex contingency operations," developed in the 1990's based of lessons learned in Haiti, was originally laid out in detail in PPD 56 and elaborated in subsequent directives. This directive presented an NSC centered model for interagency planning and coordination, with a joint political military plan (Pol-Mil) as a core planning and execution guide. This concept relies heavily on tapping the broad experience of multiple specialized agencies. As designed, the joint civilian and military Pol-Mil plan would include: a situation assessment, statement of U.S. interests, desired end state, lead agency responsibilities, and transition or exit strategy. It would include details of the political, humanitarian and other programmatic efforts, to be executed by a mix of civilian agencies and military units, that would be necessary for a successful operation.

Ambassador Bremer’s recounting of conversations with civilian police advisors regarding their view of the military's approach to police training and decisions to put new Iraqi police recruits on the street with very limited training, are disturbing. These descriptions of the conflicting approaches in regard to the recruitment, training and deployment of Iraqi police presented by his civilian police and military advisors, well into the rebuilding phase of the mission, raises questions about the adequacy of pre-mission planning. One must wonder whether a more robust interagency process, where civilian agencies had an equal and early voice in planning the rebuilding efforts, could have ensured better coordination between civilians and military and resulted in a more effective police rebuilding program.

Despite the massive wealth of "lessons learned" and "best practices" material, Ambassador Bremer's disturbing accounts of discussions regarding the rebuilding of the Iraqi police service would indicate that we have neither developed the mechanisms to effectively incorporate the vast "lessons learned" resources into post-conflict efforts nor have we achieved the spirit of civilian-military cooperation and coordination envisioned in PDD-56.

Until we can make this connection, can we truly say that these lessons have been learned?

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