Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What doesn't go on in Iraq -- stays in Afghanistan: My Iraq embed, part three

(Photos are from the inside of a C-130)

Crap. I just lost two more pens. At the rate I'm going now, pretty soon I'll be writing my articles on Iraq using only my fingernails and/or blood and bird poop.

Speaking of birds, I actually saw two of them today. I think they were finches. The Kuwaiti desert is a pretty harsh environment to sustain bird-life if you ask me. (I am currently staying at a US military base gateway staging area here in Kuwait).

Today is the day I'm going to fly up to Baghdad. Or not. At 6:30 am, I dragged all my luggage over to the staging tent and prepared to camp out until I was able to secure a flight assignment, flying Space A -- space available. "Come back at 8:30," they said. And then, "Come back at 10:00 am." And then "Come back at 11" But I guess they finally took pity on me or something because I got onto the 2:00 pm flight. Or else they just wanted to get rid of me.

This morning, while waiting at line in the DFAC (dining facility), a young non-com must have seen my press badge or something or else just wanted to talk to a grandmotherly-looking type. In any case, he came over to talk to me and tell me about how he was about to go off to Afghanistan and how hopeful he was regarding his unit's future role in that country. It was real human interest stuff. Great! At last I'd found something to report about here in Kuwait instead of just cooling my heels while waiting for flights.

"You are not allowed to interview anyone here without a public affairs officer present," I was then told. Scratch that story. But what they didn't tell me was where I could find said PAO. I would have grabbed him and dragged him off with me to chase down that Afghanistan-bound soldier.

So. Now I can't find any more news here in Kuwait. But what should I do? News reporting is merely a more sophisticated form of spreading hot gossip and I was totally out of any kind of news -- unless you want to hear about finches. So I e-mailed a friend of mine back in the States. "Got any hot tips for me?" I asked, fingers crossed.

"Not, really," he e-mailed me back. "Just the usual stuff. They're sending a whole bunch of troops over to Afghanistan right now."

Define "a whole bunch."

"Jane, just shut up and listen." Who, me? "Word around Washington is that they're also sending a lot of military civil-affairs personnel there to help get Afghan schools, hospitals, sewage, etc. up and working -- to find out what the locals want and then try and get it for them." But shouldn't they have been doing that five years ago when Bush and them first invaded?

"So what you are telling me here is that a lot of the US military operations in Iraq are now moving to Afghanistan?"

"Yes." And I had to e-mail back to the States to find all that out.

"What else have you got?"

"Well, I could tell you more but frankly this is embarrassing. You're the one who's in the Middle East right now. Not me." Oh, stop whining and spill! My journalistic career is at stake here. How much longer can I keep writing about soccer jerseys?

"The US military isn't the only group that is moving to Afghanistan. They also got every kind of foreign fighter in the entire Middle East moving there too. They got Saudis, Pakistanis, Iranians and Syrians -- plus all the central Asian "Stans" are sending their fighters down there to get combat training as well.

"So. What you are telling me is that what DOESN'T go on in Iraq -- stays in Afghanistan?"

"Pretty much. As things calm down in Iraq, they seem to be heating up in Afghanistan proportionately" You mean I could have stayed home, got all that news in my inbox in Berkeley and saved all that jet-lag?

"You got anything else I should know?"

"Yes. Apparently there's a young Asian filmmaker over in Kuwait right now and she sounds like an interesting person to interview. She's been filming in Iraq since before Shock and Awe and has witnessed the whole thing -- from the days of Saddam until now. See if you can get a hold of her. I hear that she's got some amazing stories to tell." Okay. So now I have 45 minutes left before my C-130 leaves for Iraq in order to comb all of Kuwait for an Asian woman carrying a video camera. Great.

"She says that six years ago, all the Iraqis constantly told her how much they just LOVED Saddam Hussein. And now, using the exact same tone of voice and with the exact same glazed-over look in their eyes, Iraqis are now telling her how much they just LOVE the Americans."

My plane's about to leave. Gotta go.

Of course I don't have to tell you what a C-130 looks like -- or do I? When I was a little kid during World War II, we used to see these monster-sized prop planes flying low in the sky over our houses. Now those were REAL airplanes. That's what a C-130 looks like -- a REAL airplane. And they rattle and shake so badly that they aren't even scary. Everyone on board is too busy laughing.