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Getting Through Kabul

Szöveg: Anikó Farkas and 1st Lt. Balázs Iványi |  2012. december 9. 6:06

For the first time, we have left the secure military camps to visit the dozen Hungarian logisticians who are mentoring the training of the Afghan National Army (ANA). A 30-minute drive through Kabul, Afghan privates learning to cook, and gunmen on the highway. Reporting from Afghanistan.

Highway Seven, also known by its old name as Jalalabad Road, is one of Kabul’s arterial roads. (As we learn at a later point, after an orchestrated series of attacks against the gates of the coalition forces’ camp there, Jalalabad is only two hours’ drive from here on this road.) The traffic is very heavy in every hour of the day: this highway with a central reservation and two times two (unofficially two times three) lanes is one of the city’s busiest routes, which connects the KAIA with many other camps in Kabul, among them the French-run Camp Warehouse, where the Hungarian Logistic Mentor Team is stationed, and whence it goes to work. We are heading for this camp on the non-bypassable Highway Seven in a convoy. The briefing before the start has revealed that the security level on that day was orange, which means that anything can happen, but there is no information on any direct ambush plans.

A question of trust

To win the trust of the civil Afghan population, the city is in principle off limits for closed convoys, which means that the distance to be kept must be so big that a civilian car can travel between two military vehicles. Needless to say, things are altogether different in practice. The motor vehicle column is zigzagging among the cars so it can leave the busy road section behind as soon as possible, not giving the civilian cars a chance to get into the lane. The soldier’s precaution is understandable, as the calm of the carefully guarded camp immediately disappears on entering the city, due to the still frequent attacks. Nevertheless, we can immediately perceive the actual signs of trust radiated towards the Afghans as soon as we arrive at our first destination, the logistic training base of the Afghan National Army (ANA), where Hungarian and Croatian soldiers serve as mentors.


Take off the ballistic vests – suggests Maj. M as we are arriving at the ANA base, adding that we would radiate mistrust if we kept the body armors on inside a facility guarded by the Afghans. The interesting thing in the situation is that most of the recent ambushes were carried out against the ANA units and not against the troops of the coalition forces.

Making the bed

Inside the camp, mentored by Hungarian soldiers, Afghan trainers are instructing the 10-20 year-old boys in the basic techniques of military logistics in 6-8 week turns. They are learning to cook, to drive and repair military vehicles and to organize movements. The basic rules of hygiene must be taught to many of them too; during our stay, the trainers are just explaining the tricks of proper bed-making for the hundreds of soldiers.

Teaching them to cook is the most difficult task of all, because in this culture cooking is only the women’s job, the major explains. The well-prepared instructor cadre is of little avail, because they are rather poorly equipped with the equipment for mastering these practical skills. “Although it falls outside our remit, we are doing our best to acquire teaching aids or material for upgrading the equipment of the camp", Maj. M says, pointing to the insulation of the water tanks atop the washing containers. The Hungarians brought the insulator and the tanks were covered on their proposal.

Of course, a good pedagogical-psychological sense is needed to put ideas like this into practice, as they are trying to sell all those proposals so that the commander can feel that the idea just popped into his head.


“The complete lack of follow-up activities is the biggest problem", the major says. After the training, the boys leaving the camp are lost among the ANA units or on the way to them. Nobody can say how many men join the units, how many of them remain soldiers or again, how many of them use the knowledge acquired here in siding with the insurgents.

Lt.-Col. Mohammad Salim Ahmadi, the commandant of the camp receives the Hungarian journalists in his tent, and tells them how much they like the Hungarians. In his opinion, the withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan will not cause any problems. The unity of the country strengthened after the Soviet withdrawal too, he stresses.

Gunmen on the road

It takes us a short drive to get from the ANA base to Camp Warehouse, where we spend our time with having a conversation in the accommodation area of the 18 Hungarian soldiers (completed with the recently arrived rotation). It is getting dark, and the drivers’ brow starts furrowing as the sky is darkening. They don’t like to drive by night because the chaotic traffic is even more difficult to follow in the dark, and as they tell us, cars often travel here without the lights on in the wrong lane. As if we were talking of the devil, the traffic is very heavy, so our convoy has a hard time staying together. Out of the blue, a car stops in front of the just overtaken articulated lorry, and as we are drawing alongside it, two armed Afghans get out of it quickly. Before we could say anything, our driver steps on the gas, yelling “Let’s get out of here fast!", and the convoy continues to zigzag in the traffic lively, leaving the angry locals behind, who eventually wanted to settle a conflict in the opposite lane, adding weight to their word by drawing their guns. Events like this happen every day, the soldiers later tell us.


Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák (MTI)