Balloons over Kunar


The Kunar river flows from the snow-covered mountains of Nuristan and Chitral down through a steep sided and stunningly beautiful valley.

There are small US military bases dotted across the province. Helicopters to and fro with an annoying repetitiveness. They have a lot to do. The main valley is safe enough, but the mountains that surround it are pretty hot. The Pakistan border is but a stone’s throw away. Away from the main roads, it’s bandit country. Above the US base by the main town of Asadabad, a large white balloon innocently floats. An aerial surveillance platform type thing, there is either a guy up there with a telescope or a load of high-tech infra-red cameras and the like. I waved at whoever it was. It’s a pretty smart idea, and sweetly forbidding.


US base and balloon. Both very very small.

There has been rampant deforestation in the area. There are still some trees on the hills, but seemingly even more in the timber-merchants in Asadabad town, where thousands of tonnes of huge baulks of old timber are piled high. We have a couple of horticultural projects in the province that I was visiting, growing fruit trees to increase people’s livelihoods and other trees to try and slowly reforest the hills.

I was standing in an orchard, basking in the sunshine and marvelling at the beauty of the place. It was incredibly tranquil and I was dreaming of setting up a hammock and settling down for the day with a book. Until the sound of heavy artillery and several machine guns boomed out from the hill above us and echoed around the valley. It wasn’t incoming, and my colleagues carried on talking as if it were nothing more than birds singing in the trees. So I nonchalantly strolled on to look at another row of mulberry saplings, and waited a while before asking what the hullabaloo was about. ‘That? That’s just the Americans practising. They’re so stupid.’ I was too preoccupied with hastily having to revise the story I’d been writing in my head to ask for more precise details of their stupidity, and anyway instinctively agreed. Surely they have enough to do for real without blasting away at the few remaining trees on the hills and shattering the peace just for the hell of it.

Later on, I tried again to ask what local people think of the Americans. ‘What does it matter what people think? They can’t do anything about them’ was about as much of an answer as I could get.


Not much analysis there then, but for a good insight into the military side of things within FOBistan,* check out Josh Foust’s recent dispatches.

*The land of the Forward Operating Base.


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