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Looking up

Afghanistan | Signs of the unexpected are surfacing at the front

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

Where are you, Arthur Chrenkoff? In the early 2000s, the Polish-born blogger began a series called Good News from the Front, a daily compilation of news other than what was bleeding and leading most newspapers when it came to coverage of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"There is a widespread feeling on the left that to report bad news is a duty, but to report good news is propaganda," he once said.

Along about 2005, with Fallujah at full boil and no one paying attention to Afghanistan, Chrenkoff grew weary; he turned to fiction writing and abandoned those of us hungry for Good News from the Front.

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We are hungry still. Already in 2010 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have killed at least 42 people in Afghanistan. And barely into the year 39 U.S. military personnel have died. If that weren't a grim winter toll, the Afghanistan Interior Ministry says at least 157 people have died in avalanches, as Afghans endure what may be the harshest winter in 30 years. But there is good news if you know where to look.

In Baluchan, a village 570 miles from Kabul and once in the clutch of Taliban control, British and Afghan soldiers fought a 48-hour battle that cleared the area of militants in late January. Then, as U.S. and British forces provided rings of security, about 50 tribal elders for the first time came face to face with Afghan government officials to discuss how they will work together. "The sight was quite something for me who'd been there previously and in very violent circumstances," said Patrick Hennessey, a reporter for the London Times who two years earlier had served as a British soldier in the region. "Obviously the Taliban were very frustrated."

Back in Kabul, Afghan soldiers and policemen received awards for what one U.S. army officer described as "an excellent job" in responding to the Jan. 18 bombing attack in Kabul. So many showed up to attend the ceremony the soldiers had to squeeze through the crowds to accept their awards from the interior minister.

Two weeks ago the Kabul Police Academy graduated 567 officers who completed a three-year program with bachelor's degrees. Despite reports of how difficult recruiting soldiers and policemen has been, more than 3,000 Afghans applied for just 600 slots in the newest class at the academy. Two years ago potential candidates lacked interest and tribal identities ruled; now, U.S. officers who oversee the program say, the younger generation is identifying themselves first as Afghans. "Recruitment seems to be going better than expected but corruption is still a huge deal," said a U.S. contractor in Kabul.

So are IEDs. "We keep spending more and more money and the IEDs get larger in numbers and size," said the contractor. "We have to solve it by getting the population on our side. In many areas this is being done."

And that brings us to a final bit of good news. On Feb. 9 U.S. Marines of Charlie Company working alongside Afghan National Forces captured "Five Points," an intersection of major roads in western Helmand province, located between the cities of Marjeh and Nawa. The intersection has been a key supply and transit route needed to control and thwart Taliban forces trying to hold the province.

The Marines are part of the 30,000 extra troops deployed in December by President Barack Obama, and they have already taken losses in the build-up to the offensive. But taking Marjeh, they believe, could bring down the last stronghold of the Taliban in Helmand, a province that has produced nearly half of the world's opium and loomed as the Taliban's hope for retaking the country. May more good news come.


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