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Starting out covering Afghanistan

April 18, 2010

My first weeks here in Washington, DC, have gone by incredibly fast (am I here for a month already?). I’m now covering National Security with a focus on Afghanistan.

I can definitely say I’ve learned so much already, and with it comes the realization of how little I actually know about this incredibly complex conflict. That’s why I’m reading lots of studies and books and talking to people who know a lot more about this – how lucky I am to be able to do that and call it my job.

Here are some of the stories I have worked on so far.

Female troops take on new role in Afghanistan – the military is increasingly seeing the value of reaching out to Afghan women and is therefore training female troops to go out into Afghan villages and work with the local population. That’s not purely for humanitarian purposes – women know a lot about their village and its inhabitant and can have information that’s of great importance to local commanders. Both Claire Russo, a former Marine and now civilian advisor to the U.S. army, and Mariam Mansury, who works with an NGO in Afghanistan, were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Read the story on the Navy Times.

Criticized contractors will remain in Afghanistan – training the Afghan police is crucial for the U.S., because its troops can only return home if the Afghan government can provide for security itself. But the program, done through a contractor, has been criticized as inefficient and lacking basic oversight.

Because both State and Defense Department are in charge of the contract, lines of accountability are blurred. The State Department has to oversee it, but at one time only had one person stationed in Afghanistan to do that — for a contract worth more than $1.2 billion dollars. Government reports repeatedly criticized this lack of oversight, and in one recent report inspectors wrote that they could not verify if more than $200 million had been spent correctly. Meanwhile, the contractor, DynCorp International, will keep the contract for at least another year until the Pentagon finds a new company to run the police training. Read the story on the Military Times or on the Medill DC website.

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