Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Letters from Afghanistan

27 April 1995

After 16 years of war, including five years of bloody civil war, Kabul is peaceful. The fighting ceased on 21 March as Government forces drove the Taliban faction out of rocket range of Kabul. How long this peace will last is unclear, but the government in Kabul is looking very strong at the moment. During the last three weeks it has sunk in to Kabulis that there is peace. Countless number of shops have opened, a daily newspaper has started, music, onced banned, is now heard in restaurants. Women from wealthier families have cast aside their drab clothing and bright pink, red, yellow and blue clothes are starting to be seen.

It is strange for me having only known Kabul under siege to feel peace and calm. Over 30,000 people have been killed in Kabul and countless others wounded and maimed for life. But such is their resilience, Kabulis are rebuilding bombed homes and putting their shattered lives together. There are still about 400,000 people who need assistance and in response, 15 NGO's (non-governmental organisations) have got together and formed the Kabul Emergency programme and have a coordinated strategy to feed, restore water supply, improve sewage and rubbish collection etc. Although we (the ICRC and Federation) have not joined because we have to remain neutral and impartial because of our mandates, we work closely with them. It is a very difficult time nation wide for the Red Cross, Red Crescent movement, because we must strive to work with all factions and not be seen to be giving a disproportionate amount to one factional area in comparison to the others.

Between 11 and 17 April I went to Badakhshan, the remote north-eastern province of Afghanistan which includes the Wakhan corridor where the Pamir mountains join the Hindu Kush. Our main reason was to give assistance to the village of Qarluk which was engulfed by a huge landslide late last month. Over 350 people were killed out of the approx. 750 people living in the village. All the women in the village were killed except three and most of the children. It happened at 11 am so most of the men were out ploughing in the fields.

Due to an ecological disaster facing the whole of Badakhshan, caused by overgrazing by cattle, sheep, goats, deforestation, ploughing and planting on steep mountain slopes etc, many villages are threatened by landslides. We encouraged a number of people to evacuate and rebuild in safer places.

We also visited other districts in Badakhshan. The general situation of the 1 million or so people living here is appalling. The province borders Russian Tajikistan and there is regular conflict on the border. Russian jets have been bombing villages inside Badakhshan killing many innocent civilians. They do this saying that Afghanistan is harbouring Tajik rebel fighters. When I was in Faisabad jets Russian jets flew overhead and bombed a village 6 km away killing 6 people and seriously wounding many others. The following day Russian jets bombed neighbouring Taloquan killing over 100 innocent people. When I visited the district capital of Baharak I saw many houses flattened by Russian bombs and grieving families who had recently lost family members. In the hills behind Baharak, frightened women and children shelter in caves at night to shelter from the Russian aerial bombing. In the northern districts of Darwaz and Shegnan, famine is affecting large numbers of people. Traditional foods such as wheat is in short supply and starving people roam the country-side scavenging the land for wild flowers, tree bark, wild honey which keeps them alive. To replace the wheatflour which is the staple, people are grinding mulberries and making a flour from it. Many women and children have died of starvation and malnutrition is rife. To get news from Darwaz, 13 men from the district came to Kabul. It took them 15 days to fight there way over snow-bound passes to reach Faizabad the capital of Badakshan. It took them a further month to get to Kabul to break the news. The region is so remote and impossible to drive there from Kabul.
We had to wait over a week to get suitable weather to fly. Once there we travelled on mountains tracks for some of the way by Jeep and then walked and rode horses. We have mounted a major relief operation to assist the people of
Badakhshan. We flew in 700kg of medical supplies plus food and key items. I am also awaiting a charter plane from Iran with further relief supplies. In addition, I have sent a very urgent report to Geneva imploring them to inform the international community; governments and NGO's etc.

However, despite the tragedy unfolding, one can't but help notice the incredible beauty of the high mountains of the region. We were in the region north of the Hindu Kush and travelled through the Kohi Xaja Muhammad (range) which goes up to 5000m. As we crossed the high passes the massive bulk of the Hindu Kush was closeby to the south. Huge hanging glaciers spill from the high summits and the jumble of rock, ice and glaciers give this part of the Hindu Kush shape and form unique to the Greater Himalayan chain. Kush.

For the first week of April I was in Nangahar and Laghman provinces in the east of Afghanistan where we have ARCS branches. I think I wrote a little about that in my last letter.

I find that most days while I am working I find something which shocks, saddens or makes me very happy. Today I went with Ahmed Gizo to the Kharte Se hospital in the west of Kabul. On arrival we visited the men's ward which had 80 patients packed in. About 35 of them have had legs blown off during the past week by land-mines. Most of them are in a lot of pain as they have to regularly soak the open stumps in plastic bags of iodine to prevent infection until the final operation is done and the healing takes place. As I was talking to one man who had both legs blown off above the knee just two days ago, a nurse dipped the raw stump which looks as if someone had just chopped his leg off with a meat cleaver exposing bone, muscle and flesh were raw - as his stump touched the iodine he let out a piercing scream and then cried like a baby for some time after wards. I have seen thousands of people of all ages with legs blown off in the last 18 month and I find myself getting very angry with the countries that produce these weapons of destruction, and the armies that use them. However my anger subsided later when I visited the Red Cross orthopeadic centre were artificial legs are made and fitted. My good friend Alberto from the Italian Red Cross runs the centre. He has been doing the job for five years and employs about 150 local staff who do brilliant work producing , limbs, wheelchairs and crutches. There are three other Red Cross orthopeadic centres in Afghanisatm.

Writing these letters keep me sane.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mountain lakes bursting in the Allai Mountains

The catastrophic collapse of the walls of high mountain lakes at the foot of glaciers, or sometime underneath glaciers, has caused a huge loss of life throughout history. Here is one example I was involved in in 1998 in Central Asia and saw the effects of similar ones in Afghanistan.

Five to six hundred people are still missing and feared dead, and many more are homeless after the Ak Su and Shahimardan rivers burst their banks on the Kyrgyzstan/Uzbekistan border on the night of 8 July 1998.
At least 90 deaths have been confirmed by authorities in Uzbekistan and at least a dozen in Kyrgyzstan. The waters swept away homes, bridges and power supplies in the Fergana Valley catching people as they lay sleeping in their beds.
The Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan (RCSU) reported only 43 bodies have been identified. The remainder are believed to be holidaymakers who will be difficult to trace. More than 400 people have had their homes swept away and have lost everything. The Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent Society (KRCS) reported 100 people were left homeless when their houses were destroyed with another 100 whose houses were partly damaged.
KRCS and RCSU officials were amongst the first assistance to arrive on the scene. They organised temporary accommodation in schools and other institutions in the area for those left homeless and are also supplying bedding and clothes as well as psychological assistance. A Federation relief coordinator is in the affected area and the Federation has released 30,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF).
The funds are being used to buy food for the flood victims, shoes and hygiene materials such as soap and detergent. The flooding occurred when a high mountain lake at the foot of the Allaudin Glacier in the Alai mountains of Kyrgyzstan could no longer contain the enormous volume of water from melting snow. The affected area, south of the city of Fergana, straddles the border and includes an Uzbek enclave within Kyrgyzstan.
The region is remote and mountainous, making access and communications extremely difficult. Whilst the emergency has probably reached its peak, the rivers have not yet shown signs of abating. "This is a continuing problem in the highland areas of Central Asia. The rocks crumble easily. A large build up of moraines at the end of the glacier retains water until the ice holding them together melts. This winter we have had particularly heavy snowfalls and now the weather is very hot. There are no longer government funds to support monitoring stations in the mountains which would have provided a warning. In these circumstances, we may have many more of these floods." said Bob McKerrow, Head of the Federation Regional Delegation in Almaty, a mountaineer and expert in mountain systems.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Beyond the call of duty

Here is an artcle I wrote way back in 1996 about our work in Afghanistan

Up against insurmountable odds, the staff and volunteers of the Afghan Red Crescent have not faltered in their devotion to duty. A Federation delegate describes how working with them has helped him renew his own commitment to the Red Cross and Red Crescent cause.
When in December 1993 I first visited Abdul Basir, head of the Afghan Red Crescent’s International Department in Kabul, one wall of his office had been blown out by a rocket a few days earlier. Fortunately, Basir was not in his office at the time. A blanket, flapping in the wind, served to keep out the winter cold. All the windows were shattered, which made it easier for destitute women queuing outside to put their heads through to attract Mr Basir’s attention.

As I was talking to Basir, one of his staff rushed in. He urgently needed to make a photocopy of an important document for a young orphan who was travelling overseas for medical treatment. Basir dug deep into his pocket and gave 1,000 Afghanis of his own money to his colleague who walked the 30 minutes into the city centre to make the copy.

At the time the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) must have been one of the few, possibly the only, National Society headquarters in the world without electricity. This meant no lighting, no telex, no fax machine and no photocopier: in short, virtually no contact with the outside world.

In addition, Abdul Basir had not been paid for six months, owing to a collapse of traditional fundraising sources brought about by 15 years of conflict in Afghanistan. But he, along with his 350 colleagues at the ARCS national headquarters, still came to work daily knowing there would be no pay at the end of the month. A number of staff members had to move their families from Kabul to safer parts of Afghanistan or to Pakistan and are lucky if they see them once a year. Those who have chosen to keep their families with them have been forced to move three or four times in the last two years as the conflict switched from one side of Kabul to the other.

Fortunately, through the support of the Federation and the ICRC and the generosity of National Societies, things have improved dramatically since that day in December when I first walked into Abdul Basir’s office. The old generator has been repaired and the once dim rooms are brightly painted and equipped with heaters to warm the winter air. The British Red Cross has built a workshop where a large fleet of vehicles is serviced regularly. Staff now receive an incentive allowance from the Federation in lieu of a salary until traditional fundraising sources can be reactivated.

An exemplary commitment

The lack of modern equipment and conveniences and the enforced separation from their families notwithstanding, the ARCS staff and volunteers provided assistance to 1.25 million beneficiaries in 1994.

“Commitment of this kind is common within the Afghan Red Crescent Society,” said Sakhi Dad Fayez, President of the ARCS. Evidence of it is everywhere. When I visited Samangan in northern Afghanistan, the ARCS clinic there was still operating. Despite the fact they had not received supplies or salaries for a year, Dr Hasamudin Hamnawa was still at his post with two nurses and a pharmacist. When I asked why he had stayed, he replied, “It is our duty. The Jihad (holy war) is over. Now it is up to us educated people to help rebuild Afghanistan.

Similar stories abound and they make Federation delegates like myself question and renew our own commitment to our work. Many times I have asked myself: “Would I still be working in Afghanistan if I hadn’t been paid for six months?” I know the answer.

The commitment is not only evident among the full-time staff in Kabul, but pervades the ranks of the volunteers. “Over the past nine months, up to 150 ARCS youth volunteers have been working in Kabul,” says Farooq Jalalzay, the National Society’s head of Youth. “Most are highly trained first-aiders who work as volunteers in ARCS medical clinics and take part in relief distributions, survey work and social programmes.”

In January of this year, Abdul Habib, a 28-year-old Red Crescent volunteer was killed when caught in cross-fire as he was going to help distribute relief supplies. He left behind a wife and four children under the age of ten. Two months later, an ARCS headquarters staff member from the publications department was killed by a rocket on his way home from work. He, too, left behind a wife and two children.

The heart of a volunteer

Recently I accompanied Abdul Basir on a difficult field trip to the mountain village of Qarluk in Badakshan. The village of 750 people in the remote Hindu Kush had been hit some days before by a monstrous landslide that killed over 350 residents. All except three of the women in the village had been killed, along with a number of children.

As we arrived in Qarluk, the survivors of the landslide, mainly men, were huddled together in an atmosphere of grief and bewilderment. Basir hugged them one by one and then spoke to them with compassion and dignity. He told them that we in the Movement were grieving with them and that they must take heart. Basir, in his humble way, gave those men hope at a time when their whole lives had been plunged into darkness and despair.`

The next day, after distributing relief supplies to each surviving family, he mounted a borrowed horse and rode over a high mountain pass to two other villages in the next valley of Teshkan, where 7,000 people were under threat from a tottering mass of rock and mud high above their homes. Basir gave the village leaders support and encouraged them to evacuate immediately. Then he walked two hours along a path on the precipitous mountainside before regaining the track and his horse.

A simple man, sporting peasant clothes, a bushy beard, sparkling eyes and an ever-ready smile, Basir’s heart is too big for his own good. At the beginning of May, Abdul Basir travelled to Seoul, South Korea, together with a young ARCS volunteer, Zaheer Shah, to represent the ARCS at the Asia-Pacific Volunteer Convention. When he was invited to go, he said, “I shouldn’t be going. I am not a volunteer.” I laughed, answering, “You may have a full-time position, but you weren’t paid for six months. I think you qualify as a volunteer.”

Bob McKerrow

Friday, January 4, 2008

ALEXANDER OF MACEDON (330-327 B.C.) His time in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries

The first Europeans to set foot in the mountains of Central Asia were the troops of Alexander the Great. The ghost of Alexander broods like a Colossus over the mountains of Asia, his influence still a force to be reckoned with after more than 2000 years
Greeks like Alexander of Macedonia - Alexander the Great - who was an explorer truly worthy of that name. More than a warlord, Alexander was a seeker of the truth. He took with him on campaigns geographers, engineers, architects, botantists, historians
, and "steppers" to count their paces as they traveled, and thus judge the distances...(later)Two of his many momentus achievements were crossing the Hindu Kush and navigating the Indus River. The bleakly beautiful mountains of the Hindu Kush, along with the Himalayas and Pamirs, create a formidable barriers between the sub-continent of India and the rest of Asia. Alexander, eager to mount a surprise spring offensive against the Persians in Afghanistan, led his army through the mountains on a 1,700-mile march. Autumn passed, the winter brought bitter winds, ice, and snow. The men struggled on until snow blocked their passage. then camped until the spring of 329 BC, where they made their way through an 11,000 foot pass to cross the Hindu Kush. Reaching the Oxus River, swollen with spring's melting snow, they filled their leather tents with straw and used them as rafts to float across."

The Achaemenid Empire was left in tatters after Alexander the Great and his armies conquered the Persian Empire.The last Achaemendid King, Darius III, had been murdered by Bessus his ally from Bactria.

Bessus had also taken the titles of the Achaemenid kings which enraged Alexander who sought to find and kill him. Alexander, the pupil of Aristotle

These early inhabitants of Aghanistan must have developed rudimentary mountaineering skills but it wasn't till the year until 330 year BC that Alexander the Great, brought people who could be called trained mountaineers. They were trained in cliff assaults, ladder climbing and rock climbing and as his campaign progressed they accumulated knowledge of snow and ice through trial and error,

With 20,000 foot soldiers and 3000 horsemen directly under his command Alexander set out for modern day Afghanistan from Zadragarta near the Caspian Sea. He crossed the border into Badghis province and forcemarched his men towards Aria (Herat) that would have got him to Bactria quicker, as the passes do not reach the height of the Hindu Kush, but he was drawn southwards " to make a southerly sweep so as to reduce to submission all tribes north of the desert and west of the Arachotian ranges." (Dodge) Before he reached Prophthasia ( Farah) Alexander met a tribe which he couldn't catch, as they retired to the tree-covered slopes of a mountain with a steep precipice on the other side. " As he had little time to delay, and as the wind was blowing towards the mountain slope, Alexander contented himself with settting the woods on fire, and thus drove the barbarians over the precipitous cliffs." (Dodge) He then travelled to another city he named after himself, Alexander in Arachosia, modern day Kandahar. It was now early november and the first winter snows had arrived. and while crossing a range north-east of Kandahar, his army suffered from toiling relentlessly through the snow and the shortage of bread. Fortunately tribes in the area gave them foodstuffs in return for being left alone. From here the scenery changed as he entered the beautiful Cophen river(Kabul River) in the valley called Nicea,( Kabul Valley). Modern day Kabul is 1700 metres above sea level and is very cold in November and it is hemmed in by high snow-clad mountains and to the north by even higher mountains, the Hindu Kush.

Parapamisus was the name Alexander gave to Hindu Kush, and today the Parapasmsus still graces the map of Afghanistan, but today starts on the Iranian border and stretches through the western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor.

It was now late November and Alexander wisely decided not to cross the Hindu Kush and instead wintered over in another city named after himself, Alexander ad Caucasum, modern day Jebal Seraj, 35 km north of Kabul.. Alexander had the choice of crossing the Hindu Kush by a number of passes. But being a shrewd tactician he speculated that his enemy Bessus would have expected him to come by the easiest pass, so to confound him, he chose the more difficult Khawak Pass.

Alexander waited until the worst of the winter weather had passed but he couldn't wait any longer and set off before the winter snows had melted (Probably late March) His army marched up the Panjcher valley and suffered terribly from cold and severe food shortages. Marching through the sheer-sided Panjcher gorge which marks the entrance of the long valley, there would have been layers of frost as the sun touches the ground for a mere few minutes at this time of year.They climbed up to the Khawak Pass where many soldiers fell by the wayside with snow blindness or exhaustion and were abandoned. The Khawak Pass is 11,640 feet and on a cold windy March day temperatures can drop to - 30oC. Dodge describes it thus: "The ancient historians dismiss this march with a few words; but it has no parallel, except Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, and it is the first undertaking of the kind of which we have any record. Hannibal, from unexpected delays, started too late in the fall; Alexander from overeagerness, started too early in the spring. Both contended with heavy snows, and suffered from their attendant trials."

The snow was still deep, the cold was intense, food was scarce and fuel non-existent. The men, struggling through drifts up to their armpits, suffered terribly from exhaustion, snowblindness and frostbite. Literally in their thousands they were frozen solid to the rocks as they leaned against them. The horses and pack-asses suffered an even higher ration of casualties, but at least their bodies, eaten rawbecause there was no fuel to cook them, provided the troops with food. Alexander lost more men and more animals crossing the Hindu Kush than all his subsequent campaigns in central Asia.

Once over the pass they discovered the region had been devastated, the houses burned and the flocks moved. According to accounts the snowline was ten to twelve miles below the pass but Alexander's troops had to march 40 miles through treachorous snow banks. Fifteen days aftyer crossing the Khawak Pass they reached the first Bactrian village of Anderab. All the horses had perished but there is no account of how many men Alexander lost. At Anderab Alexander let his men recover and soon marched to the fruit-laden plains of Bactria.

Alexander wintered at Nautaca in BC 328-327. By this time he had conquered and sudued Bactria and Sogdinia, but there remained a few rocky fortresses held by rebel chiefs. One such chief, Oxyartes had fortified himself on the Rock of Arimazes or Sogidan Rock.

By the time Alexander reached the famous Sogidan Rock (over the border from modern day Afghanistan in Tajikistan) had men had shown their skills of climbing walls and rocks by using various scaling ladders Impatient as ever, Alexander set of for this impregnable fortress, built on a rock jutting out from the side of a mountain, with vertical cliffs. The long trek in late winter was full of difficulties and they encountered terrible storms. During one storm he lost 1000 men but Alexander was a man of great energy and courage as he cheered and cajouled them on. When he arrived at the Rock of Arimazes it looked impossible, there seemed to be no approach. Snow was plastered to the rocks which made it nigh on impossible to scale. Alexander with his usual bravado called the inhabitants on the rock to surrender with the promise of free exit and safety. The reply he got was that they only feared winged soldiers. This angered and also spurred Alexander on. Quickly he sent a herald through the camp offering prizes of 12 talents to the first man who succeeded to climb the rock and to the rest and a descending scale of rich prizes to the others who got ot the top. There were a number of expert mountaineers who over the long duration of the campaign had learned to scale icy slopes, cross snowbound passes and had received training on how to climb walls and cliffs.. Three hundred men volunteered. Equipped with ropes and tent pegs, they commenced a night assault. at midnight. To gain purchase on the ice covered rock the men drove pegs into cracks in the rock or into the ice or frozen ground. Gingerly they gained height. During this incredibly dangerous night operation 30 climbers fell to their death. Later, due to the steepness and the ledges where the bodies lay, they could not be recovered. But by dawn a number of climbers had scaled the heights and waved their white scarves to signal their success. Alexander had again done the impossible. No doubt full of pride and relishing his victory, he called out to Oxyartes to look at his winged soldiers and sent a herald to the gates asking him to surrender.

The position gained may not have had any particular value in compelling this; but, astonished beyond measure at being this outdone, and imagining the men on the rocks above to be much more numerous than they actually were, and fully armed, the whole thing savouring, moreover, of the supernatural, with which Alexander's name was uniformly connected, the demand was complied with.
Not only did Alexander gain a victory he also captured the daughter of Oxyartyes, Roxana, claimed by the Macedonians to be the most beautiful women in the east. Alexander fell in love with her and treated her with great dignity, and later married her. This shows the tender side of the ruthless Alexander for he also forgave Oxyartes and elevated him to a senior position..

Not content with this victory, Alexander marched on towards the Rock of Choreines in the land of Paraetacians, a mountainous region of the upper Oxus. The Rock was inhabited by Chorienes an old friend of the recently captured Oxyartes. It was early spring and Alexander's chroniclers describe the march over the snow-clad mountains in horrific terms; frequent storms lashed the mountains, food shortages dogged them throughout a an unspecified number of his men froze to death. Alexander who was always tough in spirit and body 'shared the labours of his men' but he could not prevent then giving up. These mountain treks of Alexander are remarkable that he choose late winter or early spring when the opposition were least expecting him. It is related that after one days march Alexander was warming himself by a fire when a frozen Macedonian in armour was brought in almost dead. Alexander gave him his seat at the fire and the man soon recovered. On regaining consciousness the soldier was surprised and frightened to find himself in the great king's place. Alexander looked at him and said, "Look you, comrade, among the Persians, to sit on the king's seat entails death. To you.a Macedonian, it has brought life."

The Rock of Choreines is about seven miles circumference at the base. The only route up the mountain was a by a narrow track that would take only one man abreast and could easily be defended.. The only way the mountain could be ascended was by a sheer face,cut off by a deep gorge through which rushed a wild mountain torrent. Here Alexander was in his element surveying another virtually insurmountable objective. He had to bridge the wild water to get to the base of the face and this he acheived by cutting down nearby pine trees and making ladders by which his troops descended to the river bed. From this base Alexander instructed his men to build a a trestle work of covered galleries to protect the men from attacks above. The whole army worked day and night and before long height was made. In these early stages the inhabitants of the Rock laughed at the feeble efforts of the Macedonians, then soon the realised they had been out-witted. as the structure began to rise topwards them, The structure was covered with screens and roofs which prevented attacks from above, while from below Alexander's men were able to fire upwards with their sling machines, bows and slings, killing and wounding many of his enemy. Alexander's gamble paid off and Chorienes surrendered and his men discovered enough food to feed his entire army for two months.

Alexander returned across the present day Afghan border to Bactra well, satisfied with his conquests.

Winter passed and in the spring of 327BC, Alexander's thoughts turned to the fabled riches of of India. The route he chose was over the Hindu Kush by an easier pass this time, the Kushan Pass (Is this Ali's Kaoshan Pass, 14,340 feet? )to Alexander ad Caucasum. It took him ten days to complete the trip on an improved track with adeqaute food supplies. From here he marched into Nicea (Kabul) in the Cophen (Kabul valley) valley. He has with him 135,000 men welded together from remnants of his original Hellenic army to a force that comprised largely of Central Asians.

After six year Alexander had gained a lot of experience in the mountains of Afghanistan and modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and rashly thought he would quickly get to the Indus River by way of passes through the the various mountain ranges. First he dispatched Hephaestion and Perdiccas along the true right of the Kabul River, through Gandara( the valley running from Peshawar to Taxila) Meanwhile Alexander took the more difficult route to the northern side of the Kabul River where he proposed he would "reduce all the strongholds in the mountain passes." so he could control the Kabul Valley. The main party stayed in the main river valley while he sent fast moving detachment up the side valleys.

To the north bank, mountains come down in huge scallops from Kafirstan. The Choes or Choaspes (Kunar)the Euaspla and the Guraeus........What is obvious is that Alexander had conact with the tribes of Kafirstan (Nuristan) Laghman, Kafirstan where he drank wine) He left the people of Kafirstan free but invited young Kafir soldiers to join him the Kafirs did not want to return with Alexander, they preferred their mountain home in Nuristan. Kunar River. Here he travelled through modern day Nuristan, Laghman and Kunar to the Nawa Pass into the Bajaur river to Timargarha

He then crossed the Chakdara Bridge across the Swat River and from here Alexander attacked and pludered the towns of Bazira (Birkot Hill) and Ora (Udegram) Since leaving Aleandria ad Caucasum the last months of his campaign had been through high alpine areas of modern Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar with many hards battles with local tribes

With Taxila in his sights, one thought he would be content to proceed directly down the Indus but no, he had one final battle, the people who had fled from Bazira Ora and elsewhere had gathered at a remote site, the Roc of Aornus.

At Birkot Hill and Udegram Stein identified the sites of the ancient towns of Bazira and Ora, which Alexander sacked after reaching the Swat from Bactria and Sogdiniana in 327BC Stein puzzled that refugees from Baziar and Ora wiould hav
e sought a remote place such as the Rock of Aornos. His reckoning from his explorations and talking to locals led him to an Alpine plateau of Pir Sar, above Indus near Besham, and a peak beyond that bore the name Una.

After his exploits in the Swat valley. Alexander travels down the Indus and crosses the Indus near Attock and on to Taxila where the King passively submits to him in the Spring of 326 BC. Next he marches towards Hydaspes where Porus the ruler of the Punjab, puts up a great fight against Alexander. Finally he is defeated and Alexander an admirer of brave men, restores him to power. Here his men refuse to go further. They retreated by sailing down the Indus and then proceeds towards Persia across the dry and deadly deserts of Gedrosia (Baluchistan). The march across the desrt last 60 days during which he loose a large number of soldiers perish.

Alexander reached Babylonia in 324 BC where Ambassadors from neighbouring countries came to pay homage. With thoughts of plans and conquests in his mind, his next destination was Arabia. However in June 323 BC Al;exander falls ill with a raging fever, and dies on June 28 323, at the age of 33.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

28 years ago today in Afghanistan

1980: Afghan leader defends Soviet invasion
The new president of Afghanistan, Babrak Karmal, has made his first public appearance since the Soviet-backed coup last week.
Speaking in Kabul, Karmal told foreign journalists that Soviet troops are defending his country "against outside threats".

The former leader of the People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan's (PDPA) Parcham faction went on to accuse the US of "provocation and lies".

Today, President Carter has announced further US sanctions against the USSR including a reduction of Soviet embassy staff and restricted landing rights for the Russian airline 'Aeroflot'.

Mr Carter has also imposed an embargo on grain sales to the USSR that will see US exports fall from 25 million to eight million tonnes.

Forces airlifted into Afghanistan

The President described the Soviet incursions into Afghanistan as, "an extremely serious threat to peace" and "a callous violation of international law and the United Nations charter."

He warned that, "A Soviet occupied Afghanistan threatens both Iran and Pakistan and is a stepping stone to possible control over much of the world's oil supplies."

Russian forces were airlifted into Afghanistan on Christmas day under the pretext of upholding the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978.

By 27 December 1979 Hafizullah Amin had been executed and replaced as head of state by Karmal.

In Moscow the new Afghan foreign minister, Shah Mohammed Dost, has been in talks with his Soviet counterpart, Andrei Gromyko.

The UN Security Council is expected to meet in New York at the weekend to discuss the situation. UN secretary general, Kurt Waldheim, has returned from the hostage crisis in Iran to attend.

In Context
This was the first Soviet military expedition beyond the Eastern bloc since 1945.
It signalled an end to the period of d├ętente in the Cold War and the SALT II treaty was shelved as the US began to re-arm.

The USSR was under internal and external pressure to act. The US and 12 other members of the UN Security Council defined their actions as an invasion.

Only East Germany and Afghanistan joined with the USSR in favour of their military presence.

Afghanistan became a key battleground of the Cold War as both superpowers flooded the country with arms through their various clients.

The Afghan war lasted until 1989, cost one million lives (out of a total population of 13 million) and produced five million Afghan refugees.
From the BBC

What I continually ask, did anyone learn from this ? It appears not.