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So Long 2013

December 29th, 2013 No comments
An Iraqi Army soldier mans a lonely checkpoint in Dibis District, Kirkuk Governorate, Iraq. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

An Iraqi Army soldier mans a lonely checkpoint in Dibis District, Kirkuk Governorate, Iraq. Soldiers here have to be wary of both the Dawlat al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq (Islamic State of Iraq) led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Jaish Rijal al-Tairiq al-Naqshbandi led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. These insurgent groups constantly target Iraq’s federal security forces whom they see as representing Maliki’s ‘apostate’ or pro-Iran Shia government. Aside from that constantly morphing nightmare, they are also along a sort of front line with Kurdish peshmerga militiamen. Seeing a post-Western troops Iraq gives one pause for what may happen in Afghanistan once the NATO ISAF coalition is eventually disassembled. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

New York- As the worst year of my life comes to a quiet close, I can look back and be thoroughly grateful for the two reporting trips I was able to make to Iraq and Georgia and for the friends I was able to reconnect with in Catalunya and Greece. I thank heaven for all those who graciously supported me in 2013.

This world is filled with all kinds of people from pathetic nihilists to selfish materialists all the way to gentle altruists. The former are reported on and/or lionized far too often while the latter often fail to receive the credit they so rightfully deserve.

One of the biggest events on the near term horizon slated for 2014 is of course the wobbly future of a post-Karzai, post-America/NATO Afghanistan. With a presidential election scheduled–replete with some candidates of questionable repute–for early April in which Hamid Karzai is ineligible to run for another term and the planned pullout-be it partial or total–of American troops a year from now, it is possible the Afghan Taliban’s writ in the parts of Afghan Pashtunistan that make up its power base may be reenergized.

The pull-out of the Americans would likely lead to an immediate abandonment by its NATO partner nations and others non-NATO contributors such as Georgia. Like the Kurds, the Pashtuns are one of the world’s largest ethno-liguistic groups devoid of a nation-state to call there own.

The Taliban are not akin to al-Qaeda but are rather an Islamist ethno-nationalist movement that seeks to rule Pashtunistan as it is sometimes referred and other adjacent parts of Afghanistan–and now Pakistan as the movement’s once limited ideology has continued to metastasize– inhabited by Tajiks and Punjabis. Uzbeks and Sindhis. Although of course Taliban leadership would never admit such, even though the emirate they once proclaimed back in the 1990s was within Westphalian border principals in the land they inherited and conquered.

It should be remembered that while for the West the raison d’être for its presence in Afghanistan was Mohammed Atta sitting in Tarnak Farms when he wasn’t in Hamburg-Harburg, the conflict is really one of and for the people of that region to decide. The West would be and likely have been best keeping the Afghan war a low impact intelligence effort rather than a swelling-in-troop-numbers vast boots-on-the-ground mission that ended up being more of an obstacle to genuine institution building in the ensuing years.

An effusive Sunni Punjabi taxi driver said to me the other night with great passion: “the [Pakistani] Taliban are bastards. They want to kill Shia, Ismailis, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus (all of whom are minorities in Pakistan).” And while Deobandism has planted its flag here in New York City, thus far it has not materialized as a threat (despite some close calls emanating from or tied to FATA in recent years where Deobandi ideology has traditionally held sway) the way that transnational Salafism has in terms of highly localized security issues here.

A Georgian police officer stands in a cemetery in the village of Zemo Nikozi in Shida Karli region--better known as the Republic of South Ossetia. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A Georgian police officer with an AK-74 rifle stands in a cemetery in the village of Zemo Nikozi in Shida Kartli region–the northern part of which is better known as the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. The officer looks off into Russian-occupied Tskhinvali, the “capital” of South Ossetia. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Besides the somewhat predictable events hoped for or dreaded in Afghanistan depending on one’s perspective, there will be the other likely events in the news cycle: natural disasters in the Pacific or Indian Ocean regions, mass shootings in the United States, suicide bombings or other insurgent/terrorist actions in the Russian Federation before and after the Sochi Olympics, large scale protest movements driven by economic grievances in capital cities around the world, deaths of old guard leaders, inter-religous violence mislabeled as “sectarian” forever reminding us of the impact Iraq has had on our journalistic lexicon, unabated unrest in the Sykes-Picot legacy states of the Middle East and so forth. Shaping up to be an interesting year already!

A solemn ceremonial fire on perhaps the last patch of entirely undeveloped East River waterfront land after a dozen years of Bloomberg rule in New York. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Closure. A solemn ceremonial fire on perhaps the last patch of entirely undeveloped East River waterfront land after a dozen years of Bloomberg rule in New York. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq Tags:

New York-July 4th, 2002

July 4th, 2013 No comments
New York City's first July 4th fireworks celebration after the 9/11 attacks. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York City’s first July 4th fireworks celebration after the 9/11 attacks as seen from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I normally wouldn’t photograph something as seemingly ordinary as fourth of July firework celebrations. In my early days as a photographer, I morphed from a landscape/cultural focus to war/third world internecine politics after 9/11 became an all encompassing catalyst. So on the evening of July 4th, 2002 I decided to shoot the first post-9/11 fireworks show along the East River from a north Brooklyn vantage in the context of New York’s symbolism of resilience in the wake of thousands of deaths.

Shortly after this I would be off to the next war zone in the summer of 2002–for the “War on Terror” was unfortunately well underway.

The rocket's red glare. New York in a fleeting moment of tradition and normalcy less than a year after 9/11. ©2--2 Derek Henry Flood

The rocket’s red glare. New York in a fleeting moment of tradition and normalcy less than a year after 9/11. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

In Brooklyn, well after the official fireworks, there were then the late night "neighborhood" fireworks shows often attributed to local mobsters as a display of their bravado. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

In Brooklyn, well after the official fireworks, there were then the late night “neighborhood” fireworks shows often attributed to local mobsters as a display of their bravado. Even the mafia liked to put its patriotism on display according to locals as rockets smuggled into the city flared in the sky along the Gowanus Canal. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, New York Tags:

City at the Edge of the World

June 5th, 2013 No comments
At dawn on March 3, 2003, sailors stand for attention on the deck of the USS Nimitz as it departs Naval Base Coronado to support ground forces already in the State o Kuwait that would soon invade the Republic of Iraq. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

At dawn on March 3, 2003, sailors stand for attention on the deck of the USS Nimitz as it departs Naval Base Coronado to support ground forces already in the State o Kuwait that would soon invade the Republic of Iraq. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

New York- A brief homage to San Diego, my favorite city in the world.

San Diego is many things. It is a place where one can take a mere footstep from the first world to the third world. It is the world’s busiest border crossing. It is a military town that is a heart of the military-industrial complex. It was home to two of the 9/11 hijackers. It was home to Anwar al-Awlaki who was extrajudicially killed in a drone assassination in Yemen on September 30, 2011. San Diego is the heartland of skateboard culture. And surfing and tattooing and classic cars and punk rock. It is often overlooked by Angelenos but beloved by visiting Australians where it reminds them of Brisbane or Melbourne. It is equally politically conservative and politically corrupt.

The following is a poem I wrote in landlocked Central Asia just after 9/11.

City at the edge of the world

On the ocean sits a city

At the foot of the mountains resides a people

Bridging worlds is a quiescent metropolis

Going unnoticed in the shadow Los Angeles

 

Near no war but not without conflict

Los Pobres dying to get into it

Where midwesterners seek a new life

And southern recruits yearn to start over

 

The city that sleeps shall not be short of  calm leeway

Full moon shining huge over the wide night freeway

Halfway around the world I place my home in the ideal

And when I watch the sunset from the cliffs rest assured it is very real

Families big adieu to the USS Nimitz-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier-as it heads to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region on March 3, 2003 in preparation for Operation Enduring Freedom. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Families big adieu to the USS Nimitz-nuclear-powered aircraft carrier-as it heads to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region on March 3, 2003 in preparation for Operation Enduring Freedom. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On July 4th, 2003, Charles Rhyu ollies over the cascading fountain of the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On July 4th, 2003, Charles Rhyu ollies over the cascading fountain of the Jonas Salk Institute of Biological Studies deigned by famed architect Louis Kahn in La Jolla, California, With the security being what is was, only on a major holiday could we have pulled off such a stunt in an otherwise off-limits locale. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On the morning of October 25, 2003, I awoke to find my city engulfed in smoke and ash from the Cedar Fire. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

On the morning of October 25, 2003, I awoke to find my city engulfed in smoke and ash from the Cedar Fire that began raging in northeast San Deigo County. Even paradise has its bad days. Apocalyptic would have been an understatement. ©2003 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: 9/11, Afghanistan, America Tags: ,

Twenty Years of al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya

February 26th, 2013 No comments
Although the U.S. has been in conflict with Salafi-jihadism for twenty years now, American policy can often feel stuck in 'Argo.' ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

A billboard of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on the outskirts of Tehran. Although the U.S. has been in outright conflict with Salafi-jihadism for twenty years now beginning with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which involved Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, American policy can often feel stuck in ‘Argo’ in its relentless pursuit of a post-Shah, Shia-ruled Iran and its proxies. Iran is governed by principle peculiar to modern Shi’ism known as velayat-e-faqih, “the guardianship of the jurist” which is a complete anathema to Sunnism’s al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya doctrine. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

New York- It’s been twenty long years since Eyad Ismail, Ramzi Yousef and co drove that Ford Econoline Ryder rental van through the Holland Tunnel from Jersey City and parked a massive urea urea nitrate bomb in the parking garage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Today was a quiet anniversary of an event largely forlorn in America’s national collective conscience in the shadow of the much more dramatic 9/11 attacks.

That wintry day two decades ago, the United States faced the beginning of a poorly outlined struggle against the decentralized doctrinal ideology of al-Salafiyya-al-Jihadiyya [Salafi-jihad]-a form of Islamism that articulates violent means to achieve political gains.

One of the points about the Sunni jihadi attack on New York in the winter of 1993 is that it marked an unexpected pivot from the perceived threat of highly centralized millenarian Shia revolutionaries and resistance terrorism epitomized by the rise of the clerical regime in Iran in 1979 and the formation of Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982.

This suited America’s so-called ‘moderate’ Sunni or Sunni-dominated allied nation-states just fine. These regimes could be free to espouse anything from the export of the Wahhabiyya strain of Salafism that serves at the state theology in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the Marxist-tinged radical Arab socialism emblematic of the Hizb-al-Ba’ath (Ba’ath Party) or the post-Nasserist-turned-personality cult regimes of Egypt and the Maghreb. That was of course until these ideas either collided with American foreign policy as in the case of Iraq or collapsed under their own weight as in the case of Tunisia.

A friend who was stationed for the U.S. State Department in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province-where the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing took place-and later Bahrain, privately hinted to me this view of the Shia threat had changed little at least in some official channels even while the U.S. was propping up a succession of Shia prime ministers in its Iraq project and its Special Forces had fought alongside Shia irregulars to oust the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

But while the United States has done a great deal to degrade Ba’athism by invading Iraq in both 1991 and 2003 and aiding Syrian rebels bent on demolishing the Ba’ath in Syria at present, for instance, American foreign policy still remains fixated on Iran and Hezbollah and would still not dare challenge the vitriolic Wahhabism prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula. Though it is a fool’s errand to pit absolutist wings of Islam’s great schism against one another for purely hypothetical purposes, it has been transnational Salafism that has attacked the American homeland in 1993 and 2001 and in East Africa in 1998 and Yemen in 2000. If the two fronts of radical Islamism were simplistically made analogous to the space race, Khomeini may have successfully launched Sputnik first, but it was bin Laden who put a man on the moon.

We should be reminded that the 1993 attack was connected to 9/11 through the common thread of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM as he came to be referred to in intelligence jargon-inflected reporting) who is currently in the pre-trial hearing phase of the never ending, apparently never closing saga at the sweltering detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Though Yousef and the other 1993 plotters were not known to be formally pledged members of a then fairly embryonic al-Qaeda, they certainly were connected to the Peshawar-based jihadi nexus borne out of the CIA and Saudi funded anti-Soviet jihad that took place west of the Durand Line. The radicalization of the Masjid al-Farooq in Brooklyn and its refugee center-cum-Office of Services set-up visited by Abdullah Azzam was a definite factor in the 1993 plot. While the trial of the five accused al-Qaeda men in Cuba (KSM, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ammar al-Baluchi, and Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi) is referred to by the United States government as a “9/11 trial” In sense, it dates back the events of 1992-1993 in Brooklyn and Jersey CIty involving the men linked to KSM and the original plot against New York City.

Though there are conflicts about some of the precise specifics, one of Omar Abdel Rahman’s sons, Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman was nabbed (by the CIA, the Pakistanis or a mix of the two) in Quetta, Pakistan around the time of KSM’s apprehension when Pakistani authorities were hunting KSM. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is now a free man back at home in Egypt after having been listed as one of the CIA’s “ghost prisoners” (as was KSM) in 2005. He was released by the Mubarak regime in 2010.

KSM was apprehended in Rawalpindi, Pakistan ten years ago (though alternate sources may say he was actually captured in Quetta a month prior and the news of his arrest delayed by Pakistani authorities). His and four other co-conspirators’ painfully deliberating preliminary hearings has been described as being in “discord.” From what information does come out of the proceedings, it has partly the air of a circus what with Walid bin Attash (a.k.a. Khallad) making multiple outbursts about violations of attorney-client privilege and his defense lawyer wrapped in “a black abaya out of respect to the religious sensibilities of her client” according to a Guardian report.

The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg describes the awkward goings on at Guantánamo as primarily focused on the ways in which the five suspects were captured and the conditions under which they were detained before being exfiltrated from “black sites” to the American naval base on Cuba’s southeastern coast. In other words, these proceedings are not about 9/11 .

A shop selling a model of the original World Trade Center's Twin Towers. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

A tourist shop just dozens of meters from the site of the former World Trade Center selling a model of the original Twin Towers. ©2013 Derek Henry Flood

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Half a world away from the shop in New York City, a similar shop near the base of Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia selling metal models of Southeast Asia’s twin towers. ©2010 Derek Henry Flood

Beyond 2014: Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West and the Rest

February 20th, 2013 No comments
DHFlood_Jamiati_kid

An ethnic-Tajik teenage fighter from Jamiat-i-Islami/Shura-i-Nazar on the front line between Khanabad and Konduz on November 15, 2001. These fighters, labeled “rebels” by the media at the time even though the Taliban government was only recognized by 3 states in the international community, were under the command of the now deceased Muhammed Daud Daud (whom certain reporters wrote up as Daud Khan at the time). Daud, who late became a top police chief for northern Afghanistan, was killed in what was purported to be a Taliban suicide bombing on May 28, 2011 at the Takhar provincial governor’s office in Taloqan. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

New York- On February 5th, I participated in a Huffington Post Live discussion entitled “Engaging The Taliban” (featured below) after the trilateral meeting between David Cameron, Asif Ali Zardari, and Hamid Karzai at the British Prime Minister’s country residence outside London. The topic concerned the withdrawal of NATO and ISAF troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and the idea of some kind of vague peace deal with the Taliban midwifed by Pakistan and meant to take place in Qatar. That talk inspired my lengthy article in today’s edition of Asia Times Online (at left).

Afghanistan, once a byword for forgotten backwater, has had its war become internationalized to the absurd point where even a good number of tiny non-NATO, non-Western nations like Georgia (desire to join NATO), the United Arab Emirates (business interests, Islamic hearts-and-minds credibility), and Tonga (pressed by the UK) have inserted troops. And nations like these have done so in the context of their very diverse, often non-overlapping agendas.

Screen shot 2013-02-20 at 11.20.10 AMFor Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnicities who house a sense of collective victimhood, this is the equivalent of having the fox guarding the hen house. Despite US troops and intelligence officers partnering up with warlords who were deemed “legendary” in the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom, there are certainly no angels among any of Afghanistan’s warlords of all hues despite a certain amount of rather theatric press reportage at the time. But renewed political power for the Taliban, whose enemies believe it would use to gain military power in the theater of Afghanistan’s gun-barrel politics, would be the surefire catalyst for a retro-themed civil conflict.

Some factional military leaders especially those of the Jamiat-i-Islami/Shura-i-Nazar type whose 1980s and 1990s-era leadership has suffered a string of assassinations attributed to the Taliban such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Muhammed Daud Daud in 2011, may likely be content to exact retribution in some form. Abdul Rashid Dostum– another sworn enemy of the Taliban who knows that he is on their target list–could easily fully remobilize his Junbesh-i-Milli militia when push comes to shove.

But the risks for the integrity of the Pakistani state have changed entirely since the Taliban swept in Kabul in 1996. The creeping Talibanization of Pakistan creates an entirely different calculus. Additionally anti-Shia/Hazara violence in Balochistan being carried out by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi seems to be at an all-time high, a dire crisis which Pakistan’s political leaders refuse to effectively address. All sorts of Taliban factions are now operating in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, and inflaming tensions with the very territorial, virulently anti-Pashtun Muttahida Qaumi Movement which portrays itself as the guardian of mohajir identity in southern Sindh Province.

Part of the advantage of Pakistani hegemony over Afghanistan in the 1990s was that Islamabad could have groups that it was funding or manipulating outside of its territory. Afghanistan was relegated to an obscure, abandoned backwater that was essentially a free-fire zone for regional proxy warfare. States from all over Eurasia were dragged into Afghanistan’s internecine battles.

Following 9/11, the Afghan morass brought into most if not all of the armies of the Western world. At the same time, Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus was ejected after the fall of Konduz in late November 2001. Now as the West and its allies clamor for the exits, Pakistan, Iran and other regional powers will be forced to reassess their role in the future of Afghanistan. And it does not look promising. The Pentagon would like to leave a residual number of troops behind for training and “support” missions pending an as yet unspecified status-of-forces agreement being worked out with Kabul.

Though the United States ending its combat mission in Afghanistan has made a big splash in the news, there has already been an attrition on Western troop numbers. Dutch troops packed up and left Uruzgan Province in August 2010 when the Netherlands enfeebled coalition government collapsed over the issue. The Dutch ditched their Australian partners in the home province of Mullah Muhammed Omar which created a vacuum that had to be filled by American troops. The French, now deployed in Mali in what is perceived as being a more immediate to France’s national interests, entirely abandoned their combat mission in Kapisa Province in November 2012. The final French combat troops then departed Afghanistan altogether in December 2012. New Zealand plans on pulling out the majority of its troops from Bamiyan Province by April of this year.

In the understated words of noted Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai: “2014 and the Western withdrawal will not mean Pakistan’s problems are over.”

Mali, North Korea and the Confluence of Histories

February 2nd, 2013 No comments
A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

A protestor marching on Benghazi’s corniche on March 9, 2011 defaces as 1 dinar note featuring Muammar Qaddafi to shown his disdain for the Libyan dictator at the height of the Arab Spring movement. This image to me epitomizes the concept of my article featured below. ©2012 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I had a couple of long term projects published at the end of this past week. The first was an examination of the little known history conjoining Mali in West Africa with North Korea in Northeast Asia over at Asia Times Online. I discovered this newly built part of Bamako while riding around on my fixer’s motorcycle last year when we were trying to organize a semi-doomed trip toward the front line with MUAJO et co up in Mopti Region.

Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.14.31 PMThis spot I found (linked, left) in the Malian capital is called Carré des Armées (Army Square) and it was built by a North Korean state enterprise (not as if Pyongyang encourages private enterprise). As I begun to play with the idea of doing a full length article on the topic, it dawned on me that Mali and North Korea had a shared history dating all the way back to Mali’s independence from France in 1960.

Not exactly a topic for broad mass consumption, I know, but for those who it may interest, I think it’s a fascinating topic. It also speaks to a lesser understood phenomena of how ties forged in the heat of the Cold War still can very much exist in a post-Cold War world.

The ties between North Korea and Mali certainly may have lessened over the decades and have changed in their orientation (started out as political and military in the 1960s, now more transparently financial-the same goes for Mali’s relationship with China). One of the key differences between the relationships between North Korea and China with an inherently unstable state like Mali is that seemingly no circumstances would or will derail ‘business as usual.’

Just for argument’s sake, I honestly think that if Ansar Eddine and its Salafi allies had somehow managed to capture Bamako and miraculously gain some kind of political legitimacy that over time Beijing and Pyongyang would still send delegations back to Mali to get their business interests on track. After all in 1960, the government of Modibo Keita was deemed a righteous, radical enough anti-imperialist government by Kim Il-sung and co to forge ties on the other side of the world. Maybe the anti-imperial tenets preached in the context of  Salafiyya-jihadiyya would be revolutionary enough for the Beijing’s politburo and the DPRK’s Workers’ Party of Korea to be able to keep infrastructure projects going uninterrupted. Who’s to say….

The second was a passion project nearly 14 years in the making about the history and symbology of all the war zone/quixotic regime currencies have managed to collect in my travels over the years featured in The Christian Science Monitor. It spans from an out-of-circulation Iranian rial I obtained in Tehran in 1999 to a Libyan 1 dinar note I saved from Benghazi in 2011.

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100 pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

The depiction of Philip the Arab on Syria’s 100-pound note is an indicator of the deep historical ties between ancient Iran and Syria. In a rock carving at the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis in southern Iran’s Fars Province, Philip the Arab (kneeling, far left) is shown along with the Roman Emperor Valerian the Elder (center) as they bow before the Persian king Shapur I the Great (mounted). Damascus’s employing Philip the Arab is likely no accident. Unlike the Saddam-era old 25-dinar note in Iraq depicting the Battle of al-Qadissyah showing an ancient Arab (Iraqi) enmity toward Persia (Iran)–Hafez’s al-Assad’s mortal enemy in the inter-Ba’ath rivalry–Syria’s 100-pound bill emphasized Syria and Iran’s ancient, shared history…in which Roman Arabia (present day Syria) is the supplicant. ©1999 Derek Henry Flood

Not a project that even the most ambitious young turk with a fancy master’s degree fresh out of Georgetown or Columbia could have done. It’s a bit of a blood, sweat and tears project in that sense and I was thrilled to have it come to fruition. I’ve dealt with countless fast talking money changers, sky rocketing wartime inflation, crossed borders only opened when regimes were in the process of being toppled and made all sorts of other absurd, laborious entreaties to obtain this collection.

Many of these specimens were lost for years or so I thought, until I uncovered them last fall in a musty storage locker and began to examine them one by one. I then realized they merited an article treatment on their own.

Most of these notes (except the Qadaffi-era dinar which is still in circulation pending the release of new notes by Libya’s central bank) are long out of circulation. And more importantly, each banknote tells a story both in its iconography laden artistry and in the circumstances in which I obtained it. The 20th anniversary of the Shia Islamic revolution in Iran, the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and so forth.Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 8.18.11 PM                                                                                                                                                                       

Meals Not Ready to Eat-Guns and Butter in Afghanistan

October 19th, 2012 No comments

MRE marked as a humanitarian daily ration. Packed by illegal migrants in Texas for Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan, eaten by Western journos and other war tourists. Just another of my war souvenirs.

New York- I’ve been rummaging through my archives from the terror wars era for the last week or two while working on an upcoming project on Syria and have opened a veritable Pandora’s Box in the process. The other day I found a couple of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) from the very beginning of the American-led intervention in the ongoing Afghan civil war in November 2001. These hideously bright yellow packets were being sold by traders in the smuggler’s bazaar of Khawja Bahauddin, the ramshackle town near the border with Tajikistan where Ahmad Shah Massoud had been assassinated on September 9, 2001. These preservative laden bags of glorified junk food were air dropped over ‘friendly’ (i.e. areas controlled by cash-for-allegiance warlords) parts of northern Afghanistan in what was much more a bungled PR campaign than an effective humanitarian effort.

Rural Afghans were puzzled by the squirt packs of peanut butter and stale pop tarts entirely alien to their diet. To put things in the effete terminology used by food nerds today, Afghanistan is a “farm-to-table” society where all food is de facto “organic” even though the whole country is devoid of a Whole Foods.

These plastic bags were carefully labeled in English, French, and Spanish for illiterate villagers that speak Dari, Uzbek, and Pashto, might as well have been artifacts from the Roswell crash. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that more Western journos and CIA types ended up eating these awful things than the Afghans themselves. They were manufactured by a military contractor eager to reap the early buildup of the immediate post-9/11 spending boomlet called The Wornick Company.

The Wornick Company apparently employed undocumented Mexican immigrants to pack these things. An investigation was launched after it was discovered an AQ operative had his sights set on the company’s HQ in south Texas after Wornick ingeniously labeled these packets with their company name and address. Like an AQ for dummies target.

A better holistic strategy would have been to contract an nearby Iranian company (who could have perhaps given honest work to Iran’s own resented Afghan refugees) to package pulao and freeze dried naan, you know, like, food Afghans actually eat not dissimilar to Iranian fare. Laughable as it sounds, something akin to this might have killed two birds with one stone-actually nourishing starving Afghans and engaging Iran economically.

Such a practical initiative could have opened the door to undermining both the clerical regime in Qom and Tehran during Mohammed Khatami’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” era and the still-not-going-away bomb Iran chicken hawks poisoning the present debate  in DC. But the anti-Iran agitators active in Washington today are often one in the same as the men and women who wanted to pull away from Afghanistan in 2002 (and therefore an Iran that was cooperating at the time) to focus Pentagon efforts on Iraq thereby keeping the US pitted against Iran for the foreseeable future. The maintenance of this highly negative staus quo was far  more important for those with a vested interest in keeping hostilities alive and well.

The air dropping of quintessential American foodstuffs into Afghanistan was an ill conceived plan at best and a poor use of tax payer funds. With no follow up measures to coordinate events on the ground, there was no methodology employed to ensure that the food was received by those that needed it most. Meanwhile, the few who happened upon these poorly planned c-17 borne drops would often hoard them and sell them to bazaaris who would then resell them to the strangers in their midst. There was no way to ensure appropriate and even distribution, the thing bona fide unarmed humanitarian NGOs are supposed to be most adept at.

Oh and another story going around at the time was that these clumsy airborne food drops had actually managed to kill a few unsuspecting villagers along the way. I never got to the bottom of weather that was actually true or not because to be honest I was too busy covering the war. But I was never all that comfortable with the idea of armed humanitarians. “Armed humanitarian” is a stark contradiction in terms.

The pacifist European NGOs were careening around with large decals on the side of their Landcruisers showing Kalashnikovs encircled in red with a line crossing them out while the Americans were landing armed helicopters, disgorging bulky helmeted men in camouflage, guns drawn, in the exact same political space. It all seemed like such a bad juxtaposition.

I photographed what was then a very rare daylight landing of American troops in northern Afghanistan. Until this point, the only visual evidence of American action in Afghanistan were sightings of warplanes like the C-130 aircraft high in the sky unloading 15,000 lb BLU-82 ‘daisy cutter’ fuel bombs near Taliban trenches in Dasht-i-Qala and other assorted aircraft painting their voluminous vapor trails across the clear sky. @2001 Derek Henry Flood

For background on the use and origins of the “daisy cutter’ bomb, see here  and here (brief) and here (extensive).

A B52 Stratofortress strategic bomber makes an early morning run from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean toward the frontline between Jamiat forces and Taliban trenches. Soaring over the front line town of Dasht-i-Qala on a cloudless November morning, the B52′s contrails acted as ominous skywriting. Having come from a-just-after-9/11 New York, it gave me a weird feeling to hear the deep subsonic roar of these massive, weaponized planes overhead-especially when realizing you are in a place that has no ordinary air traffic after decades of international isolation. They would wake me from my slumber in the basement of a warlord’s guesthouse where I was holed up. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

For more on the B52 component and other facets of the initial air campaign in Afghanistan, see here and here (brief) and here (extensive).

Enter the armed humanitarians. Andrew Natsios, then chief of USAID, staged a dramatic daylight landing in a duo of Chinook helicopters in Khwaja Bahauddin, Takhar Province, Afghanistan, November 2001. The local villagers and attendant refugees didn’t seem to know what to make of the latest interlopers with an agenda in their country. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An American soldier accompanying Natsios into the fray of dust and intensely curious Afghan men and boys looks exhausted and dazed. The American landing party seemed to have coordinated their daylight landing with members of Jamiat-i-Islami who arrived with antiquated rifles to keep the crowd at bay along with a French NGO called ACTED that was active in the area. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

An American soldier at the edge of the perimeter as Nastios gives an unannounced press conference to the journos who were still in Khawja Bahauddin that day. After word of the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif spread like wildfire, most people had moved further west to cover what would become the battle of Qala-i-Jangi. I think I was nearly as taken aback as the locals. Until this moment, the American ground presence in Afghanistan was strictly clandestine as far as I knew at the time, obscured in the dark of night. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

As quickly as they came, they left. The USAID chief was spirited away by his solider-guards off into the sunset to what I presumed was back to Uzbekistan. America was playing good cop, bad cop. Dropping bombs on those Afghans it deemed worthy of death and portraying the US government and contractors like Wornick as an aid organization writ large. What were average Afghans to make of all this confused messaging? ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

9/11 Cover to Cover

October 13th, 2012 No comments

New York-Going through a storage locker the other day, I dug up a lot of stuff from my personal archives in the early post-9/11 period. I collected lots of odds and ends back then thinking they’d be of historical import down the road. Here we are a decade on and its interesting (at least to me) to reexamine this stuff. Here are scans I made of magazines I collected in 2001-2002.

I believe it is important to collect and document these artifacts in time where we are inundated with so much media and where attention spans seem to be ever shortening. Each new global crisis feels like it obfuscates the previous one. It is almost as if the Arab Spring replaced the global financial crisis (such an inarticulate term) which replaced the terror wars.

This is a visual record of an indelible post-modern tragedy.

This very dramatic title epitomized the mood at that moment. There developed an extreme dichotomy at the time between what were referred to as “the everything changed-ists” versus the “nothing changed-ists.” But don’t judge a periodical by its cover. The bulk of this issue was in fact not dedicated to 9/11, just the first few front articles mostly. Whereas a New York area periodical would have been entirely dedicated to 9/11, shutting out the rest of the news cycle save for perhaps speculating about Afghanistan.

Paris Match, September 20, 2001, “The War: World Trade Center, Tuesday, 9:03 a.m., New York”

Reading the September 12, 2001 edition of the New York Times in Brooklyn. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

The September 23, 2001 New York Times magazine titled “The Remains of the Day.” A gorgeous, stark illustration of collective loss.

The October 11, 2011 edition of Paris Match “At the Heart of the War” featuring a Jamiat fighter on the front line at Bagram, Afghanistan. World media attention began to shift away from New York and toward Afghanistan when the bombing there began on October 7 of that year.

The September 2, 2002 edition of Der Spiegel titled “The Day that Changed the World.” I got this issue and the Stern below as I was leaving Hamburg, Germany after investigating the lives of the Hamburg cell led by Mohammed Atta in the Harburg district.

The September 5, 2002 edition of Stern titled “New Photos from 9/11.”

The September 11, 2002 edition of Time Europe. I took this from my flight from Hamburg to New York as I was returning home to document the first 9/11 anniversary.

New York Magazine, September 11, 2011, “One Day, Ten Years.”