Afghanistan: Quran burning protests & my trip to Zabul Province

This weekend I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the Quran burning protests taking place in Afghanistan.  I have received a few questions about whether the protests change my plans, or if they change the way I feel about my April embed with the Minnesota National Guard’s (ZADT) Agribusiness Development Team in Zabul, Province, Afghanistan.  So as to not ‘bury the lead’ the answers are: my plans have not changed and I am still eager to embed with the ZADT.

Afghan protest AP photo

Afghans shout slogans during anti-US protest over burning of Qurans at a military base in Afghanistan, in Ghani Khail, east of Kabul Friday, Feb. 24,2012 (Rahmat Gul/AP Photo)

I cannot make sense of what has taken place in Afghanistan during the past week.  I have read the facts that have been presented, but it is impossible for this civilian, Presbyterian from Minnesota to possibly come close to understanding why what happened is happening, if there is any way to ‘fix’ it, or what might happen next.  I won’t waste your time, or mine, explaining what I think.

I am getting a lot of my information about this on Twitter.  I’m new to Twitter.  Turns out what I’ve been reading since last year’s Egypt uprising is true.  Twitter really is a fantastic tool for people to pass along information as it happens, but it is important to know your source.  I’ve latched on to a reporter with the handle @combatjourno.  He’s a freelance writer in Afghanistan named Mustafa Kazemi.  His tweets contain links to a lot of stories taking place in Afghanistan.  He kicks out around 20 tweets a day so it is easy to follow situations as they are developing.

As I am following Kazemi’s reports of what is taking place, and perhaps more importantly to me, where it is taking place I feel confident that while I’m in Afghanistan I will be in places that are not currently near the sites of protests.

The cities and villages I will be in (SE Afghanistan) are not major city centers and appear to be remote enough to be an unlikely target site.  Yes, NATO and US-run bases are being targeted but I have not read any reports about violent protests taking place in the province I will be reporting from.

I believe the Quran burning protests will put me in no more danger than I was going to be in before the news of the protests broke.

In other news I received my Invitational Travel Orders on Saturday.  This is the last piece of documentation I needed to secure before I depart.  The ITO is a very important piece of paper.  In order to land a place to sleep on a base I need to present my ITO.  In order to eat at the dining facility (DFAC) on base I need to present my ITO.  Heck, I’m not even getting on a base without presenting my ITO.  The ITO and my Passport will likely never leave my person.

I have begun a very early stage of packing.  I needed to see how much my large backpack can hold so I put my camera tripod, sleeping bag, small towel, two pairs of pants and a few shirts in it to see how much room I have left.  Not much, probably room for another pair of pants, socks, underwear, shower shoes (Crocs, not flip flops) and toiletries.  My smaller pack will have all of my essential camera and computer gear.  It is a blessing that I was able to send my bullet proof vest and Kevlar helmet to Afghanistan back in January.  I’ll be traveling light.

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