20 July 2014

Partners in Democracy—and the Pictures to Prove it

I am a democrat and a counterinsurgent.

A monumental effort has been made by the West to ensure that this Afghanistan election business comes off smoothly. (Mission fail, so far. What appeared to be a major victory for democracy, NATO, and the Afghan People has become a circus. )

The latest in that effort was seeing the ballots safely to Kabul, where the venerable Independent Election Commission would conduct a thorough audit. I'm not going to get into how the commission performed up to this point, or why the runoff was necessary. That story has been told elsewhere. Here is a good version.

The armistice that Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated between the two candidates included the provision that ISAF would transport the ballots to Kabul. That meant that every zip-tied box needed to be taken to the regional command hubs (Kandahar Airfield in the south) to be flown by C-17 to the capital.

When John Kerry speaks, NATO generals listen. We tripped all over ourselves to make sure that it happened.

In they came a couple of morning ago. Armored trucks? Nope.

Jingle trucks.

Ten of them. 7,000 kilograms in total of boxed ballots. The Afghans unloaded them onto US Air Force pallets. NATO troops stood watch and guard. Civilian contractors tied them down and loaded them onto the aircraft.

And I took pictures. Moving pictures, even.

Unfortunately, the images are not releasable (Except for the jingle trucks-- no ballots were in view; ballots are like porn. We have to censor  anything that appears to show ballots).

Seems like a great story, right? ISAF does its part to ensure an objective and thorough vote audit. The observers from each of the opposing campaigns and the IEC were there to confirm that ballots loaded were ballots actually submitted last month-- untampered.

ISAF personnel were not even allowed to touch the bins. At one point a C-17 made a routine turn on the tarmac to get on the runway. Its jets roared and spit out a hurricane in our direction. Strong gusts of hot air and exhaust bellowed toward us-- and the stacked ballots bins. Over they went.

The airmen who were overseeing the palletization went to the rescue (Mission First!) but were ordered away. The Afghans had to re-stack them, lest a point of contention be raised during the recount.

One day I will show you these pictures that prove the ballots-- or what appear to be ballots-- made it from the outlying districts all the way to KAF and onto a jet. One day, long after the next president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is chosen, irrespective of the actual vote count, you will see the pictures that prove I was there.

Doing my part for democracy.


  1. That's an incredible experience to be there photo journaling such historic events as they take place! I love the pictures of the jungle trucks.

  2. History in action. I'd like to see the pictures of the ballots some day, but for now the jingle truck pictures will suffice. Very cool.