Friday, January 29, 2010

Now David Ensor Heads to US Embassy Kabul

The editor at large for The Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove, asks “Can This Man Outsmart the Taliban? He is talking about – you guess it -- former war correspondent David Ensor who is shipping out for his toughest assignment yet: helping the State Department win Afghan hearts and minds. The long article is here; quick excerpt below: 
Ensor, who spent three decades in broadcast journalism (at National Public Radio, ABC and ultimately CNN) and then 3½ years as a London-based PR executive for an oil-trading company, will operate from the heavily fortified American compound in Kabul, and get around using armored vehicles with bullet-proof windows and teams of bodyguards. He has committed to at least a year in country, and will coordinate his efforts with those of two-star Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith,  the Pentagon’s top spokesman in Kabul, and report to U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a former three-star Army general.

Ensor wasn’t the Obama administration’s first choice. Before he started discussing the position with State Department officials in November, it was offered to Asia Society executive vice president Jamie Metzl, a frequent visitor to Afghanistan and a longtime protégé of Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 41-year-old Metzl—who has been a diplomat, a member of the National Security Council, a spy novelist and a congressional candidate—has  spent a good deal of time in Afghanistan, serving as a monitor for last fall’s hotly disputed presidential election that is widely believed to have been rigged by the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. But Metzl passed when he and the State Department couldn’t come to terms on logistical issues, which I hear included the question of whether the post would carry ambassadorial rank. It doesn’t.
Ensor brings with him the street cred of a well-traveled foreign correspondent, who spent years reporting from Soviet bloc countries and the Middle East, covered wars in Chechnya and the Balkans, and boasts a deep and wide knowledge of America’s national security and intelligence institutions, especially the CIA. As a Washington correspondent for CNN during the Clinton and Bush administrations, he enjoyed top-level access to government officials, especially the longtime director of the National Security Agency, General Mike Hayden. His early career at NPR also gives him a background in radio, the key mode of mass communications in Afghanistan, and his years supervising the two dozen ABC News employees in the Warsaw bureau potentially lend him relevant management experience.
Why would he leave his comfortable life in London, to say nothing of his wife Anita and their two children, in order to put himself in harm’s way?  A mixture of career restlessness, a desire to serve his country and simple curiosity, says Dobbs. “As a journalist, you always want to know what it’s like being on the inside.”

Ensor, for now, is keeping his own counsel. “Thanks very much for your interest in my upcoming work in Kabul,” he emailed me on Sunday. “I am sorry but I am not prepared to discuss it yet. Perhaps we could talk after I have taken office, and spent a little time in Afghanistan.”

Read the whole thing here.

On a related note, somebody wrote to ask if we notice “how top heavy the Embassy in Kabul is? DCMs don't want to be called DCMs and invent new titles.” Makes one wonder whose idea this was. The top heavy front office is not unprecedented, of course, given the short history of the US Embassy in Baghdad. But that thing about inventing new titles, that may be unprecedented.

Currently we have Mr. Ricciardone as deputy ambassador at the US Embassy in Kabul. He was previously Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt (2005-2008) and Ambassador to the Republic of the Philippines and the Republic of Palau from 2002 to 2005.  We also have Joseph A. Mussomeli as Assistant Chief of Mission (he was previously Ricciardone’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the Philippines (2002-2005) and later Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia (2005-2008).  Then we have Earl Anthony "Tony" Wayne, the Coordinating Director for Development and Economic Affairs. He was previously the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina from November 2006 to June 2009.

However, the embassy’s POL/MIL guy according to the latest listing is Phil Kosnett, a senior Foreign Service officer who served three tours in Iraq. The POL counselor is Annie Pforzheimer, who might be in the SFS, too although we can't confirm it. So there’s still room for more former or current ambassador ranked officials to join the Kabul embassy team.
An email to the press office in Kabul inquiring about Mr. Ensor’s approximate arrival in Kabul and his job title has not received a response as of this writing.  With the addition of David Ensor and the civilian surge on, I supposed this makes the baghdafication of US Embassy Kabul officially on but we’re not quite there yet.

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