Tuesday, August 9, 2011

U.S. Mission Afghanistan: Online Outreach Curtailment Comes with New Management?

The administration's top policy engagement is Afghanistan. Of course, we are nosy; we want to know what's going on there. One of the things that makes the US Mission in Afghanistan different from say, the US Embassy Baghdad or US Embassy Islamabad, is the accessibility of information on its website and its social media outreach.

US Mission Afghanistan has come a long way from 2009 when Ambassador Eikenberry visited Kunar Province and the embassy made available pinhead sized photos of the visit in its Flickr account. Since then, its social media outreach, particularly in Flickr and Facebook has become one of the most up-to-date source of official information, VIP visits, CODEL visits, events and programs at the US Mission in Afghanistan.

In late July, the new U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker assumed charge of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

He recently went to Kandahar Province to met with met with Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar Province.  He also visited Camp Nathan Smith and the Kandahar PRT on August 6, but the official press statement did not say that. Except for a one-sentence undated press release (see below) and one photograph from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, you could easily miss this trip and the press conference (no published text available).

"U.S. Ambassador Crocker and Kandahar Governor Toryalai Weesa participate in a joint press conference during the Ambassador's recent visit to the province."

US Mission Kabul's Flickr photostream has not been updated since July 26, when the ambassador presented his credentials to President Karzai. Its Facebook page contains a statement by President Obama on the recent casualties in Afghanistan and a virtual trip of the week (to Orlando, Florida!) last week. It does not have the embassy statement nor the ambassador's trip.

And for details about the August 6 Kandahar trip, you have to look up  Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen's story and Senior Airman Sean Martin's photos of the visit for dvidshub:

 U.S. Army 1st Lt. Alexander Augustine-Marceil (left), Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team civil affairs officer, from Marshall, Wis., talks with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, from Spokane, Wash., after he addressed the Kandahar PRT during his visit to Camp Nathan Smith Aug. 6. 
Photo by Senior Airman Sean Martin

U.S. ambassador visits Kandahar province

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, from Spokane, Wash., met with Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar Province, and other provincial officials in Kandahar City Aug. 6.
The two men discussed the progress made in and the challenges still ahead for Kandahar province during the more than hour-long visit.

Kandahar is one of the most important provinces in Afghanistan. Afghanistan means Kandahar,” said Wesa. “The history and policies of Afghanistan are determined in Kandahar. A peaceful Kandahar is a peaceful Afghanistan; a developed Kandahar is a developed Afghanistan.”

This trip was the ambassador’s first visit to Kandahar province since being sworn in as ambassador last month.

“It was important for me that my first trip be to Kandahar,” said Crocker. “The role of Kandahar has been central to shaping Afghanistan. I also came here to learn.”

Wesa expressed the thankfulness of the Kandahari people for the sacrifices made by coalition forces to wrest control of the province away from the insurgents.

“Our international friends have helped us with their blood and with the lives of their youth,” said Wesa. “The people of Kandahar will never forget their sacrifices.”

Because of its historical and strategic importance, both sides are focusing on control of Kandahar province, said Wesa.

“We should not rush into withdrawing [international forces] right away,” said Wesa. “We should have them for another summer.”

“We are not going to repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Crocker. “We are committed to lead the transition [to full Afghan control] in a secure and responsible way. This time, we will get it right. We have set a timeline of 2014, but we will be engaged in your support for many years to come.”

Wesa told the ambassador that education is still a serious problem in Kandahar province.

“We need to focus on education,” said Wesa. “It used to be that the first doctors and the best doctors and the first engineers and the best engineers came out of Kandahar. It is a real problem. Those people that left should come back to lead the process forward.”

“I completely agree that education is central. That is how a democratic society is built,” said Crocker. “I congratulate you on the progress you have made. Today there are 8.5 million students [in schools] and almost 40 percent are girls. It starts at the primary and secondary levels, and then that expands into the universities.”

Crocker finished up the meeting expressing condolences from the American people on the recent deaths of municipal and provincial government officials.
“I express my sympathy and my solidarity,” said Crocker.

See, that's why we want to pay attention to what they're doing and saying out there.  Ambassador Crocker says "We have set a timeline of 2014, but we will be engaged in your support for many years to come.”

Waaaiit! What does that mean? Did he just assure the Kandahar governor that we will be footing the bill for many years to come?

In any case, don't look now ... not only are our reconstruction/stabilization folks wear combat boots, public affairs covering the embassy now also wear combat boots? I hope this hiccup has to do with personnel rotation and not a walk back of the mission's online outreach the last two years.

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