The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Afghanistan’ Category

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows Yemen holds a special place in my heart. Its diverse landscape is breathtaking and its rich history is virtually untouched after centuries. But what I love most about Yemen is, hands down, its people (its food comes in a distant second!) They smile from inside, even though they face a great deal of adversity, militants roam freely by land and foreign drones hover above them. This report, from my latest visit to Yemen, explores that latter phenomenon — U.S. drones — and argues that the their existence alone is causing profound psychological detriment to a nation. (photos in the piece are also by me)

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

On the ground in a country where unmanned missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurrence

By Vivian Salama
April 14, 2014


….As the sun began to set on that fateful winter day, the line of SUVs and pick-ups, decorated with simple ribbons and bows for the [wedding], set off for its 22-mile trip. But as the procession came to a standstill to wait on some lagging vehicles, some of the tribesmen claim the faint humming sound they typically heard from planes overhead fell silent.The emptiness was soon filled with the unthinkable. “Missiles showered on our heads,” Abdullah says, moving his hands frenetically. “I started to scream and shout for my cousins. Anyone who was still alive jumped out of their cars.”

Four hellfires, striking seconds apart, pierced the sky, tearing through the fourth vehicle in the procession. When it was over, 12 men were dead, Saleh among them. At least 15 others were wounded according to survivors and activists, including Warda, whose eye was grazed by shrapnel and whose wedding dress was torn to shreds.

The blast was so intense that it reverberated all the way to al-Abusereema, where the groom’s brother Aziz waited for the guests. “I called some people to ask what was that explosion and somebody told me it was the drone,” Aziz recalls. “It was the most awful feeling.”

“As we were driving to the site,” he continues, “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness. That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

“We are just poor Bedouins,” says Abdullah, now pounding his hands against his chest. “We know nothing about Al Qaeda. But the people are so scared now. Whenever they hear a car or truck, they think of the drones and the strike. They feel awful whenever they see a plane.”…. (Click here to read more)

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Posted in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Awlaki, C.I.A., dictatorship, Drones, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Middle East, military, niqab, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Poverty, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, Social Media, Somalia, South Yemen, Terrorism, Warda, Yemen | 8 Comments »

Canadian Troops to Quit U.A.E. Base After Dispute Over Commercial Flights

Posted by vmsalama on October 12, 2010

By Vivian Salama and Theophilos Argitis – Oct 12, 2010

(Bloomberg) — Canada is preparing to remove troops based in the United Arab Emirates after a dispute between the countries over landing rights for commercial flights.

“Canadian Forces are planning contingencies for the relocation of CF military assets presently located at Camp Mirage,” Alain Cacchione, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said in response to e- mailed questions today, without giving a reason.

Camp Mirage, a military logistics camp near Dubai, serves as a jump-off point for Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Canada currently has a 2,800-soldier force serving in Afghanistan. The government aims to end its operations in the country next year.

The U.A.E. said it is “disappointed” by Canada’s refusal to grant additional landing rights to U.A.E. airlines, the Gulf state’s official WAM news agency reported on Oct. 10, citing the country’s ambassador to Canada, Mohammed Abdullah al-Ghafli. He called the negotiations “protracted and frustrating.”

U.A.E. carriers including Emirates have been seeking dozens of new landing slots in Canada, contending that the six weekly flights currently allowed are not enough to cover demand. Transport Canada, the government agency that oversees the airline industry, and Air Canada opposed granting more slots on concerns that U.A.E. carriers may eat into Air Canada’s traffic to cities such as Frankfurt.

Failure by Canadian authorities to come to an agreement with the U.A.E. “undoubtedly affects the bilateral relationship,” al-Ghafli’s statement said.

‘Amicable Resolution’

Emirates Chief Executive Officer Tim Clark said today his airline “regrets these developments but respects the positions taken by both the U.A.E. and Canadian governments,” in an e- mailed response to questions. “We sincerely hope there will be an amicable resolution in the future,” he added.

A U.A.E. government spokesman declined to comment about the relocation of Canadian forces or the aviation dispute. No one at the U.A.E.’s General Civil Aviation Authority was available for comment.

“The U.A.E. is becoming more confident, more assertive, and more aware of its own power and influence in the region and in the world,” said Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle East politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “They have the resources and the means to exercise their power because power isn’t just about military power anymore.”

Trade Partners

The U.A.E. is the largest trade partner with Canada in the Middle East and North Africa, with more than $1.5 billion of business in 2008, according to U.A.E. government figures. As many as 27,000 Canadians live in the U.A.E. today.

Last week, Waterloo, Canada-based Research In Motion Ltd. averted a ban on its BlackBerry smartphone in the U.A.E., after the country’s phone regulator said the company’s messaging services now comply with local security regulations.

“The message here is if they want to do business with the U.A.E., it’s going to be on the U.A.E.’s terms,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “This is a trend we’re seeing in both their regional and extra-regional policies.”

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Economy, military, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

The Cost of Major U.S. Wars

Posted by vmsalama on August 24, 2008

I stumbled upon this report today and found it really interesting, particularly given the state of the US economy these days.  It is mind boggling to think how much money President Bush and his father spent alone on warfare —- all the while, the economy took a hit during both presidencies.  It is high time America stopped trying to fix the world and started working to fix itself!  


Costs of Major U.S. Wars 

Stephen Daggett – Specialist in Defense Policy and Budgets 

Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division 



Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress has appropriated more than $800 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world, including $65 billion to cover costs for the first few months of FY2009. Almost as soon as the next Administration takes office, the military services are expected to submit requests for additional funds — quite possibly $100 billion or more — to cover costs of overseas operations and of repairing and replacing worn equipment through the remainder of the fiscal year. In the face of these rather substantial and growing amounts, a recurring question has been how the mounting costs of the nation’s current wars compare to the costs of earlier conflicts.

Click here to read more

Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Politics, United States, War | Leave a Comment »

The Adventure Begins…

Posted by vmsalama on February 20, 2008

Hey folks – for those who follow my blog, you may be wondering why I haven’t written in a while.  I just moved to the UAE to report for a new start-up newspaper based here which is positioned to be an international competitor to some of the major newspapers of the world.  The staff is extraordinary and I am really excited to join the project.
As always, I will post my articles here on the site, but I will also do my best to share some of the anecdotes from my travels.  I have been taking photos as well, but until I settle in, Internet access is not always available.  Thank goodness for Starbucks!  In the meantime, here’s a quick story from day 1: 
Went to lunch with 5 colleagues – we opted to eat Afghani food.  The seating area was downstairs and there were plenty of seats, but they took us to an upstairs room and closed the curtains on us completely.  One of my colleagues asked to open the curtains… which is when the waiter subtly pointed to me and my other female colleague and simple said “no.”
Too bad, really.  Some of the men in this restaurant were just stunning – I would have liked nothing more than to photograph them.  Alas, I ain’t in Kansas no more.  

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Afghanistan | Leave a Comment »

Speak Softly, Carry a Big Checkbook

Posted by vmsalama on February 6, 2008

by Vivian Salama


The late Middle East historian Albert Hourani once wrote “[He] who rules the Near East rules the world; and he who has interests in the world is bound to concern himself with the Near East.” For more than half a century, the United States has made its interests apparent to the world via a clash of political and economic endeavors. Business interests have been pursued under a veil of democracy which, when imposed, have the potential to spark the type of blowback we are witnessing today.

In recent years, China has proven that it, too, recognizes both the potential of the region as well as its vulnerability. However, unlike the United States, the quasi-Communist giant has used a different tactic: speak softly and carry a big checkbook. China’s message has been strictly one of business. Given its recent successes, it appears China – and not the United States, at least under the current administration – has excelled in the language of globalization.

Take the following example. Known more for land mines than natural resources, Afghanistan’s Logar Province is drawing attention for resources other than poppy plants. Car bombs and rocket attacks on government, military and civil targets once painted the picture of this embattled province. However, since the American military first attacked Afghanistan after 9/11, the Bush administration has sought to paint a new, more hopeful picture – one of development and progression.

Some analysts believe copper holds the key to Afghanistan’s future. Surveys conducted by Soviet geologists during the occupation of the 1970s and 1980s found that the country may contain some 240 million tons of ore at a copper grade of more than 2 percent. Realizing this market potential, some of the world’s biggest mining companies recently went head to head to get in on the multi-billion dollar contract to buy, develop and operate the Aynak project, located in a relatively calm region nineteen miles south of Kabul.

Nine foreign mining companies were granted permission to participate in the bidding process. They include Arizona copper giant Phelps Dodge Corp., India’s Hindalco Industries Ltd. and Vancouver’s Hunter Dickinson Inc. All nine companies, including firms from China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Australia, sent inspectors to evaluate the site’s potential. They have good reason to be eager: At around $3.30 a pound, copper has steadily remained above its average price of about $1 per pound. Prices peaked above $4 per pound last May.

Then last November, a decision was made: the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) will invest in transforming the Aynak exploration area into one of the world’s largest open cast mines. With copper prices currently running high, estimates predict the reserve could be worth as much as $42 billion. MMC has also promised to build a power plant in an attempt to boost Kabul’s intermittent electricity supply.

No one is calling China a hero. The Aynak project, while certainly bringing much-needed money to war-torn Afghanistan, has also triggered a flurry of environmentalist red flags. Still, despite the convivial relationship between Washington and Kabul’s government under Hamid Karzai, China has missed no opportunity to provide neighborly assistance to the war-torn nation in an effort to further secure its presence in the region.

A UPI/Zogby Poll released last year revealed that an overwhelming number of Americans see China as the primary economic rival of the United States. Sixty percent of Americans said they view China as an economic threat to the U.S., while 22 percent believe China is a threat to U.S. national security. Just 6 percent said they would describe China as an economic partner and an ally. More than half of Americans (55 percent) reported seeing China’s growing economy and trade as a threat to the U.S., while just 20 percent see it as a benefit.

China’s time is now. As the United States loses favor on the international stage, more doors will open to the Asian giant. Simply put, many countries that have long been reliant on American dollars have thus been at the mercy of Washington. At this stage, China is not interested in telling anyone how to run their government – and quite frankly, its top officials probably recognize that they are in no position to do so. Rather, what we are seeing is a little back-scratching and a lot of business. The days of Cold War bipolarity are long gone, and the days of American hegemony are slipping away as well. With an economy expected to double over the next decade, let it be known: China is here to stay.

Posted in Afghanistan, China, Middle East, United States | Leave a Comment »

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles

Posted by vmsalama on January 13, 2008

SO sad, but not surprising!!! 
January 13, 2008
War Torn
Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, “like Falluja.”

Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame — and tucked an assault rifle inside it.

“Matthew knew he shouldn’t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,” Detective Laura Andersen said, “but he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.”

Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and “just snapped.”

In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, “breaking contact” with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.

 “Who did I take fire from?” he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively “engaged the targets.” He shook. He also cried.

“I felt very bad for him,” Detective Andersen said.

Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: “Iraq veteran arrested in killing.”

Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: “Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.” Pierre, S.D.: “Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.” Colorado Springs: “Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.”

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, military | Leave a Comment »

Pakistani Government Must do more to Quell Fanatacism

Posted by vmsalama on December 27, 2007

As always, I am interested to hear your thoughts. 

by Vivian Salama

PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

                   When Benazir Bhutto spoke to the Council of Foreign Relations last August before returning from exile to Pakistan, she said, “The West’s close association with a military dictatorship, in my humble view, is alienating Pakistan’s people and is playing into the hands of those hardliners who blame the West for the ills of the region.”
                    Those hardliners to whom she referred, while safely in New York, are likely the same people who took her life in Pakistan on Thursday evening. The news of Bhutto’s assassination is a grim reminder that of religious extremists are attempting to reverse the moderating influences of globalization.

                    Meanwhile, Pakistani politicians have moved quickly to exploit her death as grounds for political gain rather than for productive partnership and dialogue. Nawaz Sharif vowed to boycott the January elections upon news of Bhutto’s death – after all, he had only agreed to participate in the election on the coattails of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). However with no Bhutto, it is unlikely that the PPP will participate in the January election either, seeing as there is no obvious successor to its assassinated leader.
                  President Pervez Musharraf only recently lifted the controversial Emergency Law, implemented shortly after Bhutto’s return. If he decides that this situation legitimates the reimplementation of martial law, it will not quell the imminent backlash his government will see on the Pakistani street. Bhutto was an immensely popular leader, her death will not blow over quickly.
                  Conspiracy theories will likely emerge, particularly from Bhutto’s supporters, many of whom felt that Musharraf never sincerely wanted to engage in any semblance of power sharing with Bhutto. Just as there was no serious investigation following the October attacks against Bhutto hours after her arrival to Pakistan, it is unlikely there will be a serious investigation into the attack that killed her.
                  If anything, this latest tragedy will reinforce the idea that Pakistan is a dangerous place. Lawmakers in Washington have expressed skepticism about the use of US military aid to Pakistan – a key ally in the war on terrorism – particularly after Musharraf imposed emergency rule. Lawmakers moved to put limits on the USD$300 million the US sends to Pakistan each year. A bill passed by Congress last week now reserves USD$250 million of those funds for counter-terrorism operations. Above all else, the world is now holding its breath as its watches Pakistan – a nuclear power – on the verge of collapse.
                One thing is certain: Bhutto’s assassination will trigger civil unrest for months to come. It is important not to let this tragedy divert attention from the issue at hand: there is a growing radical movement in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Suicide bombings now average one in every five days in Pakistan. While there are numerous political parties pitted against one another, it is unlikely they would have used suicide tactics to settle the score. More needs to be done by the Pakistani government to quash the spread of fanaticism before it engulfs the whole of the region.

Posted in Afghanistan, Bhutto, Musharraf, Pakistan, Politics, Terrorism, United States | 1 Comment »

Afghans are not allowed to serve alcoholic drinks

Posted by vmsalama on November 10, 2007

I’ve been growing increasingly interested in Afghanistan lately – perhaps even as a destination for future assignments.  I recently stumbled upon this great blog called Afghan LORD and this particular entry written on August 2, 2007 struck a chord with me.  I experienced similar treatment in Egypt during Ramadan – a time when anyone Arab/Middle Eastern (Christian or Muslim) is not allowed to drink.  I would often accompany my fellow expats to the various bars and restaurants around Cairo, but during Ramadan, would be forced to carry my passport to prove I am an American citizen.  The bottom line is, it’s the law of the land – but I understand how frustrating the experience below must have been for him.  I can only assume that the situation may have improved slightly since the fall of the Taliban.  (Although let’s be honest, the Taliban are still very much a part of life in Afghanistan!)

Afghans are not allowed to serve alcoholic drinks


A few days ago I was invited by a friend of mine to have dinner together in one of the foreign Restaurants in Kabul. He met a German and an Afghan-German friend there. We installed ourselves at the table. After a while, my friend ordered two beers but unexpectedly a muscle-man appeared in front of us in a harsh tone and asked me for my passport. I told him that I am Afghan, precisely the land he is now in. He started talking strictly to me: You are not allowed to drink alcohol in this restaurant!

Why? I asked him

Because we are not allowed to serve you alcoholic drinks.

On my left hand, the Afghan-German, a doctor, had also been asked for his passport. He was angry about it. For a few seconds he quarreled with his German counterpart. As I understood it he was telling him: ‘this is my land, this is my land, no one has the right to ask me as an Afghan how I should behave about this.’ They finished quarreling, but I got tense. How is it possible that in your own country you don’t have your freedom. Not only for me but for all other Afghans, I thought.

Foreigners here have a lot of luxury facilities and expensive cars while outside of these restaurants hundreds of human beings are suffering on the streets, begging, asking for food. Some time foreigners are accompanied by a number of security guards, blocking the roads and driving over 100 miles/hour. Some, in very fashioned restaurants drink Champagne, smoking marijuana and narcotics. They are allowed to do so, but the Afghans are not allowed to enter, to drink, to spend time there. I am seeing that some of the foreigners only work for themselves, they brought facilities in here for themselves; not to help Afghans. They take the money they make back out of Afghanistan..

I feel frustrated when facing with such a phenomenon. No one seems to trust us. A considerable number of aid workers come to our land, but they can’t understand our feelings. It was so frustrating while the muscle-man rudely told me I am not allowed to drink. The way it happened also is a thing you would not do in our culture, even if we have different codes, which in need can be flexible also. These day there are dozens of foreign restaurants, hotels, discos and prostitution houses in Kabul, for the foreigners, who call themselves ‘ex pats’ (for ex-patriots).

Posted in Afghanistan, Islam | Leave a Comment »