One last blog on Afghanistan to finish the week.
Trying to think about the mission in Afghanistan, I find one of the most frustrating aspects is trying to square my general unease about the larger state-building project that we are engaged in over there, with the (frankly humbling) dedication and professionalism that everyone over there exhibits. And so I thought I’d close off the week with a story that I think is unambiguously good news.
The most enjoyable of the excursions we took in Kabul was an early-morning trip to a de-mining facility on the outskirts of town. Situated on a former battlefield, it’s a large-ish compound of offices, kennels, and bunkers, where they train the dogs and handlers who find and dig up the countless mines that littered Afghanistan after the Soviets pulled out.
Funded by the US, Germany, and the UN, the facility has trained over 500 mine-detection dogs, a few dozen bomb-disposal dogs, and a handful of dogs to sniff drugs, and to find people buried in avalanches. It takes up to two years to train the German shepherds from puppyhood, and they generally serve for 8 to 10 years. The project has been a great success, mapping and clearing huge tracts of land and allowing millions of displaced Afghans to go back to their farms.
After a short briefing on the de-mining program, we saw a series of demonstrations of the training program. The first thing they do is train the dogs to fixate on a small rubber ball. Instead of food, they are rewarded with the ball to play with. We saw various stages of the ball training, then we saw some demonstrations of the dogs finding buried humans, and buried explosives. Here are some pics.
This is the ball training:
Later stage ball-training:
Looking for a man buried under snow:
There he is!
Hunting for buried mines: