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Military Adviser in Kabul

WGCDR Rhys Taylor with a colleague in UNAMA, while working in Afghanistan.
WGCDR Taylor during a visit to Bamiyan where the NZ Provincial Reconstruction Team are located.

UNAMA is a political mission established by the UN Security Council in 2002 at the request of the Government of Afghanistan to assist in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development. UNAMA is responsible for leading the efforts of the international community, regional cooperation, and the work of all UN Agencies, and UN Funds and Programmes in Afghanistan.

My role as the HQ International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Liaison Officer and I translate ISAF information from military-speak into a version able to be understood by the wider UN population. Additionally, because of my own Air Force origins, I am also called upon to make frequent appraisals of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) for UNAMA, and of the AAF’s ability to carry out their mission when ISAF forces withdraw in 2014.
Several troop contributing nations have committed to the continued development and training of the AAF until 2017—although the AAF will clearly need support well past that date.

The AAF have some very real issues: they were only tasked to rebuild from nothing in 2009; they are not allowed to recruit specifically for the Air Force—all recruits must come from the ranks of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Literacy is an issue and testing (eg for officer selection) is difficult; the reality is the nation’s educational system is not designed to provide graduates of a level suitable to maintain and operate a modern Air Force. Consequently there is a continued reliance on private contractors for technical maintenance.

My role varies daily, with the overriding need being to stay flexible (the key to Air Power!) at all times. Daily doses of common sense are required to be dispensed in the UN environment, something that Kiwis and Aussies on the team prove to be most adept at. Being one of the few native English speakers in the mission leads to a daily requirement to proof-read the written work of colleagues and my command chain, helping to develop communication skills.    

Traveling in Afghanistan is a daily adventure. Traveling away from Kabul is normally via UN fixed and rotary wing aircraft, with ISAF aircraft also being used from time-to-time. We regularly travel to UNAMA regional offices to assist our deployed colleagues in meetings with senior Afghan National Security Force and ISAF personnel, allowing us to report the military viewpoint of the wider Afghanistan to UNAMA.

A highlight of my deployment was a four day visit to the Kiwi PRT, which was literally a breath of fresh air, given the poor atmospheric quality in Kabul! The pollution here is a result of constant traffic congestion, persistent dust during the summer, and the open fires (they will burn anything combustible) over the winter months to keep warm.

Kabul was once a popular holiday destination, but within 40 years the once picturesque Kabul River is now clogged with rubbish and a site for homeless people - there is a sense of despair there.

Being immersed in Afghanistan—and aware of the frequent violence in the neighboring countries - makes it clear to me just how lucky we are in New Zealand. We often forget in NZ that it takes work and a shared vision to keep it that way.

My daughter is appreciative of my deployment with UNAMA; she is especially aware of the great emphasis that the UN in Afghanistan places on the protection of civilians and monitoring of abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly against women and children. The promotion and protection of women’s rights is particularly important given the recognition of women’s integral role in peace, reintegration and reconciliation, and efforts are being enhanced to protect women and girls from violence and abuse, in particular violence aimed at preventing girls from attending schools—something that my daughter and her friends were shocked to hear actually occurs.

The support of my family and friends and of the RNZAF and NZDF has been great during my deployment, allowing me to get on with my job knowing that my family is being looked after back in New Zealand. In turn, they are confident that the education, training and skills acquired during my Air Force career have set me up well for this post. It’s a posting I can recommend to others in the RNZAF, if they want to experience the challenges of working at this level with the United Nations and within the huge military organisation that is ISAF.

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