Monday, September 7, 2009

Animal House at ISAF

Not all the heavy drinking in Afghanistan goes on at the U.S. embassy's local guard force quarters, Camp Sullivan. Quite a lot of it happens at the headquarters of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force. Or anyway it did, until General McChrystal, the U.S. commander of that mellow multinational coalition, cracked down on the boozing after he had trouble finding sober staff officers in the wake of last Friday's disastrous air strike on two hijacked fuel trucks.

As the UK Times On Line reports:

After a Nato airstrike killed as many as 125 people last week, General Stanley McChrystal was keen to get the situation under control — fast.

When he tried to contact his underlings to find out what had happened, however, he found, to his fury, that many of them were either drunk or too hungover to respond.

Complaining in his daily Commander’s Update that too many people had been “partying it up”, General McChrystal, head of International Forces in Afghanistan (Isaf), banned alcohol at his headquarters yesterday, admonishing staff for not having “their heads in the right place” on Friday morning — a few hours after the deadly attack.

-- snip --

American soldiers, who have one of the strictest work ethics, joke that Isaf stands for “I Saw Americans Fighting”.

US troops are banned from drinking and British troops are allowed to drink only at official functions with special permission. Soldiers from the rest of the 42-nation alliance are governed by divergent national guidelines on alcohol consumption.

The Isaf headquarters is only half a mile square but it has at least seven bars that serve tax-free beer and wine — including a Tora Bora sports bar complete with flat-screen televisions and football memorabilia, the Gravel Pit, which has a snooker table, a German beer hall, the 37 Club and a Nordic Palace.

-- snip --

The military airport KAIA was dubbed Kaia-napa, after the Cyprus resort, because there are so many bars; the main French garrison in Kabul has at least five bars with ales on tap. The Spanish and Italian troops stationed in the west are known within Nato for drinking wine at lunchtime.

At the main German base in Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, there is a purpose-built nightclub known as the Beach Club Bar where hundreds of camp-bound troops party every Thursday. In a leaked report, German officers branded their troops there “useless cake-eaters,” before a parliamentary report revealed that 3,500 troops had consumed about 1.7 million pints of beer and 90,000 bottles of wine in a year.

There are cultural norms to consider when working in multinational entities such as ISAF. 'When in Rome,' and all that. Still, 487 beers and 25 bottles of wine per German troop per year? People who are partying that much really don't have their minds on business.

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