• Trump Aides Recruited Businessmen to Devise Options for Afghanistan

    The Washington Post, July 10, 2017

    President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

    Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

    Erik D. Prince in 2014. He was a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide.CreditAndrew Harrer/Bloomberg

    On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

    The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

    Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations.

    “The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote a book about the growth of private armies, “The Modern Mercenary.” “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

    Last month, Mr. Trump gave the Pentagon authority to send more American troops to Afghanistan — a number believed to be about 4,000 — as a stopgap measure to stabilize the security situation there. But as the administration grapples with a longer-term strategy, Mr. Trump’s aides have expressed concern that he will be locked into policies that failed under the past two presidents.

    Mr. Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met with the president on Afghanistan, according to an official, while Mr. Prince briefed several White House officials, including General McMaster, said a second person.

    Mr. Prince laid out his views in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May. He called on the White House to appoint a viceroy to oversee the country and to use “private military units” to fill the gaps left by departed American soldiers. While he was at Blackwater, the company became involved in one of the most notorious episodes of the Iraq war, when its employees opened fire in a Baghdad square, killing 17 civilians.

    After selling his stake in Blackwater in 2010, Mr. Prince mustered an army-for-hire for the United Arab Emirates. He has cultivated close ties to the Trump administration; his sister, Betsy DeVos, is Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

    If Mr. Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force. Mr. Feinberg controls DynCorp through Cerberus Capital Management, a firm he co-founded in 1992.

    Mr. McFate, who used to work for DynCorp in Africa, said it could train and equip the Afghan Army, a costly, sometimes dangerous mission now handled by the American military. “The appeal to that,” he said, “is you limit your boots on the ground and you limit your casualties.” Some officials noted that under the government’s conflict-of-interest rules, DynCorp would not get a master contract to run operations in Afghanistan.

    A spokesman for Mr. Feinberg declined to comment for this article, and a spokesman for Mr. Prince did not respond to a request for comment.

     Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon 


  • U.S. Denies Visas for Afghanistan’s All-Girl Robotics Team

    The Washington Post
    July 4, 2017
    Amanda Erickson

    It’s not easy to get robotics equipment through customs in Afghanistan, but that didn’t deter this plucky bunch.

    For months, a team of six teenage girls has been scrambling to build a ball-sorting robot that will compete in an international competition. Other teams received their raw materials in March. But the box sent from America had been held up for months amid concerns about terrorism. So the young engineers improvised, building motorized machines from household materials.

    They didn’t have time to waste if they were going to compete in the First Global Challenge, an international robotics competition to be held in Washington, D.C., this month. Young teams from around the world face off against each other, in an effort to engage people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

    To participate, the girls from the city of Herat in western Afghanistan needed permission to travel to the United States. So, after they persuaded their parents to let them go, they made the 500-mile journey to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to apply for their visas. They did this twice, even though that location was targeted by a deadly truck bomb.

    Things seemed to be lining up. But then the team got some bad news: Their visa applications had been denied.

    Roya Mahboob, who founded Citadel software company in Afghanistan and was the country’s first female technology chief executive, is one of the team’s sponsors. When the girls heard the news, she said, “they were crying all the day.”

    “The first time [they were rejected] it was very difficult talking with the students,” Mahboob told Mashable.   “They’re young and they were very upset.”

    Fourteen-year-old Fatemah told Forbes, “We want to show the world we can do it; we just need a chance.”

    On their competition page, the girls wrote:

    We want to make a difference, and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great. We want to be that child and pursue our dreams to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

    The State Department does not comment on specific visa denials. According to recent State Department records, it’s particularly hard to get a business travel visa from Afghanistan. Just 112 were granted in May 2017; 780 visas were issued to visitors from Iraq and 4,067 from Pakistan.

    The Afghan girls are not alone. On Tuesday, the leader of a robotics team from the West African nation of Gambia announced that they too had been denied visas to enter the United States. Mucktarr M.Y. Darboe, a Higher Education ministry director, told the Associated Press that no reason was given for the visa denials in April. Gambia is a largely Muslim nation. AP could not immediately reach anyone at the U.S. Embassy in Banjul for comment.

    Amanda Erickson writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked as an editor for Outlook and PostEverything.








    Donald Trump’s executive order to ban travel to the US from countries that are majority Muslim, has compelled me to re-visit “Little Women of Baghlan,” and explore the reasons why I wrote it.

    I began the project by writing about a personal story—a young woman who joins the Peace Corps. And so by definition, it is a story about tolerance and acceptance. It is about sacrifice. Ultimately, it is about love.

    But her story is also about a time in America when the best and brightest young Americans gave up two years of their lives to live in another country. They taught, established hospitals, and dug wells. And yet, their work paled in comparison to what they learned–that deep down we are all the same. We laugh and cry. We love. All of us want a safe home, an education for our children, and the freedom to practice our religion.

    As we enter a new era in our nation’s history—one fueled by bigotry, fear, and ultimately, hate—her story is more important than ever.

    My America is generous and welcoming. I refuse to allow myself or my country to be defined by racist, xenophobic policies that undermine our moral credibility.




    Nurse’s book recounts efforts by fellow nurse to start school for women in Afghanistan

    Wednesday December 31, 2014

    At the tail end of the 1960s, long before words like Taliban and Mujahideen would fall on Western ears, a young American nurse and Peace Corps volunteer traveled to Afghanistan to help establish a nursing school for young women.

    Heeding President John F. Kennedy’s call to action, Jo (Carter) Bowling, BSN, RN, joined the Peace Corps, and in 1968, launched a small school in Baghlan, Afghanistan devoted to empowering and educating young Afghan women and helping them learn the basics of nursing.

    Fortunately, Bowling, who eventually went on to a healthcare career at Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Ill., kept a diary of those experiences. The diary became the basis for Susan Fox’s book “Little Women of Baghlan: The True Story of a Nursing School for Girls in Afghanistan, the Peace Corps, and Life Before the Taliban,” which Peace Corps Writers published in 2013.

    Fox, an RN at Presence St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, has known Bowling for most of her career, having previously worked with her at Riverside Medical Center. Deciding her friend’s story needed to be told, Fox talked with Bowling and breathed new life into Bowling’s diary entries. Fox also conducted much investigative research to piece together a remarkable tale.

    “The nurses in Afghanistan worked under horrific conditions,” Fox said. She noted Bowling and the two other women Peace Corps volunteers the book focuses on had to contend with “a hospital without reliable running water, a lack of supplies and antibiotics and, not least, a population of women who were often denied medical care because their husbands would not allow them to be examined by a male physician.”

    Perhaps the biggest challenges Bowling and the other volunteers faced were religious restrictions and cultural differences. “The hardest thing was getting the fathers’ permissions for their daughters to attend this nursing school,” Fox said of Bowling’s recollections. However, Bowling and the others always felt welcome and got along well with their Muslim hosts, Fox said.

    Fox said the legacy of the women’s work in Afghanistan is incalculable. “Training a nurse is more important to a country than building a city” is something one of Bowling’s hosts told her.

    Bowling, who is now retired, said she has known Fox since 1970 and trusted her to write the book. “She was really accurate to my diary. She did a tremendous job,” Bowling said.

    Fox’s book is among the finalists for the Chicago Writers Association book of the year award in nonfiction for 2014. For more information, visit

    Susan Fox, RN


    Brendan Dabkowski is a freelance writer.






    Book by local author Susan Fox chosen as finalist for Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association.

    “Little Women of Baghlan: The Story of a Nursing School for Girls in Afghanistan, the Peace Corps, and Life Before the Taliban,” written by Susan Fox, is one of three finalists in the non-traditional, nonfiction category for Book of the Year, 2014. The finalists will compete for four awards to be presented at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Square.

    “On behalf of the Chicago Writers Association, we thank all those who submitted books to our 2014 Book of the Year award contest,” said CWA President Tori Collins. “I am always excited and amazed that each year more authors from the Chicagoland area enter the contest, giving us the opportunity to hear their stores as well as share and experience their expertise. Each year we receive more books, and our screeners have to make tough choices as to which books our finalist judges will review.”

    Susan Fox holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. She is senior assistant editor for Chicago’s online literary magazine, Ten Thousand Tons of Black Ink, has been a keynote speaker at The Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, and was recently interviewed by Bill Moller on WGN radio. Susan works at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, Illinois, serves on the Human Rights Committee for Good Shepherd Manor in Momence, Illinois, and is a member of the Kankakee Valley Wind Ensemble. She lives in Momence with her husband Ken.

    Find “Little Women of Baghlan” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


    Just finished a phone interview with Brendan Dabowski, freelance journalist. Watch the online magazine for a short article about “Little Women of Baghlan.” Thanks Brendan!



    Good Things happen when you least expect it. I opened my email this morning to find my first Goodreads review!

    Little Women of Baghlan: The Story of a Nursing School for Girls in Afghanistan, the Peace Corps, and Life Before the Taliban

    by Susan Fox (Goodreads Author)

    Oct 13, 14

    bookshelves: peace-corps

    This is an absolutely fascinating insight into life in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban. Fox brilliantly retells the story of Jo, a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan. By the end of the book, I felt that I personally knew the volunteers and Afghans of Baghlan. My only minor issue was that it was perhaps a bit too long, but that did not take away from the impact of the book.




    Jo and Sed

    WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2014 – Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet today announced sweeping changes to the agency’s application process that will make applying to the Peace Corps simpler, faster and more personalized than ever before. Under this new recruitment initiative, applicants will now be able to choose their country of service and apply to specific programs, and do so through a new, shorter application. As part of today’s announcement, Peace Corps also released a new video from President Obama calling on Americans to serve. It can be viewed here.

    “More than 50 years after its founding, the Peace Corps is revitalizing its recruitment and outreach to field a volunteer force that represents the best and brightest the country has to offer,” Director Hessler-Radelet (RPCV Western Samoa 1981-83) said. “A modernized, flexible application and placement system will help Peace Corps recruit Americans who are not just interested in imagining a better world, but rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it.”




     Who says you can’t travel to exotic places on a book tour? I am happy to accept an invitation from my good friend Susan Anvick, and meet her book club members at her home in Hoopeston, IL on July 14. I look forward to a great evening! What could be any better than good friends, a glass of wine, and book discussions? Thank you Susan!