December 24th, 2009
12:39 PM ET

Decorating a Christmas tree in Kabul

Just a few days left till Christmas. Thanks to the efforts of CNN's Fred Pleitgen, Tim Schwarz and Claudia Otto, we have a Christmas tree in our bureau.

Now it's our turn to bring some joy of the season to the bureau's gloomy sitting room. Surprisingly we find Christmas decorations in a local store. The choice is not huge. For a moment we debate over a Santa paper cutout or the big banner announcing the season to be jolly, but at the end we decide on a lower-key affair. We leave the store with sets of baubles, a few trinkets and two sets of lights.

Back at the bureau, the tree Fred sawed down was propped against a wall. Next to it was a red plastic bucket filled with water. Why the tree was not in the bucket? Have you ever tried to balance a Christmas tree in a bucket of water without the aid of a tree stand? As it turned out it was a bit of a challenge.

Watch as bureau staffers find and decorate the tree


December 24th, 2009
12:21 PM ET
December 24th, 2009
06:56 AM ET

Colorful trucks bring Pakistan's roadways to life

It's my first trip to Pakistan, and one of the things that immediately jumped out is the trucks. I realize that sounds strange, but the trucks here are like no other I have ever seen. They are not lumbering and drab monstrosities but a canvas of spectacular and intricate art, a kaleidoscope of exploding colors. I am not one to have much patience for traffic, but here I could sit and watch the roads for hours. Each truck is unique, each a different combination of designs, poetry and other adornments.

What made the "truck art" even more intriguing was just how intricate it is. The designs are made up of tiny pieces of tape, all done by hand. The artisans' fingers move at breathtaking speed and precision.

As a friend and colleague of ours, Kevin Flower, said after seeing a photograph I sent out, "The ultimate pimp my ride. ... I’m going to bring my wheels to Islamabad for a cosmetic upgrade."

See more of Pakistan's truck art

Watch CNN correspondent Arwa Damon's report on Pakistan's artistic traffic

December 23rd, 2009
02:03 PM ET

Cameraman's arrival in Kabul

I reached Kabul. The flight was nothing remarkable. From London to Dubai, then onto Kabul on Safi Airways. Never heard of Safi Airways? It's an Afghan-operated company based in Kabul. According to their corporate profile, "Safi Airways' vision is to make Afghanistan more reachable from all parts of the world." And it seems they manage that by flying a rather well-used Boeing fleet of aircraft, but at least the crew is pleasant and helpful.

As I got off the plane and onto a bus, a fresh, crisp and rather chilly air filled my lungs. It was cold, but not as cold as I thought it would be at this time of the year. After we reached the baggage hall there was a bit of a wait. A bit more of waiting and eventually our baggage rolled by on the conveyor belt. It's a time when every frequent traveler holds his breath. The only thing on my mind was: Did all of my baggage make it all the way from London?

One, two, three ... well done Safi, it's all here, but no trolleys in sight. I waited till all of my stuff was piled up next to the conveyor belt. Miraculously a couple of porters emerged with two trolleys. A bit of haggling to agree on the "tip" for the service and we moved on to customs.


December 23rd, 2009
08:12 AM ET

CNN Poll: Afghanistan war still unpopular, but troop increase isn't

Although the war in Afghanistan remains unpopular with most Americans, the public supports President Obama's decision to send more U.S. troops to the conflict, according to a new national poll.

Fifty-nine percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday morning said they favor the president's plan to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, with 39 percent opposed.

"Most of those who oppose Obama's plan would like to see the U.S. immediately withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

Read more about the poll results

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Filed under: Daily Developments • Decision: Afghanistan • Troops
December 22nd, 2009
08:40 PM ET
December 22nd, 2009
01:09 PM ET

Around the Web: The battle of Tora Bora

At the New Republic, Peter Bergen has an extensive account about Osama bin Laden and the battle of Tora Bora.

“Tora Bora was not yet a familiar name to many Americans. But what would unfold there over the subsequent days remains, eight years later, the single most consequential battle of the war on terrorism,” Bergen writes.

“Presented with an opportunity to kill or capture Al Qaeda’s top leadership just three months after September 11, the United States was instead outmaneuvered by bin Laden, who slipped into Pakistan, largely disappeared from U.S. radar, and slowly began rebuilding his organization.”

Declan Walsh of the Guardian reports that “American special forces have conducted multiple clandestine raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas as part of a secret war in the border region.”

 “A former NATO officer said the incursions, only one of which has been previously reported, occurred between 2003 and 2008, involved helicopter-borne elite soldiers stealing across the border at night, and were never declared to the Pakistani government,” Walsh writes.


December 22nd, 2009
11:43 AM ET

Two Special Forces soldiers awarded the Silver Star

Two U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers - Master Sgt. Anthony Siriwardene (left in the above photograph) and Staff Sgt. Linsey Clarke (right in the photograph) - were recently awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest combat medal, for their actions during combat in Afghanistan.


December 22nd, 2009
10:38 AM ET
December 22nd, 2009
10:34 AM ET