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Don't panic

What's been happening in Afghanistan lately?

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Afghanistan? What's that? Oh yeah, that place.

We seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan, haven't we? The media doesn't cover it as much. The president is busy elsewhere, trying to get Palestinians and Israelis to stop killing each other long enough for us to kill Saddam Hussein. Me, I've been catching up on my reading and housecleaning. You wouldn't believe the mess of crumbs and muck I found under the refrigerator. Have you tried the Swiffer Wet Jet? Great stuff.

Oh, yeah, back to Afghanistan. You'll have to forgive me for getting distracted. See, as an American, it's hard for me to pay attention to countries unless we're bombing them every day.

As I'm writing this, 1,000 or so British Royal Marines, with U.S. air support, are conducting a sweep of the mountains in southeastern Afghanistan looking for al-Qaeda holdouts. Royal Marines are easy to discern from other Marines. They're polite and speak with adorable posh accents. Before shooting the enemy, they say cute things like, "Terribly sorry, old chap, but I'm going to have to cap you in the dome." Just imagine Hugh Grant with muscles, a gun and a tiara. While our Marines spend their leave time hunting for T&A, Royal Marines are content to simply find some tea.

Their mission has unfortunately been dubbed Operation Snipe. In case you've never heard of it, snipe hunting is a summer game prank that involves sending unsuspecting rubes on a hunt for game that doesn't exist. It just goes to show that British forces are susceptible to the same mission-naming stupidity as we Americans. You may recall that our big 1998 air operation against Iraq was dubbed Operation Desert Fox, unintentionally evoking the memory of Erwin "Desert Fox" Rommel, the most famous Nazi general.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops are now conducting "secret" military operations in the (so-called) lawless tribal areas of Pakistan adjacent to its border with Afghanistan. My source for this "secret" intelligence (i.e. the front page of April 25's Washington Post) says that small units of American Special Forces are "covertly" hunting small bands of al-Qaeda hiding out there. Among them is believed to be Osama bin Laden. Remember him?

Back in sunny Kabul, America has affirmed its dedication to democracy in Afghanistan by supporting the return of the country's deposed former monarch, King Mohammed Zahir Shah. He looks like a slightly chubbier, sleazier, crook-eyed version of my late grandfather (I'll e-mail you my grandfather's picture if you don't believe me).

Though frail and powerless, the 87-year-old Zahir Shah is supposedly seen by many as the symbolic head of the modern stone-age family that is Afghanistan. He will exercise that symbolic power next month when he opens the long-awaited Loya Jirga. Apparently a Pashtun term meaning "frat party," the Loya Jirga will gather 1,500 or so Afghan leaders in hopes of putting together a workable national government. The last Loya Jirga was held in 1987, but ended abruptly when a notoriously drug-and hooker-loving Afghan warlord (true story) shot the place up. (How do you say "P. Diddy" in Pashtun?)

And finally, in their attempts to bolster peace, stability and eventually prosperity in the country, international aid donors have pledged $4.5 billion to rebuild Afghanistan -- which is a slight misnomer as it's unclear if there was anything there to rebuild in the first place.

I hope that the aid program includes some Swiffer Wet Jets. I bet Afghanistan could use some.

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