Sean Carberry

Sean Carberry is NPR's international correspondent based in Kabul. His work can be heard on all of NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.

Prior to moving into his current role, he was responsible for producing for NPR's foreign correspondents in the Middle East and "fill-in" reporting. Carberry travels extensively across the Middle East to cover a range of stories such as the impact of electricity shortages on the economy in Afghanistan and the experiences of Syrian refugees in Turkish camps.

Carberry has reported from more than two-dozen countries including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Iceland. In 2010, Carberry won the Gabriel Award Certificate of Merit for America Abroad's "The First Freedom," and in 2011 was awarded the Sigma Delta Chi Award as lead producer and correspondent for America Abroad's series, "The Arab World's Demographic Dilemma."

Since joining NPR, Carberry worked with Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Tripoli for NPR's coverage of the fall of the Libyan capital. He also covered the post-US withdrawal political crisis in Baghdad in December 2011, and recently completed a two month fill-in reporting assignment in Kabul that led to his current role.

Before coming to NPR in 2011, Carberry worked at America Abroad Media where he served as technical director and senior producer in addition to traveling internationally to report and produce radio and multimedia content for America Abroad's monthly radio news documentaries and website. He also worked at NPR Member Station WBUR in Boston as a field and political producer, associate producer/technical director, and reporter, contributing to NPR, newscasts, and WBUR's Here and Now.

In addition to his journalistic accolades, Carberry is a well-rounded individual who has also been an assistant professor of music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston, received a Gold Record as Recording Engineer for Susan Tedeschi's Grammy-Nominated album "Just Won't Burn," engineered music for the television program "Sex in the City," is a certified SCUBA diver, and is a graduate of the Skip Barber School of Auto Racing.

Carberry earned a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from Lehigh University and a Masters of Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School, with a focus in Politics, National Security, and International Affairs.

A convoy of hulking U.S. Army Stryker vehicles slowly makes its way through the main bazaar near the center of Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar province is the birthplace of the Taliban, and Panjwai district has seen some of the most brutal fighting of the Afghan war.

Some 90 NATO troops have been killed and more than 800 wounded in just this district.

But rather than having white-knuckled grips on their guns, U.S. soldiers are able to wave to the children in the streets. It's something that would have been unthinkable a year or two ago.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As officials from Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission were about to announce the closing of several polling stations due to insecurity on Saturday, the Taliban reinforced the message by launching an attack on the IEC headquarters in Kabul.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Kabul is a city on edge as the Afghan presidential election approaches. Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked an election commission office yesterday. They killed several workers and police officers. In the April 5th election, eight men are now vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. The field narrowed today after the grandson of the country's last king dropped out of the race. He was not expected to do well.

Afghanistan's election for a new president is less than two weeks away. That means the candidates are busy campaigning — and the Taliban are busy attacking.

The latest attack came Tuesday morning in Kabul when two suicide bombers detonated themselves outside one of the offices of the Independent Election Commission. Moments later, several gunmen ran inside and waged a three-hour gunbattle with dozens of Afghan police.

Afghanistan has lost its first vice president, a warlord who fought beside the U.S. against the Taliban. Mohammed Qasim Fahim's death presents his Tajik brethren a tough choice in upcoming elections.

The United States is winding down more than 12 years of military involvement in Afghanistan, and for most Americans, the country is rapidly fading into the background.

At the same time, Afghans are entering uncharted territory. President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since shortly after the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is barred from running for a third term.

So Afghanistan is poised to do what it's never done before: change leaders through a democratic election.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In Afghanistan, the United Nation has just released its annual survey of civilian casualties in the country, and the news is grim. NPR's Sean Carberry reports from Kabul.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Last year at this time, there was a sense of optimism. Civilian casualties finally appeared to be declining. But the new report shows a 14 percent increase in civilian casualties in 2013 with nearly 3,000 killed and more than 5500 injured.

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The Taliban also figure prominently in upcoming elections next door in Afghanistan. That country is poised to make history this spring by holding an election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. It would be Afghanistan's first ever democratic transition. The campaign officially began this week. And on the surface you'll find many of the trappings of a normal race, rallies, posters, debates But NPR's Sean Carberry reports that beneath the bunting and sloganeering lies a different story of vote buying and manipulation.

One of the most dramatic changes in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban is the increase in average life expectancy from 45 to 62 years. That gain is almost entirely a function of reductions in child mortality due to the spread of basic health services.

Yet Afghanistan still has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, and there could be significant backsliding as the international community reduces aid after NATO troops withdraw at the end of this year.

With the campaign for Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election officially underway, three questions are commonly asked around Kabul: Do you think the presidential election will be held on April 5? Will the election be held at all this year? Who do you think will win?

Right now, 11 men are vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who is term-limited. If the election goes well, it would mark the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.

The Issue Of Timing

In Kabul, car theft isn't a big problem, but it is a big concern. Security officials fear that militants could use stolen vehicles as car bombs. So the police have turned to a rather controversial tactic to deter thieves.

On a recent evening, a guest left our office only to discover two of his car tires had been punctured. Moments later, my producer discovered two of his tires had been punctured. Both cars were parked on the side of the street in front of our office.

On Saturday afternoons, sometimes with a coworker or two, Siavash Rahbari drives up a rutted side street in Kabul to visit the Window of Hope orphanage.

In the living room, there are a dozen boys and two girls. Some are playing, while others lie around on mats on the floor, clearly suffering from a range of disabilities. Rahbari, a Texan who works at an NGO in Kabul, gives the children a cursory inspection.

To many Afghans, 2014 is more than a year — it's a sword of Damocles hanging over the fragile nation. It's the year the country will elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led military mission will end. Many fear that will open the door to chaos.

But on a chilly winter day in Kabul, it's still business as usual in the city center.

In a stationary market, you can still buy calendars for this year — the year 1392. Afghanistan uses the Persian solar calendar, and in March the year 1393 begins.

In 2000, Auliya Atrafi paid thousands of dollars and risked his life to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He spent 12 years in England getting educated and becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Last year, he gave up life in the West and returned home to southern Helmand province. Now, he's the father of twins and he's working in a rural government office while trying to readjust to life in a conservative society that he finds dysfunctional.

Afghanistan may be one of the world's poorest countries, but weddings are still a big — and expensive — deal. On most weekends, Kabul's glitzy and somewhat garish wedding halls are packed with people celebrating nuptials.

One of them is the Uranos Palace complex. On the night I attended my first Afghan wedding, all three of its halls were overflowing. I was one of two foreigners in a room of about 200 men. The female guests sat on the other side of a 7-foot-high divider in the middle of the hall.

A grand assembly of Afghan tribal elders and civil society leaders — the Loya Jirga — resoundingly approved an agreement to allow 3,000-9,000 U.S. troops to stay in the country after the NATO mission ends next year.

However, it remains unclear when — or if — President Hamid Karzai will sign the agreement.

In Afghanistan, a grand assembly of some 2,500 tribal elders, politicians and civil society elites are meeting to decide whether to approve a security agreement with the United States. Approval by the grand assembly, called a loya jirga, would be in addition to the OK of the Afghan government. But as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has noted, the agreement can't go forward without the backing of the Afghan people. The security agreement would allow as many as 9,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after the current NATO mission ends next year.

Shiite Muslims gathered in Kabul last week to celebrate Ashura, one of the holiest days on their religious calendar. Hundreds of shirtless men chanted and flogged themselves with chains tipped with knife-like shards of metal.

In the past, these public Shiite commemorations have become targets of the Taliban and other Islamist extremists. In 2011, a suicide bomber killed 56 Shiites marking Ashura. But this year, security was particularly tight.

Shopkeeper Noor Aga said the celebration was magnificent, and he felt safe.

Lashkar Gah is the capital of the volatile province that alone grows half of Afghanistan's opium poppy. Cultivation here grew by 34 percent over last year.

On Fridays, hundreds of men gather at the bazaar along the Helmand River, the lifeblood of this arid province. Vendors sell everything from livestock to boxes of artisanal medicine.

There's no sign of poppy here. In fact, the farmers we talk to like 26-year-old Khairullah, who goes by one name, say they are actually too poor to grow it.

A gray C-130 Hercules flies low over the runway at Kabul airport. The four-engine cargo plane then climbs and banks to the left. Moments later, it lands and passes under the spray of two fire trucks before stopping in front of a crowd of officials.

This ceremony last month marked the official transfer of the first two C-130s from the U.S. to the Afghan air force.

It's one of the most touted "positive statistics" about Afghanistan: Today, there are 10 million Afghans enrolled in school, 40 percent of them female.

Under the Taliban, about 1 million boys and almost no girls were attending schools. Western officials routinely point to the revived education system as a sign of success and hope for the future.

As the war in Afghanistan enters its 13th year, the political and security situation there remains precarious. But the country is hoping to reach a milestone next spring: the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

And there's no shortage of candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai — who is barred from running for a third term.

The Taliban have been waging a particularly bloody offensive this year now that Afghan government forces are in charge of security. The result: Afghan army and police are suffering record numbers of casualties — far more than NATO ever did at the height of its troop presence in Afghanistan.

So even as NATO forces are preparing to leave, they are working to bolster the medical capabilities of Afghan forces at hospitals, clinics and training centers across the country.

I confess I'm not much of a museum tourist. On a recent visit to Croatia's capital, Zagreb, I strolled past three museums without feeling any urge to step inside. Then I came across one I just couldn't ignore: the Museum of Broken Relationships.

"It's a collection of objects donated by people who have broken up," says Drazen Grubisic, a co-owner of the museum. "Each item has an accompanying story."

Some are amusing, others sarcastic and a few are just plain heartbreaking.

It's 8 a.m. on a recent day at Forward Operating Base Nolay, a small Marine outpost in Taliban-infested Sangin District of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province. The Marines are in the process of caffeinating and preparing for the day.

Suddenly, explosions and gunfire ring out. The Marines don't run for their weapons or bunkers for that matter. They don't even flinch.

"We can sit here and we can have a cup of coffee when there's booms going on, we're not concerned about it," says Lt. Col. Jonathan Loney.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are better known for their verbal fights and occasional border clashes, but for the first time since 1976, they battled on a soccer field in Kabul.

Some 6,000 rabid Afghan fans cheered on their team, clad in red uniforms. There were horns, flags, and face paint. It looked like any soccer game in the world, except for all the riot police, snipers, and Blackhawk helicopters passing overhead periodically.

Ahmad Mirwais, a 27-year-old tailor, was one of those lucky enough to score a ticket.

Morning traffic in Kabul can be punishing enough as it is. But on a recent day, there's an extra element clogging up the streets, a scene you don't see on a typical day in the Afghan capital.

At the peak of fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, there were 20,000 Marines battling the Taliban. Now there are 8,000 — and more are heading home every month.

Among the latest to pack up was Regimental Combat Team 7.

At their mission's recent closing ceremony, several hundred Marines gathered in the scorching desert heat at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province. Their tan, pixelated fatigues blended in amidst the vast expanse of sand-colored tents and buildings of the largest Marine base in Afghanistan.

If you think it's tough being a Cabinet secretary in the U.S., having to deal with the demands of a fiercely partisan Congress and testify a few times a year, try being the Afghan interior minister.

"I have been summoned by the lower house 93 times, and 79 times by the upper house," says Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, who for the past 10 months has been in charge of the ministry that oversees the Afghan National Police.

"Based on this calculation, I have had one day in a week to work for the people," he says.

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