Check out Anna Badkhen’s series on her travels in Afghanistan. The whole thing is worth reading (she’s got more than a dozen dispatches so far) as she gives a personal view of the country which highlights how policy statements in Washington and Kabul manifest themselves (or not) at the individual level.
Generally, though, people here don’t look to police for security. Anyone here will tell you: They don’t trust the police. And why should they? En route from Sholgara to Mazar-e-Sharif today I watch a policeman at a checkpoint demand a bribe from a pickup truck with a camel and some burlap sacks tied to the bed with rope.
“Too little,” the officer tells a careworn Uzbek driver offering, through a rolled-down cab window, a soiled, sweat-drenched green bank note: 10 Afghanis, or about 22 cents. A line forms. Men stuck behind the camel truck relax the grip of their steering wheels and rummage in their pockets for bills.
Not a good sign. Some of this is because the police don’t get regular pay or support from their higher ups and some is simply because they can. Doesn’t sound like much has changed in that department over the past 6 years.
The United Nations estimates that one-third of Afghanistan’s children under 14 work. Drive out of any city in any direction, and you will see children as young as seven herding livestock, tilling fields, leveling dirt roads.
On moonless nights, after the agony of a fuchsia and orange desert sunset fades to complete blackness, U.S. helicopters airlift Taliban fighters from Kandahar and Helmand to highly secretive drop areas on the sedimentary planes of northern Afghanistan.
Sabastian Junger has an article in the current Newsweek. For some reason, this past weekend while on military duty the subject about the impact of war on people and what it does to people when they return to society was a frequently reoccurring topic. Junger describes it pretty well (I’m looking forward to his new book. If you haven’t read The Perfect Storm, check it out.):
War is a lot of things, and it’s useless to pretend that exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting. The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know. Soldiers discuss that fact with each other and eventually with their chaplains and their shrinks and maybe even their spouses, but the public will never hear about it. It’s just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a 19-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everyone comes out of OK, war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of. In some ways 20 minutes of combat is more life than you could scrape together in a lifetime of doing something else. Combat isn’t where you might die—though that does happen—it’s where you find out whether you get to keep on living. Don’t underestimate the power of that revelation. Don’t underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time.
The same magazine has an article about the rise of war porn. I know some guys love this stuff but I find it pretty disturbing, especially when enjoyed by civilians.
“The behavior may be a coping mechanism for war, because [soldiers] might have to normalize what is not normal in order to survive,” he says. “But the people who watch this stuff can’t know that, so they can’t understand the entirety of what they’re seeing.”