Whether among the reconstruction teams, stingily spread over the Afghan territory, or among the troops confined to a half-dozen camps, the atmosphere was same: we are among our own. We eat our country’s cooking—this was the case for Americans, who were the most numerous—we watch our own television, listen to our own music, and watch DVDs from back home. We pump iron. We hardly go out, and when we do, it is always in convoys preceded by cars clearing the road to avoid car bombs. Contacts with the population are rare, except when searching for suspects or when searching a house.
Now that communications make it possible, we are in touch with our family and our loved ones every day. We belong to a professional army with a one-year rotation—sometimes less than one year, for some coalition nationals—with combat units that must above all keep safe and not suffer losses. The major part of the troops is in fact psychologically and physically in transit. It is not surprising, in these circumstances, that in about fifteen years, US troops only lost less than two thousand five hundred men, that is, an average of approximately one hundred fifty per year.
The famous reconstruction teams, each made up of two to three hundred soldiers, were building wells, schools, and health centers—and gathering intelligence. This military and political use of humanitarian aid disqualified the work of NGOs, which were seen as instruments of the occupying forces. As there were not enough men, private security firms, like in Iraq, proliferated, with the number of their members soon exceeding that of the coalition soldiers.
It was only when conducting investigations in the provinces in 2005-2011 (I was able to go to nearly ten of them) that one could measure what was not reflected in the propaganda of the regime and its backers. The criticism and reservations of international civil servants, when they were expressed, were non-official (off the record). Sometimes an observer would publish a critical assessment to be lost in the water wheel of the media, which would essentially reproduce the official propaganda of the moment. Nowhere did the “gray beards” from the rural areas or the boroughs mention any improvement in their living conditions.
With the passing of the years 2006-2007, it became evident that the Taliban were progressing and that using the air force multiplied “collateral damages,” enough for Hamid Karzai to soon feel obliged to protest on several occasions. In May 2006, there were violent anti-US riots in Kabul. The US forces were mainly confined to a succession of camps (close to Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad, and elsewhere). Sometimes the air force proved effective: one of the important military leaders, Mullah Dadullah, was killed by a Predator (2007). But the population came under Taliban control as of 2007-2008.