This is the second in a series of dispatches from Camp Marmal in Afghanistan.
The mood in Camp Marmal was very sombre on my second day here. The bodies of four German soldiers killed in an attack between Kunduz and Baghlan Province on April 15 were brought to the camp for a ceremonial send off. Soldiers of all nationalities lined up to pay their respects.
The sadness continued to look loom over the open bar that evening. There was hardly any activity and those who were loitering around were not particularly cheerful. But the mood seemed downbeat even before the ceremony.
Sitting talking with the soldiers it is possible to get past the rigid military façades to the vulnerable, concerned and anxious ordinary men within, and to learn about their feelings of insecurity in this inhospitable alien land.
In the evening I shared a table and can of bear with a German soldier. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, this 28-year-old army man from Hamburg started discussing his adventures in northern Afghanistan. He told me about his visit to different places in Mazar, Baghlan and Khunduz and how Germans are engaged in the major reconstruction mission in the war-torn country.
As we continued drinking, the affable German opened up more, and gradually began to express doubt about the whole mission. ‘I don’t know why we are here’, he confessed. He questioned the wisdom of the war in Afghanistan and the efficacy of a mission that he said is cut off from the reality on the ground. He said, for example, that soldiers don’t get a chance to meet locals and that as a result it is difficult to gain any understanding of their day-to-day lives. He said visiting politicians visit the camp under tight security and so don’t understand the problems the soldiers and general public face on a daily basis.
Another soldier pondered whether it is possible to win a war against a people who don’t care about their own lives and who see salvation in death. Is modern technology enough to prevail?
I never expected such frankness from a soldier who I was meeting for the first time. As a loyal soldier he was fully aware he has to fulfil his duty in the camp. But as an outsider and as someone who is also sceptical about the whole mission in Afghanistan, I admit I was sympathetic to his concerns.