Living in an army camp is in itself an unusual experience. But it takes on a whole new meaning if that camp happens to be in the middle of a war zone. Back in Afghanistan on assignment, I visited the International Security Assistant Force’s (ISAF) camp, under the command of the German Army, in Mazar-I-Sharif. It’s a strange experience–like a new European outpost in the desert.
Not far from the city’s airport, the camp has all the facilities you’d expect in any developed location in Europe. Big luxury cars are mixed in with military vehicles, there’s internet access, 24/7 electricity, an unlimited supply of mineral water, hot water for baths, air conditioners in tents, good quality European food including sausages, salads, soups and chocolates. An open air bar adds glitter and glamour to the evenings in this desert.
It all kind of reminded me of the stories in the history books about how kings on a mission to conquer a new place used to park their entourages at some deserted place and turn it into a mini town with all the pleasures and luxuries associated with palace life.
The camp looks like it covers about 100 acres of land. But while various national flags vie for space, German dominance is clear. Northern Afghanistan is under the command of Germans, with America playing second fiddle so far as troop deployment and planning is concerned.
Sleeping under a tent with 16 other journalists from around the world, I was reminded that Afghanistan is a great unifying force for other nationalities, yet deeply divided internally. It’s this irony and paradox that seems to have become the fate of this country.