Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

The changing face of war in Afghanistan

June 21, 2010

AFGHANISTAN

I was embedded with Western troops a few days ago. Beforehand I was warned of austere living conditions at the combat outpost. I thought about the agony — since I suffer from technophobia — of filing stories through a satellite phone in the scorching heat.

As I rolled out my sleeping bag I noticed all the soldiers had mosquito nets over theirs. Actually, they were there to keep camel spiders and scorpions away. It was remote as can be. Grape fields, mountains and villages with mud brick huts with, probably, no electricity.

What about troop morale? A sergeant said one of the problems he faces is trying to help his men cope with their girlfriends breaking up with them and family problems. I thought of that old movie image of the soldier getting his letter from the mail pouch and reading the Dear John notice.

┬áNot here. To my surprise, the combat post had wireless Internet. I walked by soldiers at night and there was that familiar Facebook screen. Love — and no more love — messages carried electronically.

I celebrated. I was able to file without the dreaded satphone. Has Internet changed the face of war? Is there such a thing as idle time anymore?

“Incoming,” the alert sounded, ” get off your computers and take up your positions.” I bet the soldiers can’t wait to get back to instant messaging, or the latest pictures of their girfriends on Facebook, after the Taliban stop firing their AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

Militants that critics say are dragging back society 13 centuries battle Western troops who enjoy Internet, real time connections back home, and can’t wait for the next electronic innovation to make life on the front more bearable.

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